What trainers really think about during a workout

Tier 3 trainer Kevon Daley clues us into the internal monologue of a fitness pro.

Visualization's role in fitness is typically associated with the end game: Exercisers are told to push through a difficult session by picturing themselves crossing a finish line, seeing a change reflected in the mirror, completing that tenth consecutive pull-up. But conjuring a specific image related to a particular workout move—versus a big-picture result—may prove more useful.

Here's why: To achieve proper form, your brain has to tell your body what to do, and if those instructions aren’t crystal-clear, your form will be thrown off and your results compromised—not to mention you’ll increase your risk of injury.

To ensure that the brain and body are speaking the same language, Miami Beach-based Tier 3 trainer Kevon Daley gets creative with a series of visual cues. "I pay attention to how someone moves and prompt them with a simple cue so that they’re able to perform that movement in that position," he explains. “Everyone has different biomechanical advantages, but if you can teach someone to move in a proper way based off of their biomechanics, they’ll improve and produce more force.”

Read on for Daley’s favorite move-cue match-ups.

The Move: Horizontal pulling/row movements

The Visual Cue: Reaching for and pulling a door handle

With row movements, exercisers are often told to pull their chests up and their shoulders back, which, Daley says, can be problematic. “You want protraction and retraction to provide proper scapula-humerus rhythm,” he says. “Think of a TRX row: Most of us want our chest tall and our shoulders back, so the scapula is retracted. But what happens is we lose that protraction, the upward rotation.” Daley fixes that by using the door handle cue. “When you are opening a door, you are putting your arm forward, which is protraction, and pulling it back, which is retraction. So in the gym, you want to reach for that imaginary door handle, and then pull it back. You wouldn’t grab a door handle with your shoulders already back and then pull it; the same goes for a rowing movement.”

The Move: Lunges

The Visual Cue: Being inside a glass box

Daley uses this cue for both stationary and walking lunges. “Thinking of yourself inside a glass box—with glass in front and in back of you—means that you can only move up and down. This keeps the move glute-dominant and ensures you will drive through your heels versus the balls of your feet. A lot of exercisers, particularly when doing walking lunges, move too quickly and lean forward. But when I give this cue, it ensures the hips are in the same place and not driving forward and the body is nice and tall, which allows you to create more force and tension.”

The Move: Vertical pulling/vertical pushing movements (e.g. overhead press with barbell)

The Visual Cue: Becoming a pillar

“When doing these movements, we’re usually standing with some sort of lower lumbar curve, with our butts sticking out,” says Daley. “But we want to create tension in our whole body and maintain a neutral position so that when we press overhead, we can create more force.” To do so, Daley imagines becoming a pillar, with emphasis on a sturdy, stabile core. “Tuck your hips forward, squeeze your glutes so your core is tight and you’re set in a strong position. Getting the hips forward creates that pillar so you can exhale and create force to press that weight overhead.”

The Move: Squat

The Visual: Ripping a piece of paper apart with your feet

Imagine placing a piece of paper on the floor, and as you do your squat, you rip the paper apart. “It’s similar to the cue of spreading the floor with your feet,” says Daley. “When you do this, you turn on your glute muscles, which helps stabilize the knee. When we squat, our may fall inside, which can cause strain. So this cue sets you up to fire the glutes and stabilize the knee.”