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Cue movements, not muscles

Movement patterns

Movement pattern cues are the little prompts that a personal trainer or lifting coach uses to correct technique and improve movement patterns.

Tips like “think about bending the bar” or “force your heels down” change the way your brain coordinates the movement. It tweaks the brain’s complex coordination of muscles to improve timing or recruitment of certain muscles.

When we look at muscle patterns using EMG, we find fairly consistent patterns of millisecond-perfect firing of muscles. This produces a movement that achieves the desired outcome.

Effective technique prompts

The key to an effective prompt is it has to match the framework that your brain already uses. If you think of squeezing the barbell during bench press, it’s easy enough to think of bending the bar instead.

This means that there will be some trial and error while you test different prompts to see what’s effective.

The true test of an effective lifting technique prompt should be reduced effort or greater output, or both.

Simply matching the textbook version of a lift doesn’t take into account our individual biomechanical variations and anatomical differences.

Ineffective movement pattern prompting

Remember that correct muscle firing patterns are millisecond-specific. Trying to override this with deliberate control is a common mistake.

This is because your conscious brain doesn’t think like “fire quads, now the glutes…. now hamstrings.”

It thinks “push forwards” or “straighten leg”. The firing patterns are subconscious.

So you can’t override that programming by deliberately squeezing a certain muscle. Or ‘activating’ a muscle throughout. It just doesn’t work that way.

The unintended consequence of deliberate muscle control is to disrupt the movement pattern. This makes it less efficient and less effective.

Take home message

When you’re correcting or optimising a technique, whether it’s lifting, running or any other sporting technique, remember:

  • Prompt with actions, not deliberate clenching
  • Try different prompts for effectiveness
  • Monitor output for improvement after each prompt