Apr
09

The Science & Application of Coaching Cues

By
 
 
Preface
Here’s an article I wrote for StrengthCoach.com. To be abundantly clear, I first came across this information myself in original research published by Dr. Gabriele Wulf. As you’ll see from the reference list it dates as far back as 1999! This science has been around for quite sometime and what's novel here is that coaches are finally paying attention to it. I was encouraged to find out Nick Winkelman (see references) has been into this particular topic for many years now. We talked on the phone and it turns out he’s thinking about doing Ph.D on this topic. Furthermore, my friend Brett Bartholomew told me he did his master’s degree thesis on “attentional focus.” Clearly, the profession is making moves and what we used to simply chalk up to be an "art" actually has plenty of supporting science. Enjoy!
 
The Science & Application of Coaching Cues
What many deem an “art” is quite scientific and it goes without saying many times “artistic” expressions are labeled as such because we do not yet have full command over the science behind them. One thing scientific research does is expedite the trial and error process by evaluating what was once, or is, professional doctrine and standard operating procedure. This article will elucidate the literature regarding scientific mechanisms of coaching cues and then propose applications based on a blending of science, mentored experiences, as well as my own time out in the trenches.
The same effort we place on programming optimal physiological or biomechanical adaptation should also be placed on how we communicate the intent. Indeed, poor verbal instructions by the coach can severely depress the motor performance of the athletes he is working with. Changing anywhere from one or two words to a whole sentence when teaching novel motor tasks or reinforcing old ones, can have significant effects on our athletes body movements. The following key concepts and proceeding applications can help a coach attain more desirable motor outcomes.
Concept #1 – Attentional Focus of Cues
Whether you’re teaching athletes a new exercise/drill or reinforcing an already learned movement pattern you end up invoking one, two, or both types attentional focus strategies – “internal” and/or “external” (Wulf 2007). An internal focus occurs when the athlete is thinking about one of their own body parts or one of their specific movements during execution of a movement task. An external focus of attention occurs when the athletes thinks about the effect of their movement while executing a performance. Simply, internal refers to the performer’s body part movements and external refers to the movement’s effect. Here are some examples followed by explanation:
Exercise/Movement
Internal
(body part)
External
(effect/environment)
Sprinting
“Extend the hip”
“Push the floor behind you”
Overhead Med.Ball Throw
Focus on Arm Swing
Focus on Med.Ball
Power Clean
“Move hands and arms closer to body”
“Bring the bar in”
Snatch
“Extend the hips and pull the bar upward near your body”
“Throw the bar into the ceiling above you”
Spreading The Floor
“Shift the weight of your body to the outside of your feet”
“Rip the floor apart underneath you”
Neck Packing
“Retract head” or “tuck chin”
“Make a surprised look”
Hip Hinge
“Flexing hips at waist”
“Pretend a rope around your waist is pulling you backward” or “look out the window”
Jumping/Hoping
Focus on minimizing ground contact time
Focus on trying to touch the ceiling
Supine Bench Throws
Extending the elbows fast
Trying to hit the ceiling with the ball
Front Squat
“extend hips at the top”
“pop at the top” or “the plates/bar should rattle at the top”
Core Work
“Squeeze your abs”
“Pretend like you’re about to get punched in the stomach”
Posture
“Retract and depress shoulder blades”
“Stand tall with proud chest”
Posture
“Extend your lumbar spine”
“Arch your low back” or “ghetto booty”
Scap. Pushup
“Protract” or “push hands into ground”
“Push your body away from the floor/world”
Pullup
“retract and depress shoulder blades”
“Pull your shoulder blades into back pockets”
Dynamic Effort Deadlifts in Powerlifting
Focus on lifting/moving body as fast as possible
Timing how long it takes to stand up
Deadlift Finish
“get your hips through! Squeeze your glutes!”
“Midnight thrust at the top!”
 Pushup "externally rotate your hands/arms"  "screw the jar covers on/off" 
Hip Hinge "bend at the waist" "avoid the karate chop"
Bottom Position in Squatting "squeeze your hip flexors" "pinch my fingers"
Posterior Pelvic Tilt "rotate your pelvis upward" "pull your belt buckle up towards ceiling"
Single Leg RDL "move your back leg up more" "move like a see-saw"
Positional Faults Use environmental cues (foam rollers, cones, etc.)
 
