Communication Techniques

Cueing is the art of informing participants of what they need to do before they do it. Successful cueing of a group fitness class results in participants doing the same thing at the same time, and for up to an hour at a time.

Often exercise participants expect a challenging workout for both the body and, to some extent, the mind.  Participants need to feel that they have achieved success at the end of their workout, and that the experience was worthwhile.  As an instructor, one must learn to develop simple and effective cueing techniques so that participants will be able to follow and understand instructions which will enable the instructor to achieve session goals when working with groups. The instructor must become proficient in using both verbal and non-verbal cueing techniques, as these communication skills will greatly influence the success of classes.

Most of us recognise that we communicate the meaning behind our words through our voice intonation, facial expressions and gestures too. Body posture and body expression also convey meaning.

Cuing can be broken down into verbal and non-verbal cuing.

Non-Verbal Cueing

It is important to note that when communicating during a class, participants will receive 70% of information through non-verbal messages.  The importance of non-verbal cueing must therefore never be underestimated.

Examples of non-verbal cues which can be effective may include:

  • Signs or symbols

These cues may represent direction, intensity, number of repetitions, the count down to a change, moves or patterns.

  • Facial expressions

Facial expressions are an important aspect in determining an instructor’s style. A smile, nod of the head, or other positive gestures are all facial expressions that will help to encourage participants. One should ensure that gestures are genuine and sincere.

  • Body language

The instructor should remember that first impressions are extremely important. When first introducing oneself to a class, it is vital that the instructor looks and acts confident, even if one does not feel that way! The posture with which you hold your body will display comfort or distress levels. When instructing, the instructor should use correct body alignment (lengthen your spine, abs tight, shoulders down and back, knees in line with the toes) to demonstrate new or existing moves. One should not be afraid to turn your body side-on to the group to show another angle when demonstrating. It is important to remember that if the instructor executes a move incorrectly, the participants are likely to do the same.

Physical contact

Touching is one way of communicating with your body. If done judiciously, touching can achieve several goals. It can be reassuring; it can be a gesture that says, “I haven’t forgotten you,” it can break down barriers between you and another person. However, you need to be cautious in this area, since touching can build rapport for some and distance for others. Some participants are comfortable touching and being touched, but others react negatively.

The amount of personal space an individual requires varies from one person to another. Notice how close, or far, your participants situate themselves when they approach you. By keeping the same amount of space between you when you speak to them, you will avoid encroaching on their personal space.

Verbal Cueing

Verbal cues should be clear and must be delivered in a consistent manner.  One needs to be confident when cueing verbally, use a strong voice, keep your head up and project the sound towards the back of the room. Instructing with a microphone makes teaching and voice projection much easier.  At all times, with or without a microphone, one should consider not only your projection but your tone and pitch. The instructor should focus on breathing and comfort level when cueing, and avoid unnecessary verbal communication in classes where possible. Occasional silence is acceptable!

Verbal cueing refers to the what, where, when and how of the exercise to music routine, and usually includes the following types of cueing:

  • Footwork cueing

Where one indicates which foot to move e.g. the left or the right.

  • Directional cueing

Where the instructor instructs participants in which direction to move in e.g. front, back, to the left or to the right.

  • Rhythmic cueing

Where the instructor indicates the rhythm of the routine e.g. “Run, run, cha cha cha”.

  • Numerical cueing

Refers to counting down the changes e.g. 4, 3, 2, 1.

  • Step cueing

Refers to the name of the step to be executed e.g. “Grapevine”, “Step touch”, “Knee lifts”.

  • Technique cueing

This is applicable when providing correctional advice on a participant’s form, technique or posture e.g. “have soft knees”, “keep legs wider”, “keep your abs tight”.

  • Motivational cueing

This method may be used by the instructor to motivate, encourage and challenge participants e.g. “You can do it”, “Hang in there”, “Well done!”

