I’m a self-professed crazy person when it comes to technique and form in strength training. I blame thank the years of gymnastics training for this.

A couple of weeks ago, I was coaching a small group class. These are some of my favourite hours of the week.

I was teaching a gal brand new to strength training how to do an incline pushup and cued her to “engage her core”.

#whatdoesthatevenmean? #engageyourwhat?


The thing is, simply cuing “engage your core” can be largely ineffective for most people and definitely was for this particular client. This woman is brand new to strength training, isn’t familiar with how to make certain body parts “engage”, and so what I was saying had no hope of registering for her.

We backed up. Waaay up. I explained the sensation of what I wanted her to feel in her body, and how we could make that happen using MUCH more effective cueing.

Cueing is really an art. You have to get creative to help connect people to their bodies, and do this many different ways to reach many different people.

Below are the cues I use every single day with my clients. I’m a bit of a broken record sometimes, but these are the tried and true that are working NOW. With that said, I’d be surprised if this list is the same at this time next year. With constant learning and tweaking during sessions with clients, things change quickly.

1). Ribs over hips.

Pretty broken record-ish with this cue right now. Julie Wiebe cues similarly in saying that the ribcage should live over the pelvis, as it sets us up to be able to create core stability (e.g. diaphragm over the pelvic floor).

Heather - good alignment

(Heather demoing nice ‘ribs over hips’ alignment in a cable chest press. Tough!)

2). Spread the floor with your feet.

Love this cue for people who may have knees falling in during squatting or deadlifting exercises. If you think about spreading the floor apart by using your feet, you’ll feel more oomph through the hips and glutes.

3). Feel tension in your ribs/glutes/abs/shoulders/whole bod.

This takes the place of “engage your ……”. Basically, I want the client to know that they should feel work happening in this part of the body.

Emily pushup

(Emily feeling tension…everywhere.)

4). Squeeze the bum.

Simple and effective. There’s a lot of bum squeezing that goes on in my workouts.

5). Engage through the floor, then move.   

This is a cue I use a lot with my pregnant and postpartum gals. I want them to engage through the pelvic floor before they lift something heavy, pick up the toddler, roll out of bed while recovering from C-section, etc.

6). Inhale down, exhale up.

This is how I cue breathing through exercises that need pushing (squats, chest presses, overhead presses), and for some that need pulling (hip thrusts, deadlifts, chin ups), too. Essentially, for non-maximal lifts (that’s a different story), I cue my clients to exhale on the part of the exercise that needs the most work or effort.


(Exhaling up!)

7). Inhale into your hands, exhale to feel them fall.

Workouts usually start and end with a couple minutes of breathing, as a reminder for where we want our breath to go during exercise and for relaxation afterwards. I like hands to be placed on the belly, on the ribcage, or with one hand on the belly and one of the ribcage so we can feel a gentle rise (inhale) and fall (exhale).

Randy breathing

(Randy placing both hands on the belly to feel more breath go there.)

8). Reset.

This is a cue I use to get people to sloooooow down. Form tends to slip by the wayside when exercises get rushed, so when we reset it gives us a chance to get into a better starting position increasing the likelihood the next rep will be a bit more crisp.

9). Leave the bum behind you.

As much as we squeeze the bum, we want to make sure the bum stays in the “right” spot when doing so. Keep in mind, my training sessions really centre around getting a body into better alignment, for a variety of reasons.

For example, at the top of your squat, I prefer my clients to squeeze their glutes without driving the pelvis forward and falling into a flat lumbar spine.

Bum Tucked Under.

(…Like this! This is what tends to happen when learning how to squeeze the glutes at the top of a squat. In this photo, from Training New Moms, I’ve lost my lumbar curve and drove the pelvis forwards.)

10). Untuck your bum. 

This is a variation of #9. When we leave the bum behind us, the bum is untucked. Read more from Wiebe in this fantastic post about “junkless trunks“. Personally, I used to coach the heck out of “anterior pelvic tilts”, which likely were beautifully aligned pelvis’ and of zero concern. Ugh!

Ribs Over Hips

(This is the alignment I like to see at the top of a squat. In this photo, from Training New Moms, I’ve left my bum behind me = left it untucked.)

Now, I spend way more time coaching people to get MORE lumbar curve and glute development is off the charts more effective. Also, an essential part of healing the core + floor after pregnancy is getting the bum untucked, making it perhaps the most important cue I use.


 Ps. If you liked and learned from this article, make sure you sign up  for my email list here and immediately receive 2 free, bonus workouts when you do. 


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