Cues: A Handful of Great Ones Are All You Need

June 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm 9 comments

Grazie - Thank you!

Grazie - Thank you!

Clearly, the festival in Rome made me appreciate Pilates ever more in many ways.  Another thing it reminded me of  is the value of a few great cues and using them strongly.  I’ve taught in many different countries; sometimes with translators and sometimes without.  You don’t need to actually speak the language to teach effectively.  This pretty much goes for your own language, too!  What I mean is that you need to be clear, concise and use some stunningly simplistic and effective cues.  There’s no need to be verbose…just effective.

In Rome, I was with a wonderful Italian translator, but I found it most effective to learn a couple of great phrases, as I have in other countries, so that I could teach my students in group workouts well.  This “translates” to teaching in your own language too.  You’ve got to be able to cue the abdominals, the spine, arms, legs, up/down, inhale/exhale and count.  That’s all there is to it.

In the U.S. and all over the world, I see teachers struggle with other cues, but miss the basics.   Trying to get clients to understand ribs and shoulders and the like when the abdominals are popping out all over the place and spines are collapsing.  It’s all about basics…first and foremost.  So…make sure those are great and you’ll always give a fantastic class.  Don’t worry about the other stuff.  While other cues are certainly important, establish the foundational actions of  lifted abodminals and spines, first…and continually.  Once they are rockin’…then you might consider moving on to other cues.  But first things must always be first:  abdominals in and up and lifted spines!

Here’s what I found valuable to use over and over again:

Abdominals in and Up – “Adominali in dentro e su”.  They all kept telling me to shorten it to “belly in” (in Italian) which gave me the opportunity to teach them that it’s worth using a long phrase…and I share the same with you.  Use the entire phrased “Scoop your Abominals In and Up”.  It’s a mouthful, but gives the full value of the action!

Grow – As in lengthen your spine!  In Italian it is “crescere”.  The command is “cresci” or “cresce” (I don’t know my Italian spelling…forgive me!) and that was outrageously effective as it is in English!  Constantly cue your clients to lengthen in every exercise.  The action of the spine is utterly important.  The action is always to grow!

Lift your spine spine – “Su con la spina dorsali”.

Up Down – Incredibly useful words.  Of course!  In Italian, for me to say “Su e giu” made all the difference.  Remember, of course, that you say “down” first to establish a grounding set up and then “up” because we’re always looking to lift away from gravity and the ground.  We only go down to go up!

First/Next – “Prima e Prossimo”.  We need these words as we teach:  First, scoop your abominals in and up.  Next, lift your spine.

Numbers – 1-10 –

  • A no brainer, but counting is important.  If you take sessions from me, I always say that you count, not me.  It is the client’s responsibility.  However, it’s also the teacher’s responsibility to know exactly where you are at all times and how many repetitions each exercises gets.  Even if you pretend not to know which rep you’re on/smoke-screen your clients to get them to take responsibility for their session and stay present…you actually have to be more present than your clients.
  • Count backwards.  A client or group knows how many reps to do if you start with the ultimate number in your counting.

I’m not trying to encourage you to teach in Italian…not by any means…what I’m hoping to express to you is that with limited vocabulary you can have an incredible class.  Your clients will be challenged with simplicity and repetition!  It’s awfully tempting to over-teach.  Trust in the method of Pilates (the exercises themselves) and then cue simply starting with the abominals and then the spine.  That’s all it’s ever about:  abdominals and spine.

Oh…and in English or any other language, use words of adulation and appreciation!  “Very good”!  and “Thank you!”  “Molto bene!” and “Grazie!”


Thank you, once again, for reading!  Please take a moment to comment even just to say hi and let me know who you are!  If you ever have any questions or wish to request a blog post topic, please drop that into the comment box, too!  I’d love to hear from you!  If you’re in NYC and want to take a session, e-mail me at and let’s set one up!*****

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Rome Opens My Eyes: Pilates’ Place in the World of Fitness! Independence: It’s fundamental to Pilates!

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alex  |  June 19, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Molto bene, Shari, as always.

    2 Things, always looking to trim speech, talk less, as I am sure a lot of what is said is not heard, any help in that approach?
    When too?
    When not too?
    Signs to look for when it may be to much?
    When it may not be enough?

    Talk to me about the word “Down” ?


    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  June 21, 2010 at 9:18 pm

      Alex, Thank you! Grazie!
      I will absolutely write on these subjects! I appreciate your asking these questions!

  • 3. Porscha  |  June 23, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Hi Shari,
    As always, what a wonderful blog entry. I find that sometimes after a class I’m a little umm… verbally exhausted. I’ve just spent 55 minutes talking almost non-stop, introducing the exercise, telling them what it works, alignment, abdominals, shoulders down and back, Yikes! But I was taught that if I cue thoroughly I won’t have to make as many corrections among clients along the way. I have found this to be nearly true. There are always those few clients with their hips hiked up or dipped down when they’re supposed to be in plank.
    Do you use imagery in your cueing? When we’re lying prone, I say “imagine there is a line of ants travelling across your mat. Pull your abdominals in and up to allow them to pass through.” It always gets a few giggles but it works.

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  June 23, 2010 at 10:33 am

      Hi, Porscha, Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Yes, a lot of teachers find themselves “verbally exhausted”. We’ve got to watch out. When we talk non-stop for 55 minutes, our clients actually zone out and don’t hear us anymore. The use of silence in your teaching is vital. What?! Being able to say what you need for technique, set the rhythm of the exercise and then cue in the first few reps so strongly that then you can “zip it” and not say a word until needed for cues is important to develop. “Talk-ilates” is a tricky trap to get caught in. Again, too much talking and your clients won’t hear you anymore. Establishing the exercise, setting the rhythm strongly and a simple cue then having your clients keep the exercise and rhythm going (because you set it so strongly) gives space for silence and other appropriate cues without cluttering your clients heads/minds. We have to give them space for the mindful part of Pilates.

      I will write a blog post in the next couple of weeks that covers this more specifically, but I encourage you to take a look and listen of your teaching to see and hear if you’re able to establish and then use silence.

      As for images…fantastic! Images are a very important part of teaching! That ant one is adorable! Keep up with it! And…giggles are always great! We want our clients to work hard, sure…but have fun, too! Smiles and giggles through the hard work are essential!

      Thank you so much, Porscha!

  • 5. samuel  |  July 29, 2010 at 5:59 am

    Hi Shari, I’m Samuel, the main stage manager of the festival in Rome.
    I’ve just read your comments on your successful workshop.. I know that your students really appreciated it!
    I totally agree with you about the fact that we talk shop too much, sometimes forgetting the real communicative focus of the speech and, even worst, missing the objective of our work!

    Is nice that you have had good time in Italy and I hope you will come again soon, better if on holiday!

    Thank you and beg me for my bad English!



    PS: Grow means cresci!

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  August 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm

      Ciao, Samuele!
      It’s so nice to hear from you here! Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and comment!
      Please stay in touch! You had said you might be coming to NYC…if you do, please let me know!
      All the best!
      – Shari

  • […] Cues: A Handful of Great Ones Are All You Need2010/06/18 […]

  • […] Cues: A Handful of Great Ones Are All You Need2010/06/18 […]

  • 9. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Cues: A Handful of Great Ones Are All You Need2010/06/18 […]


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