The Biggest Cueing Mistakes We Make and How to Fix Them

Episode 06

As pilates teachers, we are bound to make some cueing mistakes from time to time, and finding ways to fix those issues can make for more effective, results-driven sessions. In this episode of The Pilates Exchange, we are delving into the biggest cueing mistakes teachers make and how you can fix them. Tuning in, you’ll hear all about how spending too much time on the setup can be problematic, why you have to be intentional about your individual notes, the importance of allowing people to make mistakes, and more! We even discuss the multitude of different verbal and non-verbal conversations that need to be had between teacher and student. So to hear all this and be reassured that these mistakes aren’t your fault, press play now!


Key Points From This Episode:


  • Why these mistakes aren’t your fault. 
  • The dangers of spending too much time on the setup and how to fix this problem. 
  • Discussing the importance of being intentional about your notes for each person. 
  • Why we need to let people experience exercises for themselves and without intervention. 
  • The types of verbal and non-verbal cue conversations we need to have during a session. 



HT: Today we’re going to be talking about the three biggest mistakes Pilates teachers make with cueing and how we can fix them. 




[0:00:12] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate, as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and yoga for over two decades. What I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay, everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives, one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange. 




[0:01:09] HT: The cueing mistakes that we’re going to be talking about aren’t your fault. A lot of the Pilates teacher trainings that I’ve been witness to or that I’ve mentored other teachers that have gone through it, have been taught to cue exactly like what I’m going to be explaining. There is nothing wrong to be doing exactly what your teacher training told you to do. What I’m going to do is make the case that we can change it up from these three big mistakes in a way that will profoundly affect, the way that you’re communicating with your clients and the results that they’re going to be seeing. 


We can get into the nitty-gritty of the words that we’re choosing and the types of cues that we’re using. We do that and it’s actually really exciting. There’s a lot of really exciting information, evidence-based science that tells you how to cue better. We do that in our teacher training programs. But what I’m going to do is just work on an overarching idea of these three main concepts of where I see people going wrong and how we can make it a little bit better. So, just briefly, we spend too much time on the setup. We’re not waiting to see what’s going on. We cue too much in the beginning, and the cue conversations are a little bit off. Those are the three big things. 


They’re all really interlaced with one another, but let’s see if we can tease them apart and give you some tools to experiment with in your own teaching. One thing that happens is when we’re doing – we’ve been taught that a good setup will result in a successful movement. A lot of times, I think that that is not misdirected the thinking, but we spend so much time on the setup that we have lost the movement part of. It is a moving practice, right? Let me give you an example of what that can sound like. We’re going to do arms-pulling with straps on the long box. All right, so this is what I mean of – what I’d like to change. I’ll do the full thing. 


All right, I’d like everyone to lie on your box. You’re going to bring the box right above your ribs as you lie down. Pull your belly muscles in, so that you’re feeling the strength in the center of your body. Great. Now stretch your legs out as long as you can. Point your knees or stretch your knees. Point your feet. Squeeze them together. Fantastic. Stay right there. Wait. Okay, now lengthen your neck. Okay, grab those straps in your hands. Now make your arms a little bit wider than the rails. Perfect. Lengthen your neck a little bit more. Take a big inhale. Next, exhale. Stretch your arms long behind you. Keep reaching, reaching, reaching. Squeeze your legs. Pull everything together. Then bring your arms back to the front. 


Okay, so in itself there’s lots of great information that’s in there what they would like to be doing, but it took so long. I don’t even know. Maybe that was a minute of getting stuff ready. I was being nice about that. There could be many more of her very long, long descriptions. They haven’t yet started the movement. Sometimes what happens is we spend so much time there that they get paralysis by analysis. They’re so deep in the thing that they forgot the moving part. 


Another option would be, okay, everyone. We’re going to do arms pulling straps, long box, liner bellies, grab the straps, pull them to the back. Then slowly release them to the front. Good. As you’re doing that, I’d like you to think about lengthening your body from the tips of your toes all the way through the top of your head. Wonderful. Keep that moving. Now, I’d like to add something else. Whatever that something else is. Make your arms a little bit more narrow or now it’s time to slide your shoulders down your back. 


Whatever it may be, but adding those cues on after you see them moving. Even if you’re cleaning up some of the stuff that you wanted from your beginning, it would be better to get them moving more, than spending all that time wasted. It is a little bit of like wasted time if we don’t get them in the moving. I would say you cue in this example, cue where they are in the box, get the straps, and keep on going, like move it. Not everyone thinks the same thing. There is a couple of different Pilates methods out there that spend a lot of time on the setup between each exercise. 