In the end the goal of coaching cues is motor outcome by guiding movements in a more efficient manner. Did the athlete actually move the medicine ball at top speed (external) or did they just focus on extending the elbows rapidly (internal) while the shoulders and rest of the body were not producing optimally because the athlete was so focused on her elbows? Did the athlete just extend their leg/hip quickly (internal) without applying much force into the ground to increase running speed or did he actually push into the ground behind them (external) making them move faster? Was the athlete objectively fast/quick/strong or do they just look pretty? The type of attentional focus the athlete adopts is severely influenced by you, the coach! Even subtle differences in instructions can make a big difference in movement outcome.
A plethora of research both past and present has demonstrated the superiority of externally focused cues on actual movement effects in a variety of motor tasks like agility maneuvers, exercises, sports skill, stability challenges, jumping, and much more using a number of measurements (seconds, inches, pass vs. fail, etc.)(Al-Abood et al. 2002, Marchant et al. 2009, Porter et al. 2010, Wulf 2008, Wulf et al. 1999, Wulf et al. 2003, Wu et al. 2011). While I could find the actual reference I can remember reading that Coach/Dr.Verkhoshanky did a study looking at depth jump performance where he told one group of athletes to “spend as little time on the ground with your feet as possible” and another group to “jump up as high as you can and grab the ball overhead” (he hung a ball over their head so they would attempt to grab it out of the air). The first group was obviously given internal cues (body part) and the second given external (effect). The study found the external cue resulted in far superior jump height.
Anecdotally, (though I’m sure there’s research on this equipment) when I test my athletes vertical jump I always get higher numbers using the Vertec than I do the Just Jump Mat.
 
