External Versus Internal Focus Improves Athletic Performance
As an athlete or coach, you may be torn between internal and external focus during performance - focusing on the body's movements versus focusing on the desired outcome. A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, focused on standing long jump, examined the performance differences when athletes were directed to focus internally and externally. There has been limited research that shows increasing the distance of an external focus relative to the body increases the effect of an external focus of attention. In addition, previous studies have shown that directing attention externally rather than internally can improve jumping ability. The intention of the recent study was to investigate the effect of increasing the distance of an external focus of attention on standing long jump performance.1
There were 35 active male college students who were recruited to participate in the research. A total of three experimental conditions were examined in this study. The first condition was a control condition in which the participants performed the standing long jump and were not given instructions on a specific focus of attention. The subjects of the control condition were allowed to choose their focus of attention. The other two conditions were provided with verbal instruction that either instructed subjects to use an external focus of attention that was near the body (EXN), or a focus that was further from the body (EXF). The instructions were read aloud to the participants prior to each jump.2
A large black rubber composite floor mat was used to assess the distance jumped by each subject, and after each jump, the distance was measured from the start line to the back of the heel nearest to the start line. The distance of the jumps were recorded to the nearest half-inch in a computer spreadsheet and used for later analysis. Each participant completed a 5-minute warm-up before completing 2 jumps in each of the 3 experimental conditions, with 1 minute rest periods between jumps.3
The results of the study indicated that the EXN and EXF conditions, near external focus and far external focus, resulted in significantly greater jump distances compared to the control condition. The subjects in the EXF condition also jumped significantly farther than those in the EXN condition. It was concluded that providing verbal instructions that directed participants' attention externally (near or far) stimulated automatic motor behaviors that resulted in a greater jumping distance.4
As explained in the study:
The benefits of an external focus of attention are typically explained using the constrained action hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that directing attention externally facilitates nonconscious automatic cognitive processing, which allows the motor control system to produce fast and accurate movements. The automaticity that is facilitated by an external focus of attention promotes efficient neuromuscular activation, optimal movement patterns and elevated force generation, and enhanced agility performance. In contrast, when attention is directed internally, automatic processing is interrupted. This interruption “constrains” the motor control system, negatively influencing motor skill execution.5
The findings in this study suggest that increasing the distance of an external focus of attention, relative to the body, improves standing long jump performance. This could be a simple and effective method to immediately improve performance in long jump athletes. For coaches, specifically, this could help them provide more effective cuing, directing their athletes outside their bodies or using props to draw their attention, rather than having athletes focus on themselves.
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