Make a Cue List for Good Form

Logging workouts allows you to monitor your results. As you advance, it grows harder and harder to progress. Most people choose the foolish route. They expect great results doing more of the same that gets them nowhere. They may also change up things so often as to never have a basis for improvement. A log book keeps you honest through feedback. You can identify the value of any changes and move in the right direction.

A list of cues has equal or more importance than a log book. Without proper form, you risk injury. You also develop less tension in the muscles. This hampers your gains. You usually only need several tips to get everything right on an exercise. A cue list provides an easy solution. Cues serve as reminders to prompt correct form. You need to make your own list based on advice you learn for each exercise. You then take this list to your workouts along with your log book.

Record the most important tips only. Review them prior to each lift. These need to feel personal, simple, and safe.

Principles

The palest ink is better than the sharpest memory.

– A Chinese Proverb

You need to look forward on the squat. The back tends to follow wherever the eyes choose to stare. Focusing on the floor can make you tip forward. This prevents your butt from staying under your back. This will destroy your leverage. It can harm the lower back and overburden the hip muscles. A trainee that closes their eyes or looks down during the squat would absolutely need “look forward” as a cue. Many trainees look forward naturally though, so including that would lack relevance for them. Only you can judge what feels personal.

You need to write simply. When you have a heavy barbell bearing down on your back when squatting, you will not recall a complex tip. Use as few words possible. The tips should read easily. Do not worry about grammar or sentence structure. It only needs to make sense to you alone. Otherwise, it could do more harm than good. Performance should feel automatic with practice. Over-thinking an exercise reduces intensity and often makes form worse. The best athletes act almost devoid of thought during their best performances. Any distraction, such as struggling to remember a poorly worded tip, will reduce your concentration.

Make sure your tips promote safety. I would avoid relying on advice from most bodybuilders and powerlifters. Isolating muscles as a bodybuilder can harm the joints. Lifting the most weight as a powerlifter may lead to unsafe technique. Instead, use common sense. Refrain from putting yourself in unusual and awkward positions. Many trainees will arch their lower back like a powerlifter on the bench press. Although this reduces the range of motion to allow more weight, this can injure the spine horribly.

Do no harm. Avoid extremes in grip, stance, and position. If something hurts, do not assume you are at fault. Many people persist through even sharp pain. They blame their own inadequacies. They figure they will get used to it and assume it comes with the territory. Pain has no place in training. Discomfort is not pain. Evaluate your form if something ever hurts. If you need help, seek out an expert with in-the-trenches experience. He or she should know basic mechanics and anatomy.

Examples

Determine cues by reading about and applying good form. List just the essentials. Do one thing right, and you tend to do other things right. Likewise with a wrong leading to many more wrongs. Remember, the best tip is to keep your chest up. This applies to every exercise. Everything else is unique. Here is a sample cue list for a beginner:

Squat:

Seek notch.

Spread floor.

Chest up.

Look forward.

Hold breath.

Bench:

Chest out.

Shoulders back.

Think speed.

Push toward face.

Row:

Squeeze bar.

Here is my personal sheet:

Squat:

Spread floor.

Chest up.

Bench:

Chest out.

Think speed.

Row:

Rest on floor between reps.

I could think of more, but as an experienced lifter, they would serve no purpose for me. Get rid of cues that no longer feel needed.

These couple cues for each exercise still help me. I can forget these when testing my might against heavy weight, so I list them. They only need to assist me, as do yours.

Make your own list of cues to improve performance and safety.