External vs Internal Focus of Attention
 
Technology aside, I credit a large part my results to the fact the Vertec uses an externally focused task (touching highest marker above you) while the Just Jump uses an internally focused task (have to keep your knees and hips extended so air time does not influence outcome). At this point we might even be able to say the more externally focused a cue is the better the result, albeit this won’t work every single time. You can use whatever unit of measure you like (seconds, weights, inches, etc.) to conduct your own little experiment but we have a good deal of confidence empirically and anecdotally that an external attentional focus will result in superior effect of movements. Not only that, but this effect has been demonstrated in beginner and advanced athletes, male and female, under pressured performances, as well as patient populations (Landers et al. 2005, Porter and Anton 2011, Wulf 2008, Wulf 2007, Wulf et al. 2010, 2002, Wu et al. 2011).
Concept #2 – Feedback, Frequency of Cues, and Learning
I lump all these terms together in one concept because it is similar to the one above. After you’ve taught a new exercise or movement you then provide feedback. When desiring to change (via feedback) an athlete’s body mechanics it might seem counterintuitive to not reference body parts (internal focus), yet, most research consistently supports the notion that changing body mechanics immediately and permanently is best done via externally driven attentional focus (Wulf 2007). That being said, real world experience has already told us all that some internal cueing can be appropriate at times, especially if it’s in progression towards external cueing.
What separates this concept from the above is how frequently we should provide biofeedback to our athletes. Some would say “as they need it,” others try to provide minimal cueing so learners do not become dependent on it, while other coaches try to stay scheduled in cueing (i.e. immediately before, only after, etc.). Two studies in particular (Wulf et al. 2002, 2010) gave external coaching cues to one group after every single task performance (100% of the trails), after only some of the performances (33% of the trails), and then did the same thing with internal coaching cues to another group (100% and 33% of the time). Both studies had similar results – the more external cues the better the task was learned, the less they used internal cues the better the task was learned, and the more internal cues they used the worse the performers did on learning the movement task. In fact, the 100% external cueing group outperformed every other group on a transfer test of a different motor performance. In this case, more of a good thing (external cue) is a good thing.
Constrained Action Hypothesis & Automaticity
Now we understand in most (not all) situations an external focus of attention will bring about the most effective and efficient performance. But why? How? The mechanism is very interesting and not what you might think. Sports scientists call it the “constrained action hypothesis” (Wulf 2007). The hypothesis states that:
“Consciously focusing on the movements of a motor action disrupts automatic motor control processes that regulate coordinated movements. When athletes actively focus and consciously control their movements, they interrupt automatic nonconscious motor behavior processes that normally control movements in an efficient manner. In contrast, directing attention externally to the movement effects allows the motor control system to naturally regulate and organize motor actions. As a result, movements are unconscious, fast, and reflexive.” (Wu et al. 2011).
When you think of “natural” and “reflexive” movements, be it in an exercise or agility maneuver, we want fluent movement that only recruits the muscles necessary to optimally achieve the task. Meaning, you do not want a lot of unrelated muscles activated that will cause “micro-chokes” in the movement and slow you down. Gray Cook refers to this phenomenon as “high threshold and low threshold” strategies. Essentially, when increased activity within a movement task occurs, we should desire an increase in motor unit recruitment efficiency, not just more motor units. This is calorically saving as well. For example, one study (Zachry et al. 2005) had athletes perform a basketball free throw where one group was given instructions to focus on wrist flexion (internal) while the other group was cued to focus on the rim of the basketball hoop (external). The internal group produced higher EMG activity than the external group in both the biceps and triceps, yet they were instructed specifically on wrist flexion. This is the “high threshold strategy” in action. One eye opening study (Wu et al. 2011) looked at forced produced and jump distance in the standing long jump. All subjects (n=21) underwent both internal and external coaching cues. On average, they found internally cued subjects produced similar but yet slightly higher peak force but did not jump as far as when externally cued (see graph below). Meaning – subjects when coached with an internal focus of attention produced more force in the jumping motion but actually jumped less distance than when coached externally! 
Again, the reason is probably due to the mechanisms articulated above. The timing component of the jumping motion may have been different between jumps due to cueing which probably made the internally cued jumps less natural, impulsive, and reflexive. Studies like these demonstrate the efficacy of adopting externally driven coaching cues to facilitate greater movement effectiveness and efficiency.
Summary
As we already know, effective verbal cuing is a critical tool for maximizing motor performance of our athletes. While much of this piece revolved around how we communicate training protocols another appreciation is to factor in the impact of effective verbal instructions during testing and how it can alter the reliability of our results in things like vertical/broad jump testing, FMS scoring, etc. It’s also interesting to note that many ebooks, programs, etc. that give the reader very detailed testing protocols, set and rep schemes, and exercise descriptions, entirely ignore the effects of verbal instruction and feedback.
In the end, an internal focus can constrain the athlete’s motor program causing a conscious type of control and micro-choking episodes in movement that result in less efficient, less effective, and decreased learning outcomes in task performance be it an exercise, agility maneuver, a sports skill, or the like. Very frequent external cueing however can result in the utilization of automatic processes and reduced attentional demands that promote more reflexive and natural movement outcomes and overall better performance. As I said though, I feel there is a place for bits of internal cueing. As coaches, we need to be cognizant of the informational properties we give our athletes because it absolutely affects their movement depending on what we say, how we say it, and when we give it.
Applications & Disclaimers
So, whether we knew it or not we’ve all at one point utilized both internal and external coaching cues. How many times have you told an athlete to “squeeze your glutes/core” or “shoulders back and down” and it worked perfectly? Probably a good number of times. It’s not that internal cueing is “wrong” per se it’s just that we have plenty of reasons that external cueing is a bit better, especially in the long term of motor performance outcomes, which is essentially the majority of what we’re trying to accomplish with any training program we design. This does not mean your coaching cues need a complete overhaul and an “all or nothing” approach towards external cueing. It just means that in most cases we should eventually end with the athlete adopting an external focus of attention and an “effect-based” rather than “muscle-based” perspective of their own movement. For some movements if your intent is purely activating a certain muscle, for whatever reason, then internal serves the purpose. Therefore I propose the following when teaching a new motor task to one of our athletes (see below). Obviously if the frame of reference was bodybuilding I would use a lot more internal cueing because the goal would be more localized muscular activity and it is much less about performance outcomes of the overall movement.
Coaching Cue Matrix for Novel Movements in a Sports Performance Context of Training
 
