Daniel  J. Green by Daniel J. Green

One aspect of leading an exercise session that is made more complex by the move from a live to a virtual setting is cueing and providing feedback to participants. One reason for the added difficulty has to do with the limited visibility offered by the use of technology. In a one-on-one in-person session, most exercise professionals will move around the client, viewing the client’s form from various angles and offering cues as needed. Similarly, a professional working with a group will often walk around the room, providing cues and feedback to individual participants.

The static camera angle offered by a phone, tablet or laptop simply does not allow for that type of interaction. In addition, in can sometimes be tough to view a client or participant’s form when you may not be able to see his or her entire body or when the person is moving in and out of frame. This, of course, works both ways, as clients and participants may be unable to see you clearly as you demonstrate an exercise or use visual cues.

For this reason, it is wise to rely more heavily on verbal cues as opposed to visual cues, which may simply be too hard for participants to pick up on screen when they’re busy moving and focusing on their own performance.

In addition, the expert panelists who took part in ACE’s recent webinar, entitled “Expert Insights on How to Deliver an Online Exercise Session: One-to-One and Group,” suggested that you focus on using more external cues, as opposed to internal cues.

Internal cues are used primarily when teaching a new movement, as they direct the exerciser’s attention inwardly, toward his or her own body and the movement process. For example, telling a client to “keep the wrists directly below the shoulders” during a plank or push-up is an internal cue. This type of cueing can enhance motor learning and performance, especially for beginners.

External cues, on the other hand, move the attention outward, toward the surrounding environment and the outcome of the movement. For example, telling a client to “explode off the ground” during a plyometrics jump is an external cue. External cues are used to enhance performance and increase movement effectiveness and efficiency and are generally understood to be better for improving performance in most populations.

Shana Verstegen, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Director of Supreme Health and Fitness in Madison, Wisc., offers another example of internal versus external cueing. Imagine you are teaching a client how to perform body-weight squats and notice the knees are collapsing inward during the upward portion of the movement. An internal cue might be, “Align your knees over your toes.” During an in-person session, you might even touch the knee to provide a kinesthetic cue. An external cue like, “Separate the floor with your feet as you stand,” might be a better choice during a virtual session, as it is more intuitive, requires less conscious thought and is less tactile.

Visualization is another form of external cueing. For example, if you are teaching a client how to perform balance exercises and want him to walk with the feet heel-to-toe in a straight line, an external cue might be, “Imagine you are walking on a railroad track.”

Two final notes on cueing:

First, be sure to use positive language and frame any corrections or feedback in a supportive and uplifting manner. Remember, people are experiencing new and unforeseen stressors during these strange and uncertain times, so the last thing you want to do is deliver a negative exercise experience.

And second, solicit feedback from clients and participants throughout each session. Asking questions like, “Can everyone see what I’m doing here?” will help you make adjustments on the fly. You might also want to invite them to email or text you after the session with any suggestions or feedback that would help you improve the overall experience for the next session.