Even though it is a small booklet of 65 pages, “The Art and Science of Cueing” by Eric Franklin is jam-packed with concrete examples and explanations about the delicate skill of cueing. Targeting Pilates, yoga and dance teachers, the book offers examples for each of these movement modalities. Upon opening to the one page introduction, I was delighted to notice that the author doesn’t waste the reader’s precious time with fluff. He immediately offers high quality content, by first defining what a cue actually is (performance feedback).
Eric Franklin is a master at categorization. He breaks down cues into four main categories:
- Self-Cueing: external (via a mirror or a video) and internal (by asking yourself questions about your alignment or scanning your body for sensation, such as muscle activity)
- Descriptive Cueing: telling your student what to do
- Prescriptive Cueing: telling your student how to change their movement for better performance
- Student-Centered Cueing: involves the student on all levels: mentally, physiologically and socially. She gets involved in her own cueing by way of open-ended questions and comparison of different ways to do a movement. The student gets better at self-correcting.
It’s best to mix all four types of cueing.
My favorite takeaways from the book (with my own interpretations):
- One of the first things your student needs to know is the purpose of the exercise. Why is she doing it? What is she trying to achieve/change/create with the exercise?
- The more you practice with poor form, the stronger your bad patterns become. The feedback from an outside source (a teacher) is crucial in achieving better outcomes.
- If a cue is defined as feedback, then it only makes sense to cue for what’s not already happening. If my student is already sitting on her sit bones with a perfectly neutral lumbar curve, I don’t cue that. Instead I focus on what’s missing or what will help her advance from where she’s at in that moment.
- What not to say is equally as important as what to say. Pilates can be overwhelming. Constant talking of the instructor makes students space out, especially if they hear something that they’re already doing. Internal dialogue, “I thought I’m already sitting on my sit bones. At least I think these are my sit bones. I don’t want to interrupt and ask a question.” This can further trigger the problem of over-correction: hearing the same cue over and over causes us to shoot beyond the goal of balance and go waaaay too far, creating a different problem. Less is more counts for cueing, too.
- Don’t overload your student with feedback (cues). He suggests using a NUF principle (necessary - useful - fun).
- There is scientific evidence that shows that students see better results if they are more involved in their exercises. Try cueing in form of a dialogue. Instead of telling the student what to do (talking at the student) use questions to get the student more involved in their own movement. Use open-ended questions such as “How does this feel different with your legs turned out?” and “How does the right shoulder feel compared with the left one?”.
- How much cueing is enough? Eric suggests one simple cue for a beginner and three cues for an experienced practitioner.
- Don’t use anatomical cues incorrectly or without proper introduction. The problem with anatomical cues is that the student often doesn’t know where her hip joint is or how it should move. If using a specific anatomical cue, you must take the time to explain the anatomy, but this can take some time away from the session or class. Be deliberate about when and why you educate your students, and limit such explanations to one per class or session.
- A cue given is not necessarily a cue taken. Each person interprets your cue. Watch the student interpret your cue and if you don’t get the result you’re looking for, don’t just repeat the same cue over and over. Instead find a different cue that hopefully will make more sense to your student. Simply asking the question: “Does this cue make sense to you?” can be helpful to break the ice and get the dialogue started.
- Even if your cue is wonderful and correct, your student might misinterpret it. Instead of lengthening her spine, she might push her rib cage forward.
- Be specific. The cue “use your core” can be interpreted in various ways. What exactly do you mean? “Smile from one hip bone to the other.” “Lift pubic bone to navel, as if zipping up a jacket.”
- Error amplification (encouraging your student to do one or two repetitions with bad form) can be a good teaching tool, as long as your student is safe. This can help a student self correct, because they felt the wrong form in their body and have learned to differentiate desired from undesired form.
- Mental simulation of movement (imagining a movement without doing it) is a valuable way of cueing. (Athletes do it all the time.) Encourage your student to think about lifting a leg but not actually lifting it. This practices the same neurological pathways from the brain to the body and strengthens motor control while keeping compensation patterns to a minimum due to the decreased total effort.
- Use negative cues sparingly. Cues that point out what’s wrong (“Don’t tense your shoulders.”) leave the student with the feeling that she’s not good enough. Even more importantly, a negative cue doesn’t tell her what she should be doing instead. Rephrase the observation to a positive cue (“Keep your shoulders relaxed.” or ‘Melt your shoulder like ice cream on a hot summer’s day.”).
This is just a short list of all the great content in this book.
Further, Eric discusses metaphorical and biomechanical cues, cueing organs, imagery strings, and using all our senses for cueing, even olfactory and gustatory senses, the timing of cues, finding the right amount of cues, the benefit of take-home cues and much more.
Last but not least, I’d like to point out the wonderfully creative illustrations (by Eric Franklin and Sonja Burger) that help visualize the cues given as examples. For visual learners, this is a tremendously helpful addition to the words.
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I highly recommend this book as an addition to your Pilates teaching resource library. You can purchase the book here.
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