"Type" of Movement
Classical "Isolation /Activation," Mobility, or "Core Stability" Exercises
Agility Maneuvers
Compound Exercises for Strength, Impulse, Elasticity
Examples
Cutting
Squat
Hip Flexor Mob.
Plyometrics
Reaction Drill
Deadlift
Level of Trainedness
Beginner
Internal or External
Progress from Internal to External
Progress from Internal to External
Intermediate
Internal or External
External
* External
Advanced
Internal or External
External
External
* In this situation I almost always start with external cueing but regress to internal if necessary.
SamLeahey.com©
 
Key Points:
       Note the examples that are underlined are links you can click on that provide videos to illustrate the point.
       This matrix represents how I view coaching athletes through a movement they have never done before. If referencing tasks that athletes already have a motor program for, I skew everything towards external.
       I stratified the categories and labels in a way that I thought most people reading this would understand. The terms used are not absolute nor must you fit your system into them. Grasp the science presented in this article and you can create your own matrix according to your own movement classifications so long as they adhere to the principles.
 
Examples:
       Using the matrix above, when teaching an athlete of any level the Hip Bridge I use internally driven cues such as the following:

o   “squeeze your glutes to lift your hips”
o   (while palpating) “try to relax your hamstrings”
o   “imagine a straight line from knee to hip to shoulder”
o   etc.
 
       Using the matrix above, when teaching most athletes the Front Plank I start external by saying things such as “pretend like you’re about to get punched in the stomach” and if I don’t see the kind of core activation I desire I’ll palpate with both hands and say “squeeze all this.” When teaching any kind of hip flexor stretch I most often poke their glutes and say “squeeze your glutes” (internal). For most T-Spine mobilizations into extension I usually palpate T4 and say “bend here but keep the ribs down” (internal) though in certain prone positions and provided the extension is coming from the right segments I like the cue “push yourself away from the floor” (external).
 
       Using the matrix above, when teaching an beginner level athlete the Crossover Step I progress from internally driven to external cues such as the following:

o   “drive your knee across your body”
o   “push the bottom leg into the ground hard”
– once proficient –
o   “think of this as a sideways long jump”
o   “push the floor away from underneath you” (bottom leg)
o   “reach to the wall on the side of you” (top leg)
o   “stay low”
o   etc.
 
       Using the matrix above, when teaching most athletes basic compound exercises like squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing, various plyometric drills, etc. I try and foster an external focus of attention with my coaching cues as much as possible though, especially for intermediates, I’ll regress to an internal cue at times. Also, this is a great time to reference the implements being used (barbell, box, dumbbell, cone, bench, rack, etc.) for external cueing:
o   Squatting:
§ “Proud chest before the descent”
§ “spread the floor apart on the way down”
§ “sit back on a chair”
§ “Pop at the top”
§ “lockout”
§ “Bar/Plates should rattle at the top”
§ (when squatting to a box) “pretend you’re sitting on glass”
§ If doing some kind of “speed squat” you can time with a stopwatch how long it takes to go through the full range of motion. Be sure the athlete’s mechanics are correct before using this cue though.
§ Etc. Etc.
o   Benching:
§ (internal regression) “I should be able to slide my hand under your (low) back during the setup” (source)
§ “scrape the bar off the rack”
§ “stare at ceiling, not bar”
§ “rip the bar apart on the way down”
§ “drive into the ground”
§ “Press yourself into the bench while pushing the barbell up”
§ “squeeze the bar hard on the way up”
§ “drive the bar up slightly over your eyes”
§ “pop at the top”
§ “lockout”
§ “the plates should rattle at the top”
§ If doing some kind of “speed bench” you can time with a stopwatch how long it takes to go through the full range of motion. Be sure the athlete’s mechanics are correct before using this cue though.
§ Etc.
o   Deadlifting:
§ “ghetto booty before you pull” (referencing low back arch)
§ “grip and rip”
§ “push the floor down”
§ “blast yourself off the ground”
§ “pop at the top”
§ “lockout”
§ If doing some kind of “speed deadlift” you can time with a stopwatch how long it takes to go through the full range of motion. Be sure the athlete’s mechanics are correct before using this cue though.
§ Etc. Etc.
o   Jump/Hopping:
§ “land soft”
§ “land quickly” or “stick the landing”
§ “land soft and quick”
§ “touch the ceiling”
§ “reach up as high as you can”
§ “try to grab the ball above your head”
§ Etc.
 