Always use clear, concise verbal cues. For example, “Knee up”—being short and to the point — is a better cue than “Now bring the knee up toward your waist.” Counting every beat of the music is not effective. As you become more expert, counting gets internalised and verbally cuing with the music becomes automatic. Count out loud as little as possible. The more precise and well-timed a cue is, the easier it is for students to translate the information into action. Counting to every beat of the music creates confusion and competes with the end goal, which is to introduce the next move.

How much verbal cuing you use should depend on the participants’ skill levels. Beginners often need more explanation and lead-in time. Therefore, when working with less experienced students, you may have to use four-beat cuing. This means you explain the next move in four beats prior to implementing the move. The more lead-in time you give, the more prepared students will be.

Two-beat cuing is a more advanced technique because you say less. It is quick and works well with challenging choreography, up-tempo classes and advanced students.

Four-beat cuing does not mean you count 4, 3, 2 and 1 out loud. The counting is silent, and the cue itself signals the upcoming move. The same goes for two and three-beat cuing.

Here are some examples of two, three and four-beat cuing:

2-beat cuing: silent count 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3; then say, “knee up” on counts 2, 1

2-beat cuing: silent count 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3; then say “over” (count 2) “the top” (count 1)

3-beat cuing: silent count 8, 7, 6, 5, 4; then say “ham-string-curl” on counts 3, 2, 1

4-beat cuing: silent count 8, 7, 6, 5; then say “left-lead-turn-step” on counts 4, 3, 2, 1

Voice Projection

You may have come across a group fitness instructor who has a husky voice because of years and year of taking classes. The fact is that if one does not look after your voice, you may damage your vocal chords.

The larynx is located at the top of the trachea (your windpipe). The larynx contains the vocal cords, also referred to as vocal folds. These tissues stretch across the trachea with a small gap between them. The surrounding muscles of the larynx change the shape of this gap, and when air passes through the vocal folds they vibrate, producing sound. These subtle changes — along with consonant sounds and the resonance chambers of the body (skull, chest, nasal cavity) — are responsible for sounds. Overuse is one of the most common causes of damage to the vocal chords. The best solution in most cases is rest!

The following are some tips on how to look after the vocal chords.

  • Warm up the vocal chords, by doing exercises such as:

–              Yawn Rudely. Yawn with a long, loud vocalization

–              Turn On the “Sirens.” Keep the lips closed, but the mouth cavity as open as possible, and imitate a siren. This is like humming, but with more intention. All the sound comes from the nose. Pinching the nose will immediately stop the sound. Start with quiet sirens, and get higher and louder each time

  • Avoid screaming in class situations, especially if you have a microphone!
  • Enunciate your words, and speak slowly
  • Use body language effectively – this will reduce the amount of talking that you must do!
  • Use directional cuing. Challenge your students by showing rather than telling them what to do next. Unnecessary cuing, such as counting backward from eight, further exhausts the voice. Be comfortable with vocal silence
  • Use your microphone as effectively as possible – it is your number one tool in protecting your voice!

The importance of using a microphone:

  • Creates a professional feel to the class
  • Makes communication from the instructor more audible
  • Helps to protect vocal chords and any injury due to overuse

How to take care of audio equipment:

  • One should be trained on how to use audio equipment effectively
  • Training should include appropriate use of tone, base and volume in classes
  • Equipment should always be stored in a safe place once classes are completed and unplugged
  • Make sure that technicians install equipment and service it regularly

The instructor should aim to be:

  • Authoritative and in control of the class
  • Clear and precisely spoken with or without a microphone
  • Instructional and educational when necessary
  • Positive and focused on solutions (e.g. “Keep breathing” instead of “Don’t hold your breath”)
  • Illustrative and inventive (e.g. during a lunge, Allison Mantia, certification specialist for the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, cues, “Think of moving up and down like an elevator instead of diagonally front and back like an escalator”)
  • Specific (e.g. instead of “Come on and do it,” a cycling instructor may say, “Begin your climb now” or “Raise your resistance 5% now”)