How to better understand your personal trainer’s cues.

Carlos Anthony Castro
3 min readDec 19, 2023

Working with a qualified personal trainer is the best way to maximize your gym routine. Unfortunately, the process by which most personal trainers get their title makes it difficult to find someone truly qualified. And I’m not knocking the individual, but the process instead.

The average personal trainer loves to workout, and understands how their own body works. The baseline process doesn’t address human body education overall. And the result is the average personal trainer teaches their clients the same way they would for themselves.

I’ve learned to really slow down and break down my instructions to more increments. Some common instructions that clients have struggled with for me early on were:

  • Brace your core (Romanian deadlift)
  • Keep your lats engaged(Romanians deadlift)
  • Pull the weight towards you hip (dumbbell rows)

No 2 bodies move exactly the same, and giving explaining them can be a bit challenging . I’d never stop a client mid exercise unless it looked like injury was imminent. Instead, I’ll cue clients into better form. For those rare occasions I must.

Romanian deadlifts are great. But 2 cues that clients must understand are bracing the core and keeping the lats engaged.

  • Bracing your core- activity push those lower stomach muscles deep into your low spine. Imagine you had a fist coming straight at your stomach and you had to be ready. But unlike bracing for a punch you had to hold those muscles compressed to your lower spine. In this position we can still breathe. So we arent sucking air into our diaphragm to make our lower core look smaller.
  • Keeping our lats engaged- Our lats are a wide back muscles, actually part of our core as well. They sit on part of our hips, low spine, ribs and shoulder blades, but connect to our upper arm. The lats do 8 things. But 2 of the most important when it comes to keeping the lats engaged during exercises like Romanian deadlifts(shown above) are are keeping the shoulder blades down(depressed), and squeezing together. This ensures that were pulling weight off the ground with our entire core engaged(braced) and not pulling off the ground with our hands. I always say, “break the bar in half through the movement “. If a client is struggling there, I’ll put towels under their armpits, and make sure they know that those towels can’t fall.

Although Romanian deadlifts are considered a low body exercise, properly done it’s definitely a lower/ upper body movement.

  • Pull the weight towards your hip- Dumbbell rows are truly one of my favorite exercises. They’re great for building strong back (and making the core look slimmer). But a lot of people tend to keep the shoulders shrugged and pull the weight towards their armpits, making it a “bicep” exercise, and comprising the health of the main part of our shoulder joint.

So we make the most of this by: getting full extension down, rotate your torso a bit( see the above photo), feel your shoulder blade slightly roll off the back of your rib cage. But when you pull the weight back up, pull towards your hip(not your armpit).

The main muscle moving in a row is (again) are lats. Also assisting in the row movement are 2 of our 4 rotator cuff muscles, a portion of the pec/ chest muscle, part of the tricep and deltoid (and teres major). The elbow is flexed so the bicep is slightly contributing.

I hope these cues help. Enjoy your next workout!



Carlos Anthony Castro

*Personal Trainer* Marathon Runner * Instagram @iron_endurance_training