Conclusion
          As coaches we are continually questioning our methods, constantly seeking to get better at what we do. Understanding attentional focus, frequency, and feedback are key components of the informational properties that make up coaching cues. They key is to be creative while still adhering to the principles of motor learning. The link between what you finalize on paper and what is actualized in real life is you – the coach. How you communicated the intent and how the athlete perceives the training initiative determines what ends up happening. The options are endless and hopefully this article gets you better at what you do.
 
 
 
 
 
References
Al-Abood, SA, Bennett, SJ,Hernandez, FM, Ashford, D, and Davids, K. Effects of verbal instructions and image size on visual search strategies in basketball free throw shooting. J Sports Sci 20: 271–278, 2002.
Landers,M,Wulf, G,Wallman, H, and Guadagnoli, M. An external focus of attention attenuates balance impairment in patients with Parkinson’s disease who have a fall history. Physiotherapy 91: 152–158, 2005.
Marchant, DC, Greig, M, and Scott, C. Attentional focusing instructions influence force production and muscular activity during isokinetic elbow flexions. J Strength Cond Res 23: 2358–2366, 2009.
Porter, JM, Nolan, RP, Ostrowski, EJ, and Wulf, G. Directing attention externally enhances agility performance: A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the efficacy of using verbal instructions to focus attention. Front Psycol 1: 216, 2010.
Porter, JM, and Anton, PM. Directing attention externally improves continuous visuomotor skill performance in older adults who have undergone cancer chemotherapy. J Am Geriatr Soc 59: 369–370, 2011.
Renna, A. (Host). (2011, June 20) Strength Coach Podcasts [Episode 84]. Art of Coaching. Podcast retrieved from http://strengthcoachpodcast.typepad.com/the_strength_coach_podcas/2011/07/colts-sc-jon-torine-nick-winkelman-on-feedback-and-boyle-on-early-specialization.html
Wu WF, Porter JM, Brown LE. Effect of Attentional Focus Strategies on Peak Force and Performance in the Standing Long Jump. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Nov 11.
Wulf, G. Attentional focus effects in balance acrobats. Res Q Exerc Sport 79: 319–325, 2008.
Wulf, G, Lauterbach, B, and Toole, T. Learning advantages of an external focus of attention in golf. Res Q Exerc Sport 70: 120–126, 1999.
Wulf, G, Weigelt, M, Poulter, D, and McNevin, N. Attentional focus on suprapostural tasks affects balance learning. Q J Exp Psycol (Colchester) 56A: 1191–1211, 2003.
Wulf, G. Attention and Motor Skill Learning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007.
Wulf, G, and Su, J. An external focus of attention enhances golf shot accuracy in beginners and experts. Res Q Exerc Sport 78: 384–389, 2007.
Wulf, G., McConnel, N., Gärtner, M., and Schwarz, A. (2002). Enhancing the learning of sport skills through external-focus feedback. J. Mot. Behav. 34, 171–182.
Wulf G, Chiviacowsky S, Schiller E, Avila LT. Frequent external-focus feedback enhances motor learning. Front Psychol. 2010;1:190. 2010 Nov 11.
Zachry, T, Wulf, G, Mercer, J, and Bezodis, N. Increased movement accuracy and reduced EMG activity as the result of adopting an external focus of attention. Brain Res Bull 67: 304–309, 2005.
 
 

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Comments

  1. Rick Kaselj says:

    Great post Sam, very well articulated.  You can summarize it all taken from the line in your article "Understanding attentional focus, frequency, and feedback are key components of the informational properties that make up coaching cues". Thank you for sharing this information!
    I am looking forward to reading your blog.
     
     
    Rick Kaselj
    <a href="http://ExercisesForInjuries.com">Exercises For Injuries</a>

  2. Sam Leahey says:

    Thanks, Coach Rick.

