Brush Up On Your Cuing: Communicating With Your Hands

3 major ways of using non-verbal cues.

3 major ways of using non-verbal cues.

Non-verbal communication is a huge tool in communicating to our clients not only what to do, but how. Do not underestimate the power of using your hands when you teach. Non-verbal cues give us a chance to emphasize what we are saying without having to utter any more words – an extremely useful technique when we have so much to say and limited time to communicate it to our clients.

Here are some examples of how to incorporate non-verbal cues with your hands in an effective manner:

Use Directional Cues

When we are showing a new movement for the first time, there is often so much we want to describe to our clients. We want to tell them the name of the move, the number of counts, and where the move will travel. And sometimes, directional cues are not communicated as easily as “right” or “left.” Pointing in the direction we want our clients to travel, while so simple, is effective.  Pointing gets them moving in the right direction.

Create Intensity

What if we want our clients to put more energy behind their movements?  For instance, I want them to push off the floor more on their step-jumps.  I would use a verbal visual cue, such as create four inches of space between the floor and your feet, while holding up four fingers for emphasis.  This method allows us to emphasize our words without simply repeating them, saving us from sounding like a broken record.

Emphasize Your Words

Find ways to show what your feet are doing with your hands. I often point to the muscle that we are working, and then I demonstrate the different between pointing and flexing the feet with my palm. I emphasize the cue to put weight in the heels by pushing the heels of my hands down. Be creative, and remember that a short visual cue can work well with a verbal cue.

2 More Things To Remember

1.) Non-verbal cues are not to be used in place of a verbal cue.  Rather, they are used in addition to what you are saying to provide another way for your clients to understand the movement.

2) Non-verbal cues must be obvious enough for your clients in back row to see them, but they shouldn’t be distracting.  Particularly when you are demonstrating challenging movements with the feet, keep the hand signals short so they do not distract from the footwork.

Picture yourself attending a class with an instructor that you admire. What makes that instructor a good instructor? He or she most likely exhibits strong communication with the class that makes learning the movements easily understood and executed. He or she utilizes a variety of cues, including verbal and non-verbal. We often forget, however, that we have the tools to add this variety of cuing right at our fingertips (literally).

How do you use non-verbal communication in class?  Please leave your comments below.

For further tips on both verbal and non-verbal cuing, check out this article, “Effective Cuing,” from IDEA Health and Fitness Association.

Take A Fitness Detour

I like to think of my fitness class as a road trip.  I hop in the driver’s seat of my car, and for one hour, I take all my customers on a journey from Point A to Point B – the start of class to the end of class.  My goal is to bring them with me every mile of the way.  I point out all the road signs, play some upbeat music, and have them sing along.

But what happens when I take my customers on an adventure they have seen before?  What happens when I drive the same route, point out the same landmarks, and play the same music?  Suddenly excitement begins to fade.  What was new and exciting becomes old and familiar.  Our customers might lose their enthusiasm, and even fall into that autopilot mode of “going through the motions” without being actively engaged in their workout.  How can we, as fitness professionals, ensure that this doesn’t happen?  How do we take our customers on a detour, so they can discover a new exercise experience?

The answer is variety.

No matter how much we try to avoid it, we have teaching habits, patterns that we fall into.  An hour before class, we discover that one song that we meant to change is still in our playlist.  That one move that was difficult three days ago suddenly feels easy.  But the wonderful thing about adding variety is that it can be simple. Avoiding that automatic cruise control mode doesn’t always require a lot of preparation.

You might be thinking, My classes already have variety.

We might change our music every week, or even change the class format from time to time.  But remember, even within our variety, we have patterns.  Take this example: While driving my own car, my posture while driving does not change much, even when taking a road I have never traveled before.  I would, more than likely, drive with my left hand on the wheel, right elbow resting on the console, just as I usually would.  But say, one afternoon, my car breaks down and I am given a rental car to take to school the next morning.  My driving posture would change, even just slightly. I would need to adjust the rear view and side mirrors, as well as the seat position.  I might even drive a little more cautiously in an unfamiliar car, placing both hands on the wheel.  While I am still comfortable driving the car because the same basic principles apply, I am forced to make slight adjustments that require more concentration in an unfamiliar vehicle.

Now apply this logic to communicating to our customers.  By providing a different vehicle for arriving at Point B, we cause our customers to make adjustments to unfamiliar cues and in turn, engage their concentration.  To do so, we need to mix up not just our class content, but our methods of teaching.  For instance, if I have already said to my customers, “Put your weight in your heels,” I need to create a different way of communicating this the next time they need a reminder.  Instead of “Weight in your heels,” I might use a visual cue, such as “Make indents in the floor with your heels.”  By doing so, I have provided more than one way of understanding the concept.

Also, remember that we are teachers as well as leaders, and our customers learn in many different ways.  One day after an evening class a few years ago, a long-time customer came up to me while we were putting our weights away.  She said, “I don’t know why, but when you said to pull our elbows in, I didn’t register it.  But then you told us to place our elbows beside our ribs, and it clicked.”

I find this happens quite often, and adding variety to our cues is simple.  If we find ourselves falling into the automatic cuing mode, it’s time to mix it up.  Create a helpful tip you have never used before.  Think of one yourself or check out this link to 15 Confusing Group Fitness Class Sayings Decoded for ideas.  Take your next class on a detour.