Brittany Todd by Brittany Todd

In the group fitness setting, efficient and effective cueing is essential to creating a positive experience for class attendees. For group fitness instructors (GFIs), one of the most challenging aspects of effective cueing may be maintaining the delicate balance between delivering just enough information to participants so that they can safely and correctly perform movements, without risking confusion by providing too many details.  

To master the art of cueing, be mindful of the appropriate type, timing and content of the cues shared during class. Specifically, a great deal of intentionality must be applied in word choice and frequency to ensure that participants hear, understand and apply the provided instruction for best results.  

In a class full of participants with various backgrounds and experience levels, how can you successfully communicate with everyone in attendance? To address this question, let’s start by evaluating the purpose that cueing serves in the group fitness setting.  

What Is Cueing? 

In the group fitness setting, a cue is defined as any information, reminder or alert provided by the instructor to help participants properly perform and/or anticipate a specific movement. Cues can be verbal, nonverbal or tactile in nature. The purpose of cueing during group fitness classes is to ensure participant safety and to maintain the flow of the class structure by keeping everyone on the same page.  

There are three main categories of group fitness cues: Performance cues, safety cues and alerting cues.  

  • Performance Cues: Performance cues help participants properly execute a movement. For example, during a deadlift, cue the participants to maintain an extended, neutral spine—“draw your shoulders back, imagining you’re balancing a glass of water on your upper back.” This cue provides class attendees with a visual checkpoint to ensure that they’re maintaining good alignment while performing a deadlift exercise 

  • Safety Cues: Safety cues minimize risk of injury during class. For example, when performing movements that require participants to pick up weighted objects from the floor, you may provide a safety cue such as, “Make sure that you bend your knees and engage your core while picking up your weights.” 

  • Alerting Cues: Alerting cues inform participants of changes in movement or tempo in advance of such changes taking place. For example, when leading the class through an interval-based workout, you can notify the class of the end of the work interval by cueing, “Your recovery period is coming up in 3…2…1… . 

Important Cueing Considerations 

How can you determine the most effective type and timing of cues during class? Following are three important considerations for you to keep in mind when selecting and using cues for the best results.  

  1. Participant Learning Styles 

People learn and process information differently. Therefore, be aware of the various learning styles and develop skills in how to diversify your cueing techniques to successfully communicate with all of your participants.  

The most common learning styles can be broken into the following three categories. Note: Most people learn using a combination of all three of these learning styles, which is why consistently incorporating the following techniques into your classes will benefit the most participants during each session. 

  • Visual Learners: Visual learners are those participants who best receive and process instruction by seeing it. To maximize the understanding of visual learners during class, physically demonstrate proper movement execution, while simultaneously providing verbal instruction. For example, demonstrate how to properly perform a push-up, while talking through any important considerations. 

    • Visual learners also benefit from seeing movements performed from different angles and in different directions. Therefore, you may want to demonstrate movements while facing the class, as well as from the side view, to optimize the understanding and engagement of the visual learners in class.  
  • Auditory Learners: Auditory learners are those participants who best receive and process instruction by hearing it. To maximize the understanding of auditory learners during class, prioritize optimal voice quality by projecting your voice and annunciating your words. This ensures that participants can hear and understand what you are saying, regardless of their physical location within the space. 

    • Also, keep cues as simple as possible by using commonly understood terms when providing instruction. For example, encouraging participants to, “Contract your pectoralis major,” may not be as universally understood as saying, “Focus on your chest muscles.” Finally, avoid excessive talking or verbal cueing during class instruction, as providing too much information can be overwhelming and distracting for participants.  

  • Kinesthetic Learners: Kinesthetic learners are those who best process and receive instruction by doing or practicing something. To maximize the understanding of kinesthetic learners during class, periodically walk around to check participants’ form as they’re exercising and provide quick, personalized coaching.

    • Many kinesthetic learners will not fully master a movement until they’ve performed it a few times themselves. Therefore, encourage participants to practice a few repetitions independently following your demonstration before officially beginning the sequence.  

  1. Class Format 

When determining which cues to use and when to use them, it’s important to be mindful of the specific class format you are teaching, as the type of exercises and movements performed during class dictates the type and frequency of cues used during instruction. For example, in high-intensity interval training or strength-based group fitness classes, more complicated exercises are often performed. Therefore, you will more frequently utilize performance and safety cues to maintain the flow of class instruction. 

You may also have to repeat verbal cues and demonstrate exercises multiple times throughout a class when leading more technical formats. Conversely, in traditional dance fitness or rhythm-based group fitness classes, you may primarily utilize alerting cues to ensure that participants remain in sync with the beat of the music and any upcoming transitions. During these classes, you may also want to utilize a variety of verbal and nonverbal cueing techniques to signal rhythmic or movement changes to participants.  

  1. Class Population and Environment 

When determining the time and type of cues, be mindful of the class population and the environment in which the class takes place. For example, if you teach in a space that is adequately sized for the activity and relatively free of distractions, you will likely not have to repeat verbal cues and demonstrations as frequently as an instructor working in a small or cluttered space 

Similarly, if you are teaching a class filled primarily with newcomers, you may need to provide more verbal, nonverbal and tactile cues than an instructor leading more experienced exercisers.  

Successful application of this final consideration simply requires you to be mindful of your surrounding environment and to be knowledgeable of the needs of the population you serve.  

Final Thoughts 

Cueing has a significant impact on a participant’s overall class experience, as it directly influences their perceived ability to successfully participate in the class format. While effective cueing is truly an artform, with proper study and practice, you can master this aspect of your role to ensure that all attendees are cued up for success. 

To learn more about cueing techniques, read: 

And, if you’re not already an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor, click to learn more about our study programs and the benefits of being an ACE Certified Pro.