  3. Sam, excellent job! I like your examples. Thank you for making these findings accessible to coaches.

  4. Sam Leahey says:

    Dr.Wulf – Having you comment on my blog is a HUGE honor! I hope I served you well in my elucidation to my colleagues of your original research. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to serve further.

    Also, out of curiosity, what do you think of the Coaching Matrix I created? I’m not sure how familiar you are with the examples in it it, but in general, does it mesh with your thought process or would you modify it any?

    Best,
    Coach Sam

  5.  Hi Coach Sam,
    My only comment would be that I have never seen benefits of internal focus instructions (although sometimes they may be less harmful than other times). I just completed a review of the literature, and the evidence for the advantages of an external focus is overwhelming. The few studies that claim to have shown the usefulness of an internal focus for novices or children, etc. have significant flaws. – I realize that it is sometimes challenging to come up with appropriate external focus cues. But, given the evidence, this is something I would always strive for.
    Thanks again for your great work!
    Gabriele Wulf

  6. Sam Leahey says:

    Understood, Dr.Wulf. I think one of the worlds greatest physical therapists, Gray Cook, would agree with you! In this video he mentions an example from our world (corrective exercise) and says “corrective exercise not be a rehersal of outputs” (http://youtu.be/H9vcGxRv5yA). My thinking is that while I understand the external focus has a more benificial global effect, especially in terms of performance, I feel that when someone does not have the proper muscle sequencing within the pattern an internal focus can be used to correct it and then integrate it back into the externally mediated movement pattern. Their performance may be excellent with an external focus but I feel without addressing a sequencing issue it doesn’t matter because this could lead to a muscle strain. This is what we are trying to accomplish with our “activation exercises”. Simple low load locally directed exercises that bring up weak links in a kinet chain can be integrated into a global pattern afterward.

    Take for example a freshman in high school who is new to training (a beginner). We know many athletes present with “hamstring dominance” during hip extension. An overactive synergist like this can cause a muscle strain. So, including “glute activation” exercises before the workout and cueing them to “squeeze your glutes” (while I tapping their glutes) is how I start the process of training hip extension with the right muscles. From here, I will again cue “squeeze your glutes” (while tapping the glutes) while the athlete is performing hip extension exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc.

    After they have been training with me for a bit I can remove the internal cue/stimulus and never say “squeeze your glutes” again, proceeding only with externally focused cues and I feel a bit more confident that the muscular sequencing is better off than had I only employed external cueing from the beggining. Granted, my programs are structured to correct muslces imbalances anyway but I feel this coupled with the reworking of neural circuitry through cueing is an all encompassing approach. Thoughts?

    Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to discuss this, Dr.Wulf. It really is an honor to be able to communicate with your directly on this subject.

  7. Very cool to see external cues finally getting some love!  
    WOW, awesome to see Dr. Wulf's comment here too.   Amazing research and thank you Dr. Wulf for all of it. 
    Anecdotally, I would agree that in my experience, I find better performance outcomes by using external cues.   Internal cues "work" in that they go the client to do what I wanted them to do, but I don't see it transfer to PERFORMANCE at the end of the day very well.   Again, just my 2 cents. 
    Very cool to see this info getting out there as I wrote an article on it too recently
    http://www.theptdc.com/2012/02/stop-telling-your-client-to-activate-their-glutes/
    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson

  8. Sam Leahey says:

    Thanks, Mike!

    I think a major point to keep in mind, for everyone in general, is that not everything we do as coaches is directed to performance of the immediate movement. If I’m simply doing a half-kneeling hip flexor stretch I don’t care for the external focus because I’m more concerned with reciprocally inhibiting the hip flexor via glute contraction, so I cue it while poking their glutes. I feel the concepts of Learning, Performance, etc. that I talked about don’t apply as much to some simple initiatives like stretching etc. as indicated in the chart I created.

    Also, manual therapy initiatives I use also don’t fit this paradigm. When I’m doing my own version of Active Release therapy on an agonist muscle I see no problem with having cueing them internally to contract the antagonist through the ROM.

