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Right on cue…………………….

You know the voice inside your head, the one that’s telling you to eat that second slice of pie. Yes, that one. What if I told you, you can use that to help you train safer and get stronger.

Don’t believe me? Then read on.

Before a client is about to lift, I give them two verbal cues to drill into their heads to remember before and during the lift. These cues put them in better position to lift correctly, so they can move more weight safely and feel more powerful.

However not everyone has the means or the time to hire a coach to instruct them on proper weightlifting technique.

But if you can harness the power of the cue, you too can remain injury free and dominate the gym without someone screaming in your ear. Biggest Loser anyone?

In my experience, one cue doesn’t fit all. It’s very individual. Some people like to know what it feels like (internal) and other people want to know what it should look like (external).

You have to mix and match to find what works best for you.

The following cues below are the ones I use every day for myself and my clients for push-ups, rows, squats and deadlifts.

Next time you lift, pick two cues (choose no more than two cues at one time) below for each lift and then use your internal voice for good instead of evil.

After all that second slice of pie is not going to help you lift squat.

  • (Disclaimer- You should have some experience at these lifts for these cues to be effective. Please also lift in front of a mirror to check your form.)


Read more about the deadlift here and here.

Google “Deadlift” and you come up with 8,760,000 hits. No shortage of information on the most humbling lift of all time. With such a complex lift, my aim is to keep it simple so the client lifts the weight safely and effectively.

Now let’s grip it and rip it.

  1. “Get your feet underneath the bar”. Some people have a tendency for the bar drift away from the body during the pull and lowering. A deadlifting no-no.


  1. “Push your hips back until your hands reach the bar”. A set up cue to help preload the hips and hamstrings to establish a proper hip hinge pattern.


  1. “Turn your right foot clockwise and left foot anti clockwise”. This simple tip creates tension in your outer hips and gives you a strong connection to the ground.


  1. “Let your hips go back, back, back, then forward”. Some people bend their knees too much during the descent, turning the deadlift into a squat.


  1. “Chest up”, “Squeeze an orange in your armpits” or “Put your shoulder blades into your back pocket”. Any of these cues encourages you to engage your lats to keep your spine straight from head to butt.


  1. “Breathe in on the way down, exhale on the way up”. If you inadvertently hold your breath when you lift, this mantra helps. Oxygen is kind of important.



  1. “Crack a walnut between your butt cheeks”. This helps encourage a glute squeeze at the top of the lift.


  1. “Leave your heel prints in the ground”. This helps you generate force into the ground, which will help with your pull.


The humble push up. The exercise that is butchered in one way or another in gyms worldwide. There are so many things that gym goers do wrong with the push up, some of which are covered right here.

The push up is basically a moving front plank. Theses cues help you to keep a straight spine from head to heel and to you work the chest, shoulders and triceps as intended.

  1. “Tuck you chin in” or “Form a double chin”. This keeps the spine straight from head to heel and avoids you smacking your forehead into the ground. Never a good look.


  1. “Squeeze your butt like it owes you money”. When form deteriorates people tend to overarch their spine and look like this. That type of action is best left in the bed room.


  1. “Imagine there is a piece of paper between your body and your upper arm. Squeeze it and don’t let go”. This forces you to keep your arms close to your torso, to load the triceps/chest and to take some of the stress off your shoulders.


  1. “Leave your hand prints in the ground”. An old Chuck Norris joke goes something like “Chuck Norris doesn’t do push-ups. He pushes the world down.” I want you to think like Chuck. Push it down baby.


We’ve been doing this movement since childhood because it’s hot wired into our brain. However I’ve lost count how many times this exercise has been performed poorly.

It’s like they’ve forgotten to a basic human movement because they want to be macho, just like this guy.

Regardless of the squat variation, it’s a hip movement and not just a knee bend.

The following cues will encourage you to use your hips, discourage unwanted movement at the knees and put your body in the best position to be awesome.

  1. “Pretend you’re sitting down into a chair behind you”. If you cannot pretend, doing box squats will help.


  1. “Leave your heel prints in the ground”. This works for squats as well as it does for dead lifts.
  1. “Curl your toes towards the ceiling”. If you tend to drift forward on your toes when you squat, this will force you back on your heels.


  1. “Butt goes down, butt comes up”. This helps you lead will the hips and not your knees.


  1. “Rip the floor apart with your feet”. Some people have a problem with their knees collapsing inward like this guy when squatting. Activating those outer hips will help prevent this.


  1. “Put your shoulder blades in your back pocket”. No matter what squat variation you’re doing, activating your lats and keeping your spine in neutral from head to butt is a good thing.


The row has many forms such has barbell, dumbbell, resistance band and cable, with countless variations on top of that. No matter the variation a row consists of bending your elbow and pulling the resistance towards you.

You’ll be amazed how many gym goers avoid this exercise (why exercise muscles you cannot see) or just completely screw up such a simple movement because of too much weight or correctable technique flaws.

Don’t avoid the row or screw it up. Use these cues to get the most of this essential lift.

  1. “Keep your shoulders away from your ears”. This prevents you shrugging your traps to move the weight, a common pulling error.


  1. “Chest up, shoulders down”. This cue works for both vertical and horizontal rows. This will keep your spine in neutral and avoid shrugging your upper neck to move the weight.


  1. “Create a gap”. I stole this one form Eric Cressey. Without being to scientific, this cue allows the shoulder blade to move across the ribcage correctly by keeping a gap between your upper body and your upper arm.


  1. “Get those arms long”. Another common error is short arming the row and not going through the full range of motion. This happens when form falterers or the weight is too heavy. No need to be macho now.

Next time you lift use your inner voice to move more weight and to think less about pie. Your body and waistline will thank you.

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About Shane McLean

Shane McLean is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer in Dallas Texas. Moved here 12 years ago from Melbourne Australia. Specializing in stability core, strength and mobility programs. The four fundamentals to healthy skeletal health. Shane tailors training's to meet your strength, nutrition, injury management and mobility needs. His motto is "to improve one’s balance, strength and mobility no matter your age."

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