Many exercises that we use on a daily basis involve some type of position where your chest should be out and shoulders should be somewhat retracted. Over the years, I've heard people use various cues when squatting, saying things like "head up", "head back" or "drive your head back in the bar". While those are great cues for more advanced lifters who might have a good sense of body awareness, I find those cues can be very vague to some athletes or newbies to lifting. Especially if they are visual learners, which I find many athletes are. Putting them in the right position can really make a big difference in how they fix their technique.
Let me explain.
Most of the athletes we come across are new to lifting. And even if they have some lifting experience, they just think about "moving the weight" rather than being in the right position. I've found that certain cues can really help an athlete understand their position and learn to feel when it's wrong and when it's right.
Here are a few exercises that I use the words "Chest Up" or "Stick your chest out" for, and why I think it's helped.
When squatting, if you just say "head up", the athlete may look up towards the ceiling. And while that may naturally stick their chest out too, it doesn't necessarily put their upper back in the right position. If you say "chest out" or "chest up", the athlete can feel and see their chest sticking out, which also locks in their upper back, keeping them from hunching forward while squatting.
This is another exercise that can be tricky to learn. Many athletes lack the body awareness to pivot at the hips in this exercise. They either want to bend at the waist (causing a rounded back) or bend at the knees (resulting in a squat). And as they weight increases, it can easily pull an athlete's shoulders forward. That's why I use the cue "stick your chest out" or "chest out". Again, the athlete can see and feel their shoulders being locked into place. And while it doesn't automatically lock in their lumbar spine, it will make a big difference. If I see an athlete started to round out their lower back, I can usually use this cue and it will correct that.
Yes, even the bench press can benefit from this coaching cue. When an athlete lies on the bench very flat-backed, they have lost the ability to use their lats. When you coach them to have a big chest or "stick their chest out", that helps them retact the shoulder blades and automatically lifts their chest up, resulting in a shorter distance to move the bar. (A big benefit that can add major pounds to one's bench press!)
This is especially good for sumo deadlifters, but conventional pullers can use this as well. When pulling sumo, many times the hips rise too soon, resulting in a stiff-legged deadlift. If you cue the athlete to have their "chest up/out", this can help lock in their upper and lower back and in turn, keep their hips closer to the bar. Keeping your hips close to the bar is crucial for sumo deadlifting.
So, there you have it. Sometimes you have to change a few words or try new cues to get an athlete to really understand what the correct position is. For me, this cue is one that is repeated often in my weight room.