I think that we can trust our clients that once they know these exercises or even if they don’t know them to let them experience it and then clean things up afterwards if it needs it. That brings us to the next big area that I think that we should pay more attention to is that we want to be generous with our information about movement. Let’s say it that way. That’s why we got into teaching. We feel passionately about what we do and we want to just give, give, give. That’s great. I think that is a great impulse. 


Sometimes we start cueing exercises and we know all the things that they’re supposed to be thinking about and we just roll them off. Do this. Do this. Do this. It becomes so automatic that we’ve lost that ability to look and see what’s happening. Where you’re looking, but you’re not really commenting on what’s happening, like what’s happening in that person’s body. You’re just doing per rule, like what we’ve been taught to say. That could be like cues, maybe cues that I don’t really like, but that’s a whole different topic, like pull your belly button into your spine. Press your shoulders down, whatever it is and you say it every single time. 


That person might not need that particular cue. That’s where I think it gets a little bit tricky. Press your shoulders down. Press your shoulders down. Press your shoulder – for one example. So, every time you’re cueing that – whatever exercise it is, we have a tendency to say the same thing before the person has even moved or even when they’re moving. We just continue to say the thing. Let’s take an example of shoulders being pressed down. Maybe that’s not right for that person. Maybe there’s so much tension in their back and we press, and press, and press, and press. They’ve heard it so much that that’s there now new normal is pressing down. That could be one caveat to that type of cueing. 


The second one is that our clients will just tune us out. If you are saying the same thing all the time, they will no longer – it just becomes background music to them. There’s no novelty in what you’re saying. It might not be relevant to what they’re doing. That’s the other part of it. Then very important part of it is that that cue, maybe they don’t need it, but because we’ve been trained that that is important for that exercise, then we say it anyways. There’s that aspect of it, but there’s also the aspect of we need to leave room for them to experience things in their own bodies. That includes making mistakes. 


Making mistakes is such an integral part of our motor learning process. We need to have enough room for error so that we get that feedback in our brains and it says, “Oh, yeah. Now I could do this.” I’ll give you an example of say, you’re standing in front of the stability chair, the wonder chair and you’re pressing the pedal down and up and you want them to hold on to their balance, so you say something like, “Okay, stretch your bottom legs, spread your toes out onto the ground even your hips. Press the pedal down and come back up. Okay, but you really need to be holding on to your stability in the center. Make sure your neck is long and your head is right over your shoulders.” 


Yes. Yes, to all of that, maybe. Wouldn’t it be better to just let them experience it, say, they’re pressing it down and they get a little bit wobbly, and then they come back into it, and then their brains are infinitely smarter and faster than our words. Their brains in this case, if they were starting to tip over, will figure out how to get them back into equilibrium, because everyone wants to stay upright unless there’s balance issues from some neurological condition. Maybe that’s a that’s a different story. Still, we don’t need to cue it in that way, but point is that that room for them to experience, “Oh, that didn’t work.” 


Let their brains try to figure it out. Then you pick the one thing that you saw that might be helpful in their case or you just let them try it again, and try it again. Then give them some more information. Once they know what that target is, if they understand what the goal of the exercise is then they’re able to do it, just like the goal – you could imagine if you were shooting basketball hoops, like because – I don’t obviously, I’m a very short person, I don’t play basketball. You have the basketball and you have the hoops, so let’s imagine it. If that the goal is to put the basketball into the hoop, then you just continue on and you get some information, but it’s very clear what our goal is. 


My point would be before we overcorrect the thing and give too much information, just make sure the goal of the exercise is clear to them. Then I bet, that they will have a more successful way of getting there faster than the cues that we may be throwing at them. That is to say that if you have a more difficult exercise, a great way to do that would be to break things apart and then build it back up so that they get that success. 


I’m not saying to leave a person in a dangerous situation at all that is not – that’s not our jam, that’s not what we want to do, but sometimes the way that people problem solve automatically is going to be – it’s not going to be, it is better for long-term motor learning, so motor learning and then just the pathways that we’re creating. They will figure it out faster that way. 


I think that is another element. That was my second element of cueing problems that come up. Again, we’re not blaming, we’re not casting blame on Pilates institutions. We’ve been taught to do it like this, and it’s because we want to be helpful. We’ve been taught that this is the helpful way of doing it, not to let them make mistakes to always have success with an exercise. But if we can imagine like for example the way babies crawl, right? So, babies are learning how to crawl and then they learn how to toddle around and to stand. 


Little toddlers, they fall down all the time, right? They need to make those mistakes, because we can’t cue them. “Right knee forward, left hand. Okay. Now shift your weight into the left knee, right arm, lengthen your back.” That just sounds ridiculous, if we’re going to cue a baby that – with those types of words. It’s a little bit of the same thing that we do with adults. Their brains are going to figure it out. Again, we don’t want dangerous situations and when we’re working on the big equipment from Pilates. We do need to be mindful of that. But a lot of the stuff is just going to be easier for them if we tone it down a little bit. 


