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Training Technique Tips

I think learning to cue can be one of the hardest parts of being a coach. Everybody’s different. Internal cues work real well for some, while others only respond to an external prompts.

Coaching is really analogous to teaching, where each student can be a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. It takes time and patience to find what works best for each person. However, this post is not only for coaches, but is for anyone trying to clean up their form a bit on these exercises.

I’m sure that most coaches would agree that a hip-hinge pattern is the toughest movement to learn, especially on an individual that is used to a lot of motion at the lumbar spine. I’ve tried many exercises to begin learning the hip-hinge. At first, I used low rack pulls in an effort to feel the bottom position, much the same way that squat-to-stand patterns can be used to teach squat pattern. However, I’ve found that rack pulls only work about 50% of the time, leaving the other 50% somewhere in Lumbar-spine-hypermobility-land.

The pins are a little high, but you get the idea.

I try to do some sort of a thoracic mobility drill with every client (as almost everyone needs it), but these drills sometimes tend to expose weak anterior cores and lots of lower back arch.

Lunges are a great exercise, but definitely require a basic understanding of single-leg movements like the split squat before they can be introduced. There’s a ton of room for compensation in a lunge pattern.

RDLs can be an effective way to learn a hip-hinge, when cued correctly. Lunges are an extremely effective exercise, but can be done very wrong. And thoracic mobility drills can be tough to master in a world where lumbar mobility is the norm, rather than the exception. Here’s a few cues that I use to help people find the correct position and get the most out of these exercises.


A common cue used when coaching an RDL is, “Imagine a door behind you and your hands are full, so push the door open with your butt.” I like this, but it only gets a person through the first part of the lift. After people open that door, they often times sit themselves in the imaginary chair on the other side of the door. But when you’re trying to get a person to do an RDL, the hips need to stay up and the knees as extended as possible to engage the hamstrings and not the quads. Try this external cue to clean up RDL form:

Open the door with your butt, and then stick your butt on the ceiling.

I don’t know why, but this seems to work nearly every time. Even when I do RDLs myself, I imagine sticking my butt on the ceiling and I can feel a better stretch in the hamstrings. This cue also helps maintain an arch in the lumbar spine, because your butt won’t go on the ceiling if your lumbar spine is rounded above it.

Sometimes, however, stick your butt on the ceiling isn’t a cue that works for everyone. In this case, I’ve tried another cue that seems to work.

Open the door with your butt, and then as you’re opening the door, pull your knees backward with your butt.

This prevent the knees from breaking forward and the butt from sinking downward. Use both and see what works for you/your clients.

 *I tried to find a picture of someone sticking their butt on the ceiling and was thoroughly unsuccessful.


There is a lot to think about when lunging and this certainly isn’t the first problem that should be addressed. But during lunges (and really any time a person is required to hold dumbbells at their sides), many people forget to relax the arms and try to curl the weight up as they move through the exercise. Sometimes, this may be due to the weight being too heavy for that specific situation. However, weight selection aside, try this cue to clean up the arms and retain a focus on the legs.

Make yourself look like a penguin.

As long as the traps are relaxed, allowing the scaps to remain “in the back pocket,” people make themselves look like a penguin by squeezing their upper arms against their sides. In fact, you can also tell people to straight up squeeze your upper body with your arms and that generally relaxes the forearms and reduces the tendency to curl the weight up.

This is a cat, not a penguin.


Thoracic Mobility

When doing bench t-spine extensions, no matter what implement you’re using (a PVC pipe, straight-bar cable attachment, or a broken golf club), try breaking up the movement into two separate parts.

First, set your hips back, keep your back flat (though not arched), and push your chest down to the floor.

After you’ve done that, then proceed to bend the elbow and pull your hands down to your upper back.

When moving through this exercise too quickly, the tendency is to limit the initial range of motion in the thoracic spine in order to fully flex the elbows. However, the stretch is best accomplished by focusing on each part individually because the thoracic mobilization is the reason we’re using this exercise in the first place.


Lunges (again)

This tip goes for any lunge that involves movement in the sagittal plane (forward, back, or walking). Progressing to a lunge from a split squat can be tough and can seemingly wipe any progress you’ve made in the split squat. However, lunges should simply be thought of split squats with a movement component.

Take your step, whether that is forward or back, and make a slight pause before descending into a split squat. Return to the top of the split squat position and bring your feet together (or take the next step, as in a walking lunge).

As you master this movement pattern, you can begin rolling through the steps in a fluid motion to create the lunge.

Don’t make yourself look like a penguin if you have a barbell on your back.

In conclusion, go try these cues and see if they work for you.

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