Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Notes from 2011 National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Arizona State Clinic: Day 1, Session 2

Please go HERE for Day 1, Session 1

Keynote speaker...Dr. Gabriele Wulf: External Focus of Attention Enhances Movement Performance and Efficiency

(It was clear that when the presentation began, many were skeptical of her premise, as it went against much of the conventional wisdom.  However, the power of her message gradually took hold as she led us through the evolution of research in this relatively new area…) 

Internal focus = Body movements

External focus = Effect of movement on environment (implement, apparatus, floor)

Definition of efficiency = less metabolic energy or mental energy ----> Automaticity

How her research began…couldn’t perform jibe in windsurfing.  First mental strategy was to think about body.   Only had success after thinking about effect of her movements on the board (but….did success merely result from more practice reps??)

Ski simulator: First study

  • Internal focus (IF) –  cued to “Focus on foot”
  • External focus (EF) –  cued to “Focus on wheels”
  • Control - No focus instructions
  • Order of proficiency = EF, Control, IF

Balance board study

  • IF – “keep feet horizontal”
  • EF – “keep markers on board horizontal”
  • Control – no instructions
  • EF focus most proficient.  EF even more proficient than other groups when board markers were moved away from feet (meaning feet were less prominent in field of vision)

Parkinson’s patients on balance disc

  • IF – "Keep feet still"
  • EF – "Keep disk still"
  • Control – No instructions

“Kind of useless to give instructions given at the body” - Dr. Wulf

External focus has greater benefit on more complex skills

Golf study (Wulf 2007) – Novice players had to chip ball to target; awarded points based on distance from target

  • IF – swing of arms
  • EF – focus on club
  • Control – No instructions
  • EF highest point total

UNLV golf team (expert players) – Similar experimental setup as above but break EF into proximal and distal 

  • IF – focus on wrist hinge
  • EF proximal – focus on clubface
  • EF distal – focus on flight of ball
  • EF distal = best results

X-factor in golf swing (Difference between hip and shoulder rotation at impact.  Higher number is better)

  • IF – "transfer weight to L foot"
  • EF – transfer weight to ground
  • Both X-factor and carry distance increased

***Trying to consciously control one’s movements (internal focus) constrains motor system and interferes with automaticity***

Evidence  ----> Faster reaction times, utilization of automatic control mechanisms

Movement efficiency studies – EMG activity, endurance, max force production

EMG - Bicep curl study

  • IF – focus on contracting bicep
  • EF – "curl the weight"
  • Less muscular activity in both bicep and tricep (less muscular activity = more efficient)

Marchant 2006 did bicep study with control group added.  Same result as above.

Dart throwing

  • IF – wrist flexion
  • EF – target
  • Both more accurate shots and reduced EMG activity (=more efficient)

Reduced EMG = less “noise” to brain

Key point: ALL muscles, not just those subject of the internal focus, show increased activity during internal focus.  A focus on one body part affects the whole motor system

Force platform study – Goal was to maintain 30% force production

  • IF – control calf muscle
  • EF – focus on platform
  • EF more accurate (closer to 30%) than IF.  Focus on body is less efficient and less accurate than EF

Endurance (Shucker 2009) – 24 runners with mean 10k of 36:27 (one of the better samples of runners that I have seen… running studies with well-trained usually have small sample sizes; more common are large sample sizes of untrained to moderately trained)

  • IF – motor system
  • IF – breathing
  • EF – Surroundings (video with passing landscape as if running)
  • Greater endurance with EF

Marchant 2011 – High number of reps to failure with EF in bench press, Smith machine bench press (does anyone still use a Smith machine?), squats

Practice with external focus; then automate movements

16m freestyle sprint swim (Freudenheim 2010)

  • IF – pull hand back
  • EF – push water back
  • Control – no cues
  • EF fastest

Max force production using Vertec (2007)

  • IF – focus on finger
  • EF – focus on rung to hit
  • Control  - no focus
  • EF had higher jump

Question about this study – Did they just reach higher or did they actually jump higher?

2010 – similar jump study measuring center of mass displacement – EMG went activity down and subjects jumped higher with EF.  Suggests that 2007 not result of reaching higher with finger.

Let the motor system do its thing!

External focus speeds up learning process.  Cognitive > Associative > Autonomous

Benefits of adopting external focus persist under pressure (counting backwards, financial incentives)

Demonstration -> Mirror neurons

What about trying to correct movement dysfunction?  How do you teach someone to fix bad technique in a body part without referring to the body part? (example: wide elbow in basketball shot?)

  • Nick Winkelman – Deconstruct the whole into smaller movements, then reintegrate once smaller movements can be done with external focus (i.e. automaticity)
  • Mark V. – regress athlete/client to positions in which they can externally focus, then build from there.  Use exercises where external cues will work (“push the floor”)    
  • Dr. Wulf – use imagery and metaphors to cue the movement

External focus in aerial sports where the body is not attached to anything that can be subject of EF -> No good studies as of yet.  Use imagery to teach midair movement corrections. 


