by Brent J Carter, SSC Starting Strength
There are many things that differentiate Starting Strength from the rest of the fitness industry malarkey. Our methods have been built from a ground-up systems-based approach. Our coaches know what the hell they are doing. Our program produces results year after year for thousands and thousands of clients; theirs do not.
Another example of how we are very different is that you rarely hear our coaches tell a client to use a particular muscle group. We do not shout “Squeeze the glutes!” at the top of the squat or deadlift because it simply does not contribute anything useful — your glutes are in fact what allowed you to stand up to begin with, so they got squeezed. Cues being a direct command that initiates a desired response, these types of cues do not tell the lifter to move in a certain way. I know you will have heard very different having spent even the most casual amount of time in a globo gym (“You really gotta squeeze your pecs on this bench press, bro!”). I have actually heard from a Senior level, no, Master level trainer at a commercial gym in New York, that your pecs need to be having a conversation with you during the bench press. What they would say I didn’t dare ask…
We are principally concerned with the way the lifter and the barbell move, and our cues are therefore primarily directed toward movement. If a lifter fails to move in a certain way, we give him a cue that helps remind the lifter how we want him to move. For example, if the knees are caving in during a squat, the coach might cue simply “Knees out.” Cueing the muscles responsible for this movement is not only unnecessary, but it’s quite a mouthful. Are you really going to tell your lifter to squeeze (or “activate” or “fire” if you are the Physical Therapy type) their gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, tensor fascia latae, piriformis, or gemellus inferior? It simply doesn’t matter what muscles and muscle groups get the job done, just get the damn job done.
The exception to this, however, might be when we want to prevent a particular movement. For example, in the power clean if a lifter is arm pulling, we may cue the lifter to “squeeze your triceps” because the triceps is the antagonist to the biceps and brachialis, the elbow-bending muscles. I have found this to also be useful when the lifter is excessively moving the hips backwards (hip flexion) in the press as part of “winding up” — getting ready to bounce the bar. Here a cue of “squeeze your glutes” may indeed be accurate since the glutes are the antagonists to the hip flexors.
These examples are fairly limited in scope, and in general a good coach will cue the movement that needs to happen rather than the muscles that produce the movement. This is a good thing for the client because it allows the lifter to focus on the task at hand (moving in a certain way), and a good thing for me, the coach, because I just don’t want to memorize all of the spinal erectors or the little muscles of the hand (there are quite a few, after all, and like most of what I learned getting an Exercise Physiology degree, I’ve forgotten the majority of it). Instead I’ll just say “Squeeze your chest up!”