Cuing of the Feet and Hands During Closed Chain Exercise

Common Ground. Effective Cuing of the Feet and Hands During Lower and Upper Body Closed Chain Exercise.
Jeff Aker, CSCS
It was not long ago that I was in my university days of working out when the weight room was restricted to purely physique. It was about being jacked and that was about it and looking back at it, my idea of getting jacked was not exactly reasonable. My workouts consisted of lots of bench press, arms, delts, and the occasional hangover leg day.  That leg day consisted mostly of some half assed squats, calf raises, and eventually more arms. While I do see where isolation exercise has its place, I eventually began to learn the significance of the big movements as I began to integrate them. I became hooked on the feeling that you get when hitting a big squat or deadlift. It is a rush, you feel like you are unstoppable. More importantly, they work. Getting stronger and building muscle all of a sudden became more and more realistic and to this day, I stay true to the faithful multi joint movements both for myself as well as the people that I work with.
I have become a huge fan of Thomas Myers over the past few years. His book Anatomy Trains really had me re-think the way that I think about cuing closed chain movement and a few of these applications have worked extremely well in adding efficiency to these exercises both for myself as well as the people that I work with.
Closed Chain Exercise- Movement performed where either the hands or the feet are fixed and not
When cuing the deadlift, the feet and the hands play a role in the way we get the bar off of the ground. One common occurrence that I see with the deadlift is the inability to properly engage the mid back. What I enjoy cuing for this is to drive your thumb forward on the bar and using the rest of your hand to push the bar back creating a sensation of trying to bend the barbell. This allows the shoulder to retract and gives the mid back a greater sense of engagement.  Combining this with applying as much force on the ground with your feet as possible. Combining the two allows the hamstrings, glutes, as well as the low and mid back to work in harmony to make the lift much more productive
Back Squat
Your big toe will be the key stabilizer and your mid foot and heel providing the majority of the force to the ground. The initial movement of the hip will allow you to find your appropriate foot placement. While standing back up, the idea of spreading the floor outward with your feet will allow a far greater response from the movers responsible for standing you back up.
With the lunge your front foot will be the primary mover. My favorite cue is to push the floor forward with that front foot while maintaining enough ground force on the back foot to force you back up as opposed to having you end up on your ass. Depending on the intention of the lunge, the amount of activation on your quads can be determined by the amount of force put on the ball of your foot. The activation of your glutes and hamstrings can be determined by the amount of force coming from the heel. I also believe that appropriate placement of the hands will also have an effect on the way that we execute a lunge with weight placed in our hands as an evenly placed grip will make way for activation of the posterior chain.
Good Morning
Good mornings to me provide the most evenly distributed foot placement because of the movement being evenly split between sitting back and leaning forward. A strong emphasis on using the mid foot and a proper hinge of the hip will assist your low back into extension. What I like to cue on the way back up is the ability to put enough force from the foot into the ground to get the sensation of the glute and hamstring going to work before the way back up even starts.
Push Up
My take on a push up is that it is as much of a scapular stabilizing exercise as it is an exercise to activate your anterior chain. Just like any closed chain compound lower body movement starting at the hip, the shoulder will be responsible to initiate any closed chain upper body movement. In order to stabilize the scapula, retraction and external rotation will be the key influence on how well this is done. An ideal approach to cuing the push up would applying rotational force to the floor. To begin the decent, use your right hand to attempt to turn the floor clockwise and counterclockwise with the left hand. Retraction of the shoulder blades will follow and then your posterior chain is prepped for your push up.
The chin up is a movement for the upper body comparable to what a squat would be for the lower. It recruits numerous joints as well as forces your upper body to work as a whole to successfully perform it. Once again, this movement is initiated at the shoulder by way of retraction and external rotation of the shoulder, as well as extension of the thoracic spine. By turning on the hands, you will be able to provide the building blocks to engaging the shoulder to do this. Similar to the deadlift you are looking for a bend in the bar. This time you are pulling the thumb toward you and the baby finger away from you with the intention of bending the bar away from you. While doing this you will be preparing your shoulders for retraction and external rotation leading to extension in your mid back.
This takes a bit of thinking so taking the time to play with some reduced resistance will help you in feeling what should be felt. I am a big believer in mobility work and what it can do to assist the way that you can activate. The mobility of your ankles, hips, and shoulders in particular will play a big role in your ability to strike your foot to the ground, hinge your hips, engage your shoulders, as well as determine how well you can grip a bar.