Maximizing Motor Learning: Cues Matter

Do you tell your shoppers to “squeeze those glutes” or “tighten that core” through the execution of an exercise? These cueing methods are spoken in all places from physical therapy clinics to high-performance amenities throughout the globe. Presumably, the objective is to make sure that the participant is appropriately utilizing the goal movers and/or stabilizers for the duty at hand. Of course, not all cues are applicable for each exercise or assist the shopper obtain the utmost advantage of any given exercise.

The execution of any motion is the sum of some unimaginable processing and coordination of motor alerts to the musculoskeletal system and the continued suggestions from peripheral sensory receptors as well as visible, vestibular and auditory enter. For competency, efficiency, safety and most benefit, exercise professionals and health coaches might present verbal, visual and typically tactical cues to the shopper with respect to motion execution.

For instance, your shopper performs a plank and you cue him or her to keep the core tight. In one other example, your shopper does a wood-chop motion using a cable machine and you might use the very same cue. It is obvious that each of those exercises have very totally different biomechanical and neurological traits to them. The plank is a statically held exercise that immediately locations the core in a loaded position as gravity acts perpendicularly to the torso’s position. The wooden chop is a dynamic movement, with the physique oriented vertically and with movement via a number of planes, which requires coordination and timing of the muscular pressure production.

Is the specified consequence of the cue the same for each exercises? The reply is not any. Although the core could also be concerned in both exercises, the aim of the exercise, the position of the core and your expectation of the shopper are all very totally different. If that is the case, will the shopper have the ability to differentiate between what is implied and what's stated?

A better strategy is to urge your shoppers to make the most of a way referred to as focus of consideration. From a motor skill-learning perspective, this time period could be de?ned as “the conscious effort of an individual to focus their attention through explicit thoughts in an effort to execute a motor skill with superior performance” (Benz et al., 2016).

Focus of consideration may be broken right down to intrinsic focus of attention (IFA) and extrinsic focus of attention (EFA). Intrinsic focus is consideration to elements of the individual’s body (glutes, core, knee, spine, and so on.). The shopper is being requested to execute a motion based mostly on what half or elements of the body she or he is consciously controlling with larger attention than other elements of the physique. Extrinsic focus refers to targets outdoors the body and could be associated to distance, course and analogies (e.g., “keep your shoulder over your hips,” “get long,” and “open up like a book”).

Here’s another approach to think about these two concepts: While IFA might be described as highlighting the “players” and methods of the motion, EFA could be described extra an external objective of the motion.

The phrases motor studying and motor control are typically used interchangeably, but they're totally different. Motor management refers to how the nervous system directs the muscle tissues and joints to carry out an action. Motor studying refers more to the acquisition of a brand new motion talent that is still after the apply session(s).

A robust body of analysis supports using EFA to reinforce motor learning in more complicated movements (e.g., wooden chops, lunges, sport particular methods). This is because the motion requires limited acutely aware thought and becomes more unconscious and automated with a reflex mode of control (Wulf et al., 2010).

Conversely, IFA increases self-awareness and leads to self-regulating adjustments, which might intrude with coordinated actions in additional complicated movements. I typically check with this state of affairs with my shoppers as “getting in our own way,” as we ascend their corrective packages to include extra built-in movements.

Returning to the wood-chop instance, in case you are instructing your shopper to maintain his or her core tight, yet those same muscle mass are presupposed to be contributing to the movement, a movement battle might arise. If the abs are overly tightened and braced, how do they efficiently eccentrically load on the prime of the motion? And then how do they maximally concentrically contract by the top of the movement?

Biomechanically, you possibly can’t do each at the similar time and optimize the muscle synergy and timing essential for coordinated motion. Will the core tighten in the course of the course of the movement? Yes, however the contraction drive of the core muscle tissues shouldn't be held constant by means of the motion whereas being dictated by greater ranges within the brain. This is opposite to the motion sequence being extra unconscious and automated with a reflex mode of control.

When working with shoppers with persistent pain at Function First, I exploit the metaphor of a quantity knob for a way a lot drive our muscular tissues produce during motion. The volume knob on zero can be a neurologically “silent” muscle, whereas the quantity knob at 10 can be thought-about a maximum contraction. Movement should see a fluctuation of the quantity going up and down based mostly not solely on the task at hand, but in addition throughout totally different phases of that activity. Coaching the shopper to show his or her core up to an eight on the quantity knob, and to keep it there throughout the motion, interferes with the authenticity of the movement and doesn't permit for the required variability of power of contraction by means of the movement.

The beforehand talked about limitations of IFA, which have been described as disadvantages for complicated movements, can, in reality, be advantageous for lower-level corrective exercises, especially when working with shoppers in pain. Spatial and proprioceptive acuity is diminished in those with continual pain. Therefore, using an IFA technique with isometric contractions and or isolated actions can improve the corticospinal excitability (motor neuron exercise from the mind and spinal twine) of the associated muscle teams. This can help the shopper in regaining consciousness and power of focused muscle teams and finally their contribution to more concerned movements.

The picture under represents rules that we apply as Pain-free Movement Specialists when designing corrective exercise packages for shoppers in pain. The picture summarizes an inverse relationship between IFA and EFA and the varieties of exercises which may map greatest to those rules.

A last point to think about when determining the cues you give to your shoppers is the ensuing change within the arthrokinematics of the joint. Arthrokinematics describes the motion between joint surfaces. This motion is decided by the shapes of the 2 joint surfaces and the timing and the pressure of the muscle contractions appearing on the joint and exterior forces (e.g., gravity).

For instance, throughout a aspect lateral dumbbell increase, you cue your shopper to squeeze the shoulder blades together and to not allow them to go while the arm is raised. The intention, in fact, is to take care of good posture and positioning of the scapula in the frontal aircraft, however by limiting the power of the scapula to upwardly rotate at the finish of the motion, the arthrokinematics have been changed.

This has a possible adverse consequence, as it might improve mechanical stress on the smooth tissue around the joint and improve compression of the joint surfaces.

Both inner focus of consideration (IFA) and exterior focus of consideration (EFA) cueing supply benefits when applied on the optimum time and for the appropriate exercises or movements. IFA may help shoppers with persistent ache or those who are deconditioned or in post-rehab enhance consciousness and recruitment of poorly functioning muscle mass or muscle teams. When cueing for extra involved movements requiring higher motor management, EFA permits the shopper to concentrate on the surface objective, creating more environment friendly motion and reflexive error correction.

With shoppers who have persistent pain, we use both cueing approaches inside a given session because the programming ascends from remedial/floor-based exercises to extra vertical and integrated movements. This moves the shopper by means of a continuum of what we name “sub routines” or packages inside a program that greatest elicits the motor control wanted to build motion confidence.


Benz, A. et al. (2016). Coaching instructions and cues for enhancing dash efficiency. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 38, 1–11.

Wulf, G., Shea, C. and Lewthwaite, R. (2010). Motor talent studying and performance: A evaluate of influential elements. Medical Education, 44, 75–84.

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