Simple is Strong

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5 Great Cues for 4 Foundational Movements

Trainers, this holiday season, can you reduce stress by reeling in simplicity? Did you know that one of the most common errors most trainers make with training clients is becoming too restless? We may feel stuck in a rut and start adding training ‘toys’ such as bands, mobility, rolling and unnecessary fancy jumps and hops. Because we enjoy keeping it fresh and fun, we allow ourselves to become lured by mindless playful activity and new gadgets and toys. But beware of allowing this ‘monkey mind’ to do a disservice to your client. You can stop this mindless training chatter by recalling the foundational movements of real life: Pushing, pulling, bending or hinging, and getting up and down. Keep it simple and you may even uncover a renewed depth of play, or a new layer of movement that wasn’t there before.

Although training tools have their place in some individual’s training routine, it’s important to remember there is strength and purpose in keeping it simple. Adding new moves and progressing too quickly is a common mistake that most new and experienced ‘average’ trainers make. This holiday season don’t fit in when you could stand out. Reel in simplicity especially when others want to make things complicated.

When we keep it simple, we get to fully explore movements, progressions and sequencing—and make them richer. Quality of movement is expressed and greater ease enjoyed.

Let’s begin by returning to the basics: Let’s revisit the push-up, dead lift, the squat and the pull-up.

The Push-up: Push It Like You Mean It!

Want to know what most people will do when life gets tough? Average people avoid discomfort and will do anything to escape it. Do you want big gains? Get a little uncomfortable, and practice push-ups to increase your staying power. Why is the push up considered by many to be a total body exercise? It challenges our core and demands great focus, as well as trains our mental fortitude. If you master this exercise, you will earn the respects of men and women alike! This foundational exercise is not for sissies nor is it for the shallow-minded. In fact, if you can maintain this same level of core awareness and mental strength in all exercises following, then you’re getting pretty darn deep. Notice how deep you can go in activating your core and spinal stabilizer muscles when you push it like you mean it.

Feel what you’re firing up:


  • Rectus abdominus
  • Obliques
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Multifidus
  • Erector spinae
  • Serratus anterior


In cuing to your client, it’s wise to use simple language, not speaking over your client’s head. Consider offering as few words as possible as if you were speaking to a small child. Do this, of course with respect and without being condescending. While activation of the core is paramount to safety, the position of the hands will also play a big role.

Trainers, here are 5 simple yet effective cues to start with, no matter what fitness level your client is in:

  • Set hands shoulder width apart
  • Pointing fingers straight ahead
  • Keep creases/pits of armpits pointing forward
  • Avoid locking out elbow joints
  • Keep weight distributed over center of hands

The Dead lift: No Dead Lift is Ever Dead!

Did you know that in our daily activities, every time we bend over to pick up an object, we are performing a dead lift? Whether you’re a fitness professional, a working mom, or simply desire shapelier buns, why is doing the dead lift correctly so important? Most people when hinging from the hip, do this improperly with a dangerously rounded back. While this compound movement exercise offers many benefits and great results in the posterior chain, if alignment is slightly off, the consequences could be long-term. To ensure safety, first, have your client take a proper stance, stepping out hipbone-width apart. This may require that you have the client feel to find their hipbones. If the client is a visual learner, invite them to see themselves standing on top of two dinner plates before they do the following. Cue them to screw or ‘root’ their feet firmly into the ground.

Then have them perform the following 5 steps:


  •  While keeping the feet grounded, rooted into the floor, without moving the feet, externally rotate the hips.
  • Then do a decisive muscle wrapping of the thighs, internally rotating the hips, while maintaining the above.
  • As you start to descend, shift your weight onto the center of the feet, while gripping the floor strongly with your toes. Be sure to feel the hamstrings at work!
  • As you’re shifting your weight forward, feel the weight pull away from the sacrum. This is due to the internal rotation of the hips.
  • Keeping the weight onto the center of the feet, drive the pelvis forward, while activating the quadriceps. Be sure to feel the quads awake.


The Squat: Finding your sweet spot!

Did you know that most people lack hip intelligence when attempting one of the most functional exercises, the highly revered squat? Here are strategies to encourage power in the pelvis and improved hip intelligence. The key is to feel for your individual ‘sweet spot’—stay here and feel your power rise from that space.

These 5 simple tips are sure to help you set up for a solid foundation when squatting, no matter a person’s age, size, height or level of fitness:


  • Stand wider than hip’s width apart, stacking your joints.
  • Externally rotate the hips, pointing knees over ankles.
  • Set your neutral spine
  • Brace your core
  • Sit your butt back, feel your hamstrings fire


Here’s where it get tricky: On the descent, the question is how low should I go? Keep in mind the physics—the weight is coming from top. When descending, always ask: Where is the weight being dispersed? You should never feel pressure or pain in the lumbar spine region. If so, stop.

Always ask, where should the weight be? On the descent, weight should be on the heels. Pause at the bottom. When coming back up, drive through the pelvis placing weight on the center of the feet. Be sure to press evenly through both feet. Watch for left to right hip/feet differentiations, and stop and make adjustments when something doesn’t feel right or if pain creeps up. Be sure to never make these ‘micro-adjustments’ while in mid-set.

The Pull-up: Re-igniting Courage!

You don’t need to look too closely to notice that quality of movement seems to go down the tubes during most pull-ups. In most gym settings, you’ll likely find that all kinds of compensations take place for the sake of getting the chin over the bar. For example, the back rounds, the neck and low back hyperextends, and elbows flare out—to list a few. This is why it’s so important to practice till near perfection, before progressing to more complex shoulder movements. We recommend adequately warming up using shoulder awareness and shoulder stability exercises before plunging into this one.

Here are 5 safety cues to get you started on finding that perfect pull-up:

  • While hanging from bar, draw shoulder blades down the waist while seating the shoulders into socket;
  • Externally rotate the shoulders; as you do your elbows will shift slight forward;
  • Push your chest towards the bar;
  • Set your gaze in the line of travel;
  • Be courageous, lift through the top of the sternum, from the ‘eyes’ of your heart.

It’s important to also note: By concentrating on ‘pushing’ your chest upward, more focus will be on the lats, as opposed to using the biceps. Do not exceed (individual) range of motion by pulling up past the point that you are able to maintain external rotation of the shoulder. Remember, if your client is unable to perform this exercise in proper form, you should use regressions—embodying the simplicity of ‘less is more’. And always remember that everything we do is a process so practice patience, and remember that while tiny shifts can produce big changes, perfection can be stifling.

Simplicity is Strong!

In keeping up with the latest and the greatest, it’s easy to become attracted by all sorts of new trends, fitness toys and marketing ‘bright lights’. They’re designed to lure, to distract and to entice us to buy more. But when we you stop focusing on things like simple progressions, perfecting simple techniques and fall victim to new and so-called improved training modalities, we may be introducing muscle confusion of the wrong kind. That is, we take on the monkey mind—one that jumps from one thing to the next without any actual focus, attention to detail and quality of movement. Only progress to more complex movements—like ones you’ll find in HIIT, CrossFit and Tabata after you achieve these simple applications: Push it like you mean it, hinging like a pro, get the ‘low-down’ on squatting, and developing courage in your pull-up. And remember, when in doubt, find your foundation, get strong and stable, and always trust in the wisdom of simplicity. This can be simply fun, simply cool, simply sexy, and simply strong.

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