By Jacob Sterny, Head Coach of Valhalla Barbell Club
“BACK TIGHT…SWEEP…TALL CHEST…HEAD THROUGH…REACH, REACH, REACH”! Today, I want to talk about cueing while lifting. More specifically the coach who cues too much. As coaches we’ve all done it. The first sentence of this article or some variation of those words has come out while an athlete is attempting to lift in competition. But, does this really help the athlete perform better? After doing a bit of research on visual and auditory multitasking it is my belief that this is not the case.
Multitasking = Switching Attention
Sifting through Psychological research, where the debate over multitasking has been a hot topic for the past decade, reveals that our brains operate in a task specific manner. This means that you have something in front of you and you are attempting to do that one thing. Along with that one thing comes rules that need to be focused on so that your one thing gets completed correctly. An example of this is attempting to butter a piece of bread (task). Your hand must move in a specific way to grab the knife, cover it with butter and dispense the butter onto the bread (rule). Where our brains get in trouble is when we attempt to perform two tasks at once by switching back and forth between the two. When moving from one task to another we need to abandon our current set of rules and switch to a new, more relatable set that fits the new task.
Basically all this boils down to is that we are incredibly inefficient when attempting to perform multiple tasks at once. This is especially true when dealing with different processing pathways. An example of this is when a person attempts to text and drive. Looking at a phone (visual task) and looking at the road (also visual). But, how does this relate to weightlifting? Also, this shouldn’t be true if an athlete is lifting and only hearing auditory cues. Makes sense right? No, and here’s why.
Hearing a coaching say something and seeing them demonstrate are two different things. If the current information is correct however, an athlete shouldn’t have issues hearing a coach shout cues while they are performing a physical task. Logically this makes sense. I mean…we can walk and talk at the same time. This is also correct. With the Olympic Lifts becoming neurologically taxing as the load increases however, any added task that requires processing (deciphering coaches cue mid lift) is simply more noise that takes away from the task at hand. What is even more interesting is that with how visual most athletes tend to be, they are not only hearing the cue.
Athlete’s are also processing and visualizing what us as coaches are saying. This is liken to if coach says, “Front foot out in the split”, mid-lift an athlete is typically visualizing what this looks like from their point of view. So, does this mean that coaches shouldn’t cue at all? Not entirely.
I’ve found that best practice is to remind an athlete of 1 or 2 pieces to focus on before they step up to the platform. At this point the athlete is not attempting a maximal lift and will be able to better absorb the information you are giving them. “Can I cue while their on the platform”? The answer is yes. Limiting this to when the athlete is not moving however is best. An example of this is just prior to their beginning the lift or (if on clean and jerk) during the transition of the jerk. Cuing every inch of the lift is where coaches tend to get in trouble. You are either wasting energy cuing every little thing or your athlete is attempting to process every little thing you are saying and becoming paralyzed.
Take Away on Cueing
As a coach try to limit your cueing during an athlete’s lifting. See if the lifts improve or get worse. Try this yourself in your training as well. Focus on one piece of movement issue at a time. Try and simplify your coaching to make it easier for you and the athlete. If you go back and watch videos of international coaches while their athlete is lifting on the World Stage, they may be shouting for support, but I will bet you they are not cueing every inch of their athlete’s lift.