Set them up for success with the exercises and the breakdowns that you’ve done before, so it’s a logical next step with whatever exercise that you’ve gone. Whether that’s like teaser on the box or tendon stretch or teaser on the floor. It doesn’t really matter what exercise we’re talking about. Build it up, so that they can experience that for themselves. So, that’s a whole area that I think we could spend a bit more attention on this as teachers.




[0:13:02] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training, so that it made sense, but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So, many teacher training programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created, Train the Trainers. Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. Gain access to the vault of our collected knowledge where you can learn everything, we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher or a studio owner. Get constructive feedback on your teaching with actionable tools you can apply, immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers.




[0:13:50] HT: Then the last thing is the way that we use our cue conversations. Now a cue conversation for me is the conversation we’re having with our words and the feedback that we’re getting back from the client, from the student, so that can be in words. It’s also, conversation comes into watching the body language, listening. Literally, listening with our ears of like is there a funny noise when they’re pressing down or like rolling like a ball. Do you hear the slap of their back as they hit the ground, because it was not rounding? It’s the sound of it, but it’s also listening with our eyes a little bit more. We need to make room to see what’s going on before the next step. 


Different than right now as I’m recording a podcast. Right now, it’s a monologue. I’m talking, talking. But if I was working with a client there’s a lot of room for experience. There’s a lot of room for me listening with my eyes, my ears, and my body to see what’s going on, to hear what’s going on. What’s their breathing like. How are their facial expressions? Did they give me information at the start of the session that would necessitate me to change my cueing strategy? Did they have a really bad day at work? Would it be more helpful for me to be more gentle with my cueing – what I’m saying?


That’s one part of it. The other part is how we listen for their response. It might be, “Yeah, I got it.” Like maybe they give you a verbal confirmation, “Yeah, I understand it.” Or maybe it’s a facial expression, maybe it’s a – maybe we need to ask, what are you thinking about right now as you’re doing this exercise? If you’re seeing that it’s not successful and if you wait and it’s just not working the way that you want it to or the way they want it to. Sometimes it is stopping and literally, asking. “Okay, what’s going on in your brain right now?” Could be that they are thinking about something totally outside of the realm, like they’re just worrying about something, like

a financial issue at home, so that it would be more helpful than to guide them back into the room or – I’ve had this sometimes. 


They are thinking about a cue you gave last week, or a month ago, or let’s take the shoulders down, maybe they’re trying to reach their arms above your head, but they are in their brains. Then shoulders down, shoulders down, shoulders down. You’re like, “Well why can’t you raise your arms?” Well, they’re thinking that it would make the movement easier if their shoulders are pressed down, but you wouldn’t know that unless you ask them. So, that essential part of the cue conversation is to get some response from them, so that you can guide them into the direction that you want to go.


It does look a little bit different when we are in a group dynamic. Say you’re teaching a big group, but you’re not waiting then perhaps for verbal cues, like that conversation back, but sometimes you are. Sometimes it’s fine like, “Hey, did everyone get that? Give me a yes. All right, let’s move on.” Or it’s that conversation of slowing down and listening to what their bodies are doing. The sound of their breath. The noise that they’re making when they’re coming down to the mat. The atmosphere, the general atmosphere of the room. Is it one of concentration or is it one of frustration? That’s part of our cueing conversation.


If it’s concentration. Fantastic. If it’s frustration, maybe you need to lighten the mood or go back a step to make things more successful for them. A little bit of frustration is not a bad thing. In order for them to learn, we need to make mistakes. We need to be a little bit frustrated just right out of that, like comfort zone in order to experience something new in our bodies. That is definitely part of it, but reading the room, listening cue conversations. I think that is something that is sometimes a little bit lost in that art.


To go back, our three things that I think would be helpful to have a think about is, how much setup do you really need for the exercise? Can you get them moving faster? Not I mean, literally faster, but get them into the movement faster, so that you can really see what’s going on. Brings us into really seeing and noticing what is necessary for you to be saying for them to have a more successful experience there, and then listening to that cue conversation, how can we slow down and really make it a dialogue between their bodies and what we’re doing, because that’s all what they’re thinking about, but also, what their body is doing.


Hopefully that’s helpful for you all the way that I’ve broken that down. There’s different verbal cues that we can use and maybe we’ll talk about it a little bit at a different time. It is a huge part of our Train the Trainers program, because there’s some fun things that we could be doing that help our learners do just that. Learn their movement in a fun, playful, but efficient way. Have a fantastic rest of your day. I’m wishing you a happy teaching.




[0:19:32] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching, everyone.



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