Charles Staley – Escalating Density Training (EDT).  Time Management Meets Program Design

Workouts should be sane!!! (Not Insanity)

Real life principles should apply in the gym

There is no analog in the rest of the world to “No Pain, No Gain”; only in exercise

Yes, there is a level of discomfort for all advancement, but that’s different than "No Pain, No Gain"

62,000,000 million hits on Google if type in “no pain no gain”

Objective: to puke??????

Pukey the Clown, Jillian………

3 x 10 paradigm -> Do the opposite

  • Pain = High
  • Performance = Low
  • Adherence = Low
  • Most power on rep 1; least power  on rep 10 (lose speed)

10 x 3

  • Pain = Low
  • Performance = High
  • Adherence = High
  • Ten practice attempts at setting up
  • Power output remains constant throughout the set because bar speed can remain steady
  • Much less painful…(insert sarcasm) “How could it possibly be effective if it’s not painful?”

Is Tony Horton even a real trainer? (was a standup comedian…)

Time management principles as model for training procedures ->Entrepreneurial model

Profit is the result of production, not pain! Don’t assess things based on how much it hurts

If you go to failure on a set and need a spotter to help with “one more rep”, are you using more or less motor units with the spotter’s help?  Answer: more….two people’s motor units > one person’s motor units (haha)

Relative strength increases with improved body composition

Escalating Density Training program fundamentals

  • As little redundancy in as few possible exercises
  • Rest periods are intuitive
  • Earn increased load
  • More concerned with what happens over time; not single session
  • Not seeking pain!

Don’t become overly rigid with periodization

Periodization = forecasting (how many forecasters are right in any field?  How do you know what will happen in six weeks?)


  • Intensity constant -> volume increases
  • Intensity goes up -> volume goes down

Direct indicator of recovery ->how are you performing

Indirect indicator of recovery ->resting HR, HRV, etc.

Startle reflex – Brings us into flexion --->Train posterior chain to resist that

Benefits of EDT

  • Base before peak
  • Load progression enforced
  • Self-competition
  • Adherence
  • Reinforced balanced training

Achievement matters more than pain

Fitness is the result of what you do, not how it feels

Numbers don’t lie

Reward for production; not pain

Best exercises are most modifiable

Illusion of progress (i.e. muscle confusion) -> “Changes the subject” before you stall out, but you never get good at anything

Hallmark of any good program is continuity


Eric Reed: How to Start a Successful High School Strength Program

Concepts apply not just to high school

You can take my program, but not the same as having me run the program.  Last six schools that he worked with personally all had better records than year before; one school bought his program but didn’t want him to run it…they haven’t won a game

Annual plan – must be more sophisticated than “It’s summer, so we’re lifting”

Lots of stressors upon high school athlete -> take these into account

Philosophy – a few words should define you as coach – “Better my athletes” (not just sports but life too)

How big is your room?  How many rooms?  Who uses your room? (non-athletes using varsity weight room = disaster)

Don’t pack the house if you don’t need to (showed picture of room with plenty of great equipment, but unsafe layout)

Err on side of caution

Room flow is critical

Equipment must reflect who you are

Personnel – Who is “your guy”? – Must be knowledgeable coach…not some dude drinking coffee and reading paper during workout

Ego = biggest reason why things don’t work

If your athletes don’t look good, you don’t look good

Strength coach makes better athletes -> sport coaches’ jog is to make them better players

Annual plan -> Consider finals, vacations, etc.

If you don’t have a plan, how do you know when to transition?

Testing – What are you going to test for and why?

Team approach – Holds kids accountable (attendance, “points” system, relay races)

Goals – let the team pick some goals

Many kids enter HS with training age of zero and get thrown into intense program

Sees more kids enter the clinic at his facility rather than the gym

Don’t rush athletes

Early specialization is ruining kids, but some sports require early specialization

Too many quick fix programs

Freshman – Athletic foundation.  Don’t touch a bar…use broomsticks and body weight for O-lifts.  Sucks for them at first but later find that bodyweight squat with good form can be challenging

Sophomore – Athletic development

Junior- Performance based; “think they know it all”; change it up a bit

Senior – hay is in the barn!

How do you know your program is working? What are your kids doing?  Accountability - > kids will find ways to cheat!  Use workout cards with pre-set individual baselines so the coach can see quickly what kid is supposed to be doing

Are you coaching every rep?  Probably not.  Do the best with what you got!

What do your athletes do in between sets?

Where are your assistants?  The more supervision, the more the kids can’t get away with.

Coach what you know, learn what you don’t!!!


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.