I’m a simple man. I find that if I discover something high quality that can do multiple jobs well and diminish clutter it makes me very, very happy. I’m a little bit the same when it comes to coaching cues. If I can find a simple image, description, idea or comment that can be applied across multiple movements and to fix multiple errors, then I am usually very chuffed.
What follows in this article are two ideas that when combined tend to nip a bunch of different dysfunctions in the bud.
Idea number one:
When people try to get tall, they usually start by pushing their chin to the roof. This is not what I’m thinking of…
If you imagine your spine continuing on from the base of your skull up into the sky, it will pass through a point somewhere towards the back of your head. This comforting and tasteful image is the line in which you want to get tall. Much like a military man standing to attention, you want to be ramrod straight through your neck and head as you perform most movements.
This tends to give you active neck flexors, which do a whole bunch of nice things when fired in conjunction with your abs and posterior chain.
Idea number two:
…Which you want to combine with the first idea. So while your spine projects itself in a beautiful straight line (imagine straight but maintaining your natural curves), you want everything from your shoulders down to drive itself into the ground.
Now, this is typically useful for loaded postures. When your ‘shoulders’ are compressed, your lats and pecs tend to fire off strongly, and it helps to stabilise and strengthen your midsection. It doesn’t matter whether you’re holding a hollow position or a more conventional barbell posture, maintaining compressed ‘shoulders’ tends to help.
It’s important not to confuse this with the ‘down and back’ cue that is often thrown around. The down and back posture tends to restrict the scapula, which is fine in certain movements but can be really problematic in others (military pressing for example). Instead, imagine that a solid steel bar runs between the points of your shoulders. When you ‘compress your shoulders’ you want to imagine that you are bending that steel bar down both sides of your body. You don’t want to twist it at all, just a nice clean strong bend on both sides.
The other thing that I want to point out here, is that there are definitely athletic postures and movements where you’ll want to passively hold this position, or even actively look to reach from the shoulders, but these are rarely going to involve a kettlebell or a barbell. There is also a range where some slight thoracic flexion or extension may be desirable for certain movements, however, you’ll find these points pretty naturally, or with very little trial and error. The important thing is to avoid crazy extremes and to focus on compressing the shoulders.
Combining the cues
Ryan Hurst, at a GMB seminar that I had the good fortune to attend last year, used a cue that combined these two nicely. It’s a strong image that I really like.
He talked about striving for a strong ‘cross’. If you imagine a crucifix, it has a long tall central beam, and then about 2/3 of the way up it has a cross beam. You want to maintain the integrity and strength of those beams. If you take a moment now to practice compressing your shoulders, then you’ll discover that this actually locks the ‘cross beam’ into place. So while initially, the image of bending the bar down is useful, you want to eventually turn it into a nice tall solid cross.
Now as with all cues, these are imperfect. You’ll still need a bit of practice to be able to identify when and how to apply them, but I’ve found that they are general enough to work across a variety of situations with little to no finessing most of the time.
I’d love for you to try these upon yourself or with your clients and then let me know how they go (positive or negative) to help us all improve!