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Tips for Teaching Virtually: How to translate tactile cues into verbal or imagery cues for online classes

Tips for Teaching Virtually - Cueing

As more fitness and mind-body professionals transition to teaching clients and classes online, they’re learning how to translate common physical or tactile cues into verbal cues for an online environment where they can only use their voices to communicate with clients, not touch.

In this article, Merrithew® Lead Instructor Trainer Bianca Bolissian demonstrates some ways you can translate tactile cues to verbal or imagery cues so your clients know what to do and get the same results.

This is also helpful if you’re teaching clients in a studio environment and must remain physically distant from them.

(And special thank you to Bianca’s husband for participating as the client in this demonstration.)

Exercise 1: Breathing

Exercise 1A - Breathing
Exercise 1B - Breathing

Tactile cue: Encourage proper breathing by placing your hands on the back of the client’s rib cage.
Verbal cue: Have the client cross their arms and hold the sides of their own rib cage to feel them expand and contract. This will encourage a three-dimensional breath pattern.
Imagery cue: Feel the ribs open under your hands like a hand-fan as you breathe in, then close as you breathe out, or feel the ribs opening and closing like an accordion. Imagine a little balloon inside your thoracic cavity expanding in all directions, then deflating.

Exercise 2: Cat Stretch or other Flexion Exercises

Exercise 2A - Cat Stretch
Exercise 2B - Cat Stretch
Exercise 2C - Cat Stretch
Exercise 2D - Cat Stretch

Tactile cue: Place your arm under the client’s abdomen to encourage uniform lumbar flexion; place your hand on upper thoracic to encourage even flexion or to help maintain neutral.
Verbal cue: Imagine a ball inflating under the tummy and scoop up the abdominals; then, feel it deflating to return to neutral.
Imagery cue: Feel both the belly button and breast bone pull up and away from a candle flame. Tuck the pelvis under like a puppy with its tail between its legs.

Exercise 3: Standing/Sitting Tall

Exercise 3A - Standing/Sitting Tall
Exercise 3B - Standing/Sitting Tall
Exercise 3C - Standing/Sitting Tall

Tactile cue: Place your hand on the client’s head, encourage them to lengthen up into your hand.
Prop cue: Using a prop, such as a light book or Foam Cushion, encourage the client to reach their head into the prop.
Verbal cue: Imagine balancing a jug of water or stack of books on the head. Feel as though the head is lifting off the neck up to the ceiling.
Imagery cue: Feel the rooting of the feet or the sit bones while the top of the head lifts away from them. Feel like the head is a helium balloon floating to the ceiling. Imagine trying to keep the head above water while swimming in a deep pool.

Exercise 4: Side Leg Lifts

Exercise 4A - Side Leg Lifts
Exercise 4B - Side Leg Lifts

Tactile cue: Gently pull on the ankle of the client’s top leg to encourage lengthening, and place your hand on the top hip to prevent rotating forward or backward.
Verbal cue: Encourage the client to think about oppositional forces, such as reaching the leg and the head away from one another.
Imagery cue: Imagine being in between two panes of glass; and iron out the top waist (visually, you can look at the client’s clothing for any changes when correcting).

4 tips for improving your verbal cueing as a fitness instructor

1. Teach self-tactile cueing
Get the client to touch their own bones and muscles to help them connect to the neurological system. This improves motor skills and proprioceptive awareness.

2. Be creative and keep learning
Take a variety of classes and workshops from different professionals and expose yourself to new ideas and techniques. What household items can you use to help with your teaching and cueing?

3. Keep it simple, yet add challenge
Think about your STOTT PILATES® Biomechanical Principles, your Matwork repertoire and the focus of each exercise. Now, how can you add resistance or mobility challenge while maintaining the same focus? Exercises that use a lot of coordination will require more explanation. They are a great challenge but they break down the flow of the class, so use them wisely and at appropriate times.

4. Use your clients’ clothing as cues
Fabric twists, folds and stretches as the body moves and muscles contract. It also has lines that can be used to check if the body is in alignment. Use that to your advantage.

What questions do you have about cueing? Send them to us at

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