    So, while I prefer external cues for most things we need to keep in mind that most of the supporting research is done on, as I said in the article, qualities like strength, power, agility, etc. But not every single thing a coach does is geared towards those goals only.

    All the best,
    Sam

  9. Hi Sam and Mike,
    You guys have really done your homework (i.e., looked at a lot of studies). Very impressive!
    I wanted to make you aware of some great studies by Keith Lohse, though (see references below). He has looked more closely at coordination between and within muscles as a function of attentional focus. His findings show quite clearly that the motor system “knows” what it has to do to achieve a desired outcome – if we just focus on that intended outcome (i.e., externally). For example, co-contractions between agonists and antagonists are reduced, and even motor unit recruitment seems to be optimized with an external relative to an internal focus. The result is increased accuracy in producing a certain amount of force as well as greater maximum force production. Check it out.
    Cheers,
    Gabriele Wulf
    Lohse, K.R. (2011). The influence of attention on learning and performance: Pre-movement time and accuracy in an isometric force production task. Human Movement Science, doi:10.1016/j.humov.2011.06.001.
    Lohse, K.R., & Sherwood, D.E. (2011). Defining the focus of attention: Effects of attention on perceived exertion and fatigure. Frontiers in Psychology, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00332.
    Lohse, K.R., Sherwood, D.E., & Healy, A.F. (2010). How changing the focus of attention affects performance, kinematics, and electromyography in dart throwing. Human Movement Science, 29, 542-555.
    Lohse, K.R., Sherwood, D.E., & Healy, A.F. (2011). Neuromuscular effects of shifting the focus of attention in a simple force production task. Journal of Motor Behavior, 43, 173-184.

  10. Sam Leahey says:

    Solid studies, Dr.Wulf! Thanks so much for posting those. I’m glad this stuff is being given more attention in the coaching world. As far as “performance” is considered it seems pretty obvious that external is the way to go! Keep up the good work my friend!

    Best,
    Sam

  11. Kyle says:

    Brilliant stuff. It comes together with something I think Dan John once said, "your body knows what to do, you just have to shut up and let it." 
    I was saying this to a client this morning. When she deadlifts heavy on her own, often she'll fail on reps, step back from the bar, and so on. If I bark cues at her, "bar over the middle of the foot… crouch down over the bar, grasp it outside your shins… chest up! more!…. deep breath in, hold it… stand up! good! Now down!… okay, three deep breaths in and out…" then she does it smoothly and strongly. 
    I guess she was, "consciously focusing on the movements of a motor action [and] disrupt[ing] automatic motor control processes that regulate [her] coordinated movements."

  12. Sam Leahey says:

    Thanks, Kyle. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  16. Excellent article Sam, I think a lot more coaches will be focusing on this kind of stuff in the next 5 years.

  17. […] Use External Cues – I noticed an interesting parallel between an aspect of The Talent Code and this excellent blog written by Sam Leahey (which you should read, too). In The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle spends […]

  18. […] come from referral websites and search engine traffic. The most popular post of 2012 was “The Science and Application of Coaching Cues” and in second place was “Training & Science is Grey. That’s Why You’re […]

  19. […] With much of the current discussion surrounding the importance of verbal cueing, specifically extrin… I thought it would be good to also shed some light on the science of kinesthetic cueing. […]

  20. […] methods to foster motor learning that I spoke about were implicit learning, good cueing and effective communication. Implicit learning is essentially presenting information at levels of […]

  21. […] Types of Cues Should Trainers and Coaches Provide? and an article by Sam Lahey titled the Science and Applications of Coaching Cues. They’re both in agreement that internal cues are sometimes the best way to go when coaching. […]

  22. […] The Science & Application of Coaching Cues by Sam Leahey […]

  23. […] Science of Coaching Cues.  […]

  24. […] Science & Application of Coaching Cues By Sam Leahey http://samleahey.com/science-of-coaching-cues/ Concept #1 – Attentional Focus of Cues Whether you’re teaching athletes a new exercise/drill or […]

  25. […] The Science And Application Of Coaching Cues From Coach Sam Leahey […]

  26. leon Chng says:

    Brilliant article!

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Essential Continuing Education Resources (Aside from Research)