Words 101: Keeping Your Verbal Cues Productive

Specificity is key when you lead clients through a workout - both in explaining movement and providing motivation. 


“What are we supposed to be doing?” Odds are that you’ll know if your verbal cues are extremely unclear because your clients won’t be successful in completing exercises as you’ve programmed them, but you might be unable to visually identify smaller misunderstandings. When we are working out together virtually (and even in-person sometimes), you may be unable to see when a client’s form is ever-so-slightly off. Sometimes, all anyone needs to make a movement click in their mind and body is to hear it phrased in a new way. Getting more creative with your verbal cuing can ensure that no client gets left behind. 

Be sure to vary what you say so that every class doesn’t sound the same. It’s one thing to have some signature catchphrases that clients hear every class but it’s another thing to go on autopilot while teaching. One helpful exercise might be to think about the phrases you expect to hear when you take class from someone else. If you teach cycling, you might be prepared to hear “draw your belly button to your spine” but what are some other ways to explain lower abdominal activation so that your words don’t fade into the background of class. Try to think of three other ways you could ask your clients to activate their core. 


The International Journal of Eating Disorders published a study in July showing that symptoms of eating disorders and anxiety have risen since the onset of COVID-19. The study was also reported on by Michelle Konstantinovksy for Scientific American. NBC News' Gwen Aviles reported that individuals with Body Dysmorphic Disorder may be experiencing worsening symptoms. 

The fact is: mental illnesses and eating disorders do not look a certain way. You, as a fitness professional, are not owed information about a client’s history of mental illness nor should you assume that you know someone’s history if they have not explicitly notified you. You are, however, responsible for conducting your class in a productive environment. 

Language is foundational when building a supportive atmosphere. Steer clear of phrases like “Quarantine 15” and be intentional with your motivation. Now is a great time to meditate on what you consider to be your signature catchphrases in class. Is your motivation rooted in a place of wellness and strength? Amazing. Does your motivation call upon looking a certain way (“long and lean”) or needing to work out specifically to counterbalance the act of eating food (“earn your weekend”)? Now is the time to drop those motivations moving forward. Be intentional with your words and your class will become a more inclusive place. 

Take Care of Yourself!

Fitness professionals are not immune from the pressures of society, either! Sometimes you might need to ask others for feedback that you otherwise could not see yourself. If you have a handful of trusted repeat clients, ask them for feedback on what is and isn’t working. Ask them why they love your class and what could make their experience better. 

As a community leader, don’t shy away from checking in with your community. You’ll likely find that it makes both you and your clients more inspired.

Further Reading & Resources

COVID-19- Era Isolation Is Making Dangerous Eating Disorders Worse

Isolation, Zoom calls amid coronavirus worsen body dysmorphic disorder symptoms for some

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorders Association’s Helpline by calling (800) 931-2237 or clicking here to chat. For crisis situations, you can text “NEDA” to 741741 to connect to a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line.

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