Trainers and coaches know the importance of strength and power development. Traditionally, we try to identify optimum doses (reps and sets) and periodization schemes rather than consider the types of cues we are using. However, we now know that attentional focus can influence movement velocity, movement force, vertical-jump and horizontal-jump characteristics, just as you would expect programming variables to affect such things (Vance et al. 2004; Marchant, Greig & Scott 2009; Wulf & Dufek 2009; Porter et al. 2010a).

The first paper to look at the effects of attentional focus on a strength-based exercise evaluated integrated electromyography (iEMG) and movement velocity during a biceps curl (Vance et al. 2004). Results showed that directing an external focus on the curl bar produced significantly higher angular velocity at the elbow joint and lower total iEMG in the biceps and triceps than an internal focus on the biceps muscles.

Focusing on the implement being moved—rather than the process underpinning that movement—frees the motor system to organize in a way that maximizes efficiency (muscle recruitment) and performance (movement velocity). Conversely, focusing on the “muscles” involved in the desired movement forces the motor system to explicitly manage local muscle performance rather than global interand intra-muscular coordination.

In conclusion, internal cuing causes a reduction in neuromuscular efficiency through increased muscle co-contraction and reduced movement velocity. This regression in performance can be avoided through the task-relevant application of external cuing during strength-based exercises.

To read a more in-depth discussion about external and internal cues, please see “Attentional Focus & Cuing” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.


Marchant, D.C., Greig, M., & Scott, C. 2009. Attentional focusing instructions influence force production and muscular activity during isokinetic elbow flexions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23 (8), 2358-66.

Porter, J.M., et al. 2010a. Standing long-jump performance is enhanced when using an external focus of attention. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24 (7), 1746-50.

Vance, J., et al. 2004. EMG activity as a function of the performer’s focus of attention. Journal of Motor Behavior, 36 (4), 450-59.

Wulf, G., & Dufek, J.S. 2009. Increased jump height with an external focus due to enhanced lower extremity joint kinetics. Journal of Motor Behavior, 41 (5), 401-409.

Nick Winkelman, MS

Nick is the Director of Education at AthletesÔÇÖ Performance where he oversees all mentorship education courses and is a full-time strength and conditioning coach. Nick has a diverse coaching background within the sports performance field working with NFL Combine Preparation, Tactical Athletes, Fire Fighters and many other sports. Nick has had the opportunity to work with the Oregon State Baseball Team that won the 2006 College World Series and was the Strength Coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates Rookie League team in Bradenton, Florida. During his time in Florida, Nick trained under Aaron Mattes, internationally acclaimed stretching authority and developer of Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) Technique. Nick is currently completing his Masters in Strength and Conditioning through Edith Cowan University and through his education has been published in the UK Strength and Conditioning AssociationÔÇÖs Journal and presented at the NSCA National Conference.

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