The cue’s we give our athletes when performing skills or exercises can have a large impact on their performance. Coaching cues are generally divided into two categories; “External” and “Internal”. External coaching cues steer the athlete’s attention to the outcome of the drill or exercise. An example would be to tell an athlete to “spread the floor apart” during a squat in effort to prevent the athletes knees from caving inward causing valgus stress. An internal cue places the focus on the actual movements of the body. An example of this would be to tell the athlete to “externally rotate at the hip” to prevent knee valgus during the squat. Both cues are intended to accomplish the same thing, but how the athlete interprets and executes these cues are actually quite different.
In the latest issue of the Strength and Conditioning Journal, an article by Hubert and Jared (2014) reviews the research on how internal versus external cueing effects performance in athletes. The evidence overwhelmingly supported the use of external cueing for performance related tasks including; strength training, sprinting, agility, jumping, balance, muscular endurance and distance running. When athletes are given outcome oriented cues, performance was better.
Athletes jumped higher when focusing on the Vertec rungs rather than focusing on reaching with their fingers. Athletes jumped further in a broad jump when focusing on a landmark versus focusing on rapidly extending the hips. Running economy improved in runners when they focused on the surroundings versus running mechanics or breathing. EMG and strength performance improved when athletes focused on moving the bar versus contracting the target muscle. Changes of direction speed was faster when the athletes focused externally by “pushing the ground as hard as possible” compared to “planting their foot as firmly as possible”. It’s likely that internal cueing results in the athlete over-thinking the movement which therefore potentially slows down and reduces performance.
Other examples of external cues for common exercises and movements:
“Throw the bar through the ceiling” – Snatch variations
“See your chest in the mirror” – Maintaining lumbar extension
“Pull/Break the bar apart” – Maintaining external rotation torque during pressing
“Drive your feet through the floor” – Deadlift
What type of cues do you use with your athletes?
Makaruk, H., & Porter, J. M. (2014). Focus of Attention for Strength and Conditioning Training. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 36(1):16-22.