The Language of Lifting for Beginners

Ever read or hear an exercise description and wonder what the heck it meant? These 5 workout-cues will shine a light on old exercise-form pointers to help you get the most out of your sweat sesh. Let me break down the Language of Lifting for Beginners.

the language of lifting for beginners tps fit


I think one of the hardest things I struggled with when I first starting working out regularly (about 5-6 years ago now) was figuring out what the personal trainers, fitness instructors and magazines meant when they cued a move. I just didn’t “get” the language of lifting.

“Stand with your feet hip/shoulder distance apart.”
“Keep a neutral spine.”
“Engage your core”.
“Press through your heels”.
“Use your mind-muscle connection.”

Say what now???

I did what most of us do when we don’t understand something, I turned to my Interwebs BFF, Google for help. I gotta tell ya, some of the searches I looked up were pretty funny, “exercise names description”, “exercise types description”, “fitness exercise  descriptions” and “weight lifting techniques chart” were just a few phrases I furiously typed in my never-ending quest to figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing. Clearly I needed a manual on the language of lifting for beginners lol 😉

If you are like I was and are just dieing to know what all this mumbo-jumbo means so you can get off the computer and into your workout faster with proper knowledge of an exercise cue, keep reading.

Common Cue: Stand with your feet hip (or shoulder) width apart.

feet shoulder width apart

Image Courtesy of: All-Star Academy

Used for: squats and deadlifts

Language of Lifting for Beginners: look in the mirror and line your legs up with the width of your hips or shoulders. The exact distance will vary as every woman’s body is a different shape so that is why it’s critical to do this in front of a full-length mirror so you can see what your hip/shoulder distance is.

Keep your toes pointed forward and begin squat or deadlift.

I prefer the term “Play with your foot placement to find a position that works for you”.

Common Cue: Keep a neutral spine.

weight training tips

Used for: deadlifts, planks, presses, yoga and sitting!

Language of Lifting for Beginners: even though we have a natural curve to our spine aka back, when we do any type of exercise or daily movement (while we are sitting a our desks or a table) we should aim to maintain this curvature. The key is not to over-arch (which I tend to do when I am sitting at my desk, which is why my chiro makes a mint off me lol).

To keep a neutral spine, lift your shoulders as high towards your ears as you can, round them towards the back of the room and lower them down. That is Step 1.

For Step 2 imagine holding a pencil between your shoulder blades, but now relax your muscles so you aren’t clenching your delts (shoulder muscles).

Step 3, keep your head in line with your spine, not folded too far forwards or backwards. This is you neutral spine position.

I prefer the term, “Sit/Stand up straight” or “Keep your back straight”.

Common Cue: Engage your Core.

language of lifting

Used for: ab work, or almost any other lifting exercise

First of all, let’s define what your core actually is. It isn’t just your abs, but your entire mid-section, front and back. Your core is comprised of layers of muscles on your stomach, back and bootay and these muscles help support your pelvis and spine. This is why it is crucial to have a strong core!

Language of Lifting for Beginners: it’s more than sucking in your tummy, although that is how to start the engagement process. Imagine someone is going to drop a 5 lb dumbbell on your belly. Notice how you brace your entire mid-section in anticipation of that happening? That is what is means to engage your core. And it takes practice. Every motion, no matter if you are doing squats, bicep curls or crunches, start with engaging (or bracing) your core.

I prefer the term, “Suck your tummy into your spine”.

Common Cue: Press through your Heels.

Used for: deadlifts, squats, lunges, step-ups

Language of Lifting for Beginners: here we want you to place most of your weight back in your heels, not up front in your toes. For instance, when we squat, we lower our bodies down, rest for 1-2 seconds, then push our bodies up with our legs, right? Wrong! When we push back up, the motion starts by pressing your heels into the floor, aka shifting your weight into your heels. To aid with this, I ever so slightly lift my toes (only my toes or I’ll fall backwards) off the ground to strengthen my stability. Standing more solidly and rooting your body will lead to better balance and power.

I prefer the term, “Put your weight in your heels and lift those toes when you come up”.

Common Cue: Use your Mind/Muscle Connection.

mind muscle connection

Image Courtesy of

Used for: any strength training exercise

Language of Lifting for Beginners:  the connection between flexing a muscle and growing that muscle (aka toning a muscle, strengthening a muscle) is crucial. Take a bicep curl for instance. What is involved here? You simply lift your arm in a curling motion, right? Easy peasy. But wait! Without actually thinking of that muscle moving during the lifting (contracting) and lowering of the movement, you are missing out on so much!

Rather than thinking about moving the weight (dumbbell or barbell or resistance band), you should focus your attention on moving the muscle you are working on. In fact, I suggest you take it one step further and actually look at your bicep muscle the entire length of the set.

Wanna take it even further? Ya you do!

Physically place two fingers on the bicep that is contracting aka doing the lifting motion. The results are incredible and it has been proven that just by doing this seemingly small yet incredibly significant motion, your muscle will actually grow more.

Is there a phrase you are unfamiliar with but would like an explanation on? Post it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to answer your comment and tell you what it means!

You’re still here?? Super cool! You get to grab my Free At-Home HIIT Stair Workout for reading till the very end!

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