In weightlifting, we have heaps of cues which we have heard, read on the internet, or gained from our own experience to help us with getting the correct movement pattern in the lifts. Some examples of these from my own personal experience include:
- "chest up"
- "keep the bar close"
- "stay over the bar"
- "use your legs"
- "push your tummy into your thighs"
There are many others and you will probably have your own. As a coach, we give out cues to make sure our lifters remember what they need to focus on. As a lifter, we also have our own cues to make sure we remember what our coach suggests for us to focus on. But what is it exactly that we need to focus on? If we focus on all the available cues given by the internet gurus, our coaches, and the instruction, won't we be thinking of a million things and our concentration/focus will be so spread out that we can't perform the lift properly? How many times have you experienced the pain of "Ahh! There are so many things to think of.." especially when you are picking a new skill up.
Thinking too much causes disappointment. Paralysis by analysis. Picture from Reuters.com.
So here is what I think would be useful in "filtering" your cues and allowing you to focus better. And the first step is to understand the method and purpose of cueing. There is actually science to cueing and common forms of cueing are external and internal cues. External cues are used to focus our attention to the environment and how the movements of our body have an effect on it. On the other hand, internal cues are more for us to focus on the movement of our body. And probably you would have read many articles such as the ones at StrengthandConditioningResearch.com and WilFleming.com talking about how external cueing affects performance and how to use external cueing for weightlifting respectively.
So here's my take on it. If anything by the end of the article, the main point I want you to take away with it to only think of a maximum of two cues. Why two cues? There is science behind it but I can't seem to remember when I say it. But my rationale to two cues is firstly because the movement of the snatch or the clean happens within slightly more than a second. No time for you to change your mind or try something else. Secondly, on a percentage basis, two cues mean 50% of your concentration on each cue. Better than 5 cues and 20% of your focus on each cue right? So here are the two things to focus on:
1. Position of the Bar
Position of the bar refers to trajectory of the bar. It can also be called the bar path, your S-curve, your pull line. In simple terms, it is basically how the bar is moving but with one thing in mind, its proximity to your body.
One more thing we know that is important in regards to this is that if there is more horizontal movement (i.e., forward/backward movement of the bar), it suggests that the bar is travelling further away from the body. This would result in a very prominent S-curve and insufficient vertical displacement, making it difficult for the receiving position.
Keeping the bar close helps maintain a straight pull. Picture from Catalyst Athletics.
From a coach's point of view, the cue that would normally be used in this instead is to "keep the bar close". This is an external cue because you are looking for the result of your actions to keep the bar in close proximity to you. As the lifter, an internal cue in this instance would either be to "use the lats to sweep the bar" or "hold the shoulder blades back".
2. Speed of the Body
This is a gray one. I choose to count this as an external cue because it is the result of what you do with your body. Something that always affects the outcome of a lift is the movement speed. Two common scenarios are firstly, the barbell is pulled off the ground too quickly, resulting in the inability to move the body even faster for the second pull and secondly, the barbell moving too slowly till the hips and even a momentary pause at the hips before a second pull.
Problem with the first scenario is basically the fact that you can't perform a second pull anymore because you already aimed for maximum speed at the start. Problem with the second one is that the slow start results in the need for a more explosive second pull to have adequate force to displace the bar, making the lift very inefficient.
These are just the common stuff I see (might not be for some). So how do I cue for this? My cue is "Speed at the hips". Why the cue? The bar needs to be moved in a control fashion with a constant speed till hip level. "Speed at the hips" is to ensure that the second pull and turnover are performed with no hesitation. It is to also ensure that the lifter is able to focus on getting the bar smoothly to the hips before thinking of the explosive part of the lift to pull and get under the bar. So as a coach, the external cue is for the lifter to move fast after the second pull while for the lifter, he will be thinking of probably fully extending his body and pulling his body down into the squat fast.
Within the coach-athlete relationship, it is important to understand how external and internal cues work. Some lifters have different strategies to make something work. So coaches need to give proper external cues to allow the lifter to develop their own internal cues for lifting. Hopefully this gives you a brief idea of how to utilise cueing for not only your coaching practices but also as a lifter how to better interpret external cues to develop your own way of internally focusing your attention.