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ATTENTIONAL FOCUS EFFECTS IN STANDING LONG
JUMP PERFORMANCE: INFLUENCE OF A BROAD AND
NARROW INTERNAL FOCUS
KEVIN A. BECKER1

AND

PETER J.K. SMITH2

1

Department of Kinesiology, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas; and 2Department of Kinesiology and Recreation,
Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION

Becker, KA and Smith, PJK. Attentional focus effects in
standing long jump performance: Influence of a broad and
narrow internal focus. J Strength Cond Res 29(7): 1780–
1783, 2015—The content of instructions that strength coaches
give can have a significant impact on how an athlete or client
performs. Research on motor learning has shown an advantage
of instructions focusing on the effects of movements (external
focus) over those focusing on the movements themselves
(internal focus) in the performance of motor skills. Internally
focused cues are abundant in coaching, therefore the purpose
of this study was to test whether some internally focused cues
might be more helpful than others. Participants (68) were randomly assigned to either an external focus (EX), broad internal
focus (B-IN), narrow internal focus (N-IN), or a control group
(CON), and performed 5 standing long jumps. All groups were
instructed that the goal was to jump as far as possible. In
addition, the EX group was told to “jump as far past the start
line as possible.” The B-IN group was told to “use your legs.” The
N-IN group was told to “extend your knees as rapidly as possible,” and the CON group received no additional instruction. An
analysis of covariance showed that the EX group (198.09 6
31.89 cm) jumped significantly farther than both the B-IN group
(173.74 6 35.36 cm), p = 0.010 and the N-IN group (178.53 6
31.17 cm), p = 0.049, with no group different from the CON
group. The results suggest that a broad internal focus is no more
effective than a narrow internal focus, and that an external focus
leads to the greatest jump distance. Strength and conditioning
professionals should carefully word their instructions to induce an
external focus of attention whenever possible.

KEY WORDS psychology, motor control, motor learning,
external focus, coaching cues

Address correspondence to Kevin A. Becker, kbecker1@twu.edu.
29(7)/1780–1783
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Ó 2015 National Strength and Conditioning Association

1780

the

A

factor beginning to receive more attention in
strength and conditioning research is the type
of instructions strength coaches should give athletes to maximize performance. Research on
motor learning has found a benefit of externally focused
instructions (focusing on the effects of movements) over
internally focused instructions (focusing on the movements
of the body) in a variety of tasks (15). In a study directly
applicable to strength and conditioning, Porter et al. (10)
tested the effect of attentional focus on standing long jump
performance. Participants assigned to an internal focus were
asked to focus on extending the knees as rapidly as possible,
whereas those assigned to an external focus were asked to
focus on jumping as far past the start line as possible. In
a 5-jump test, those using an external focus jumped significantly farther than those using an internal focus. Related studies have also found a benefit for an external focus of attention
in a vertical jump (16), and an isokinetic bicep curl (7), suggesting that externally focused instructions enhance performance in a variety of tasks used in strength and conditioning.
In contrast to the recommendations of motor learning
research, many instructional cues found in published teaching materials tend to be internally focused. For example, in
an article outlining a method for teaching the power clean,
Duba et al. (4) offer cues such as “curl your wrists under the
bar” and “bring your shoulders to your ears.” Likewise, in
physical education literature, a cue recommended for learning a volleyball serve is “arm close to body, brush shorts” (5).
Each of these statements clearly focuses on the movements
of the body (internal focus) and each is suggested to be an
effective cue for learning the corresponding task. In both
cases, the authors are experts in their respective fields, and
each publication has been through a peer-review process.
With expert instructors advocating the use of internally
focused cues, it is worth studying whether certain types of
internally focused cues might be more successful than others.
The benefit of an external focus of attention has most
commonly been explained by the constrained action
hypothesis (17). This hypothesis proposes that when using
an internal focus of attention, performers consciously control

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Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
body movements that would otherwise occur automatically.
This manual override leads to less efficient movements, and
ultimately inferior performance. In contrast, an external
focus of attention promotes more automatic processing that
leads to improved performance.
An alternative interpretation of external focus benefits was
suggested by Russell (11) and Oudejans et al. (8), both of
whom referred to Bernstein’s (3) ideas on the control of
movement. Specifically, Russell (11) referred to Bernstein’s
observation that factors closely related to the outcome of
a movement tend to be relatively invariant, whereas the joint
movements themselves may have considerably more variation. Bernstein showed that experienced blacksmiths kept
the trajectory of a hammer swung at an anvil relatively invariant, but that the trajectories of the joints giving rise to that of
the hammer were quite variable. In this sense, the movement
is coordinated at the level of the movement’s outcome. From
this perspective, focusing on one aspect of a movement (such
as is the case with an internal focus) may introduce a type of
control that is counterproductive to the endpoint control that
Bernstein describes. Moreover, the more specific the internal
focus is to the role of one joint within the overall organization
of the movement, the more potentially disruptive to the overall organization of the movement it may be.
The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of a broad internal focus (focusing on more general
movements of the body), a narrow internal focus (focusing
on specific movements about one joint), and an external
focus (focusing on the effects of the movement) in the
performance of a standing long jump. In addition, a control
group was included to determine how each type of focus
compared with a condition with no assigned focus. Based on
the constrained action hypothesis, we hypothesized that an
external focus of attention would result in greater jump
distance than both internal focus groups. In addition, based
on Bernstein’s work, we hypothesized that a broad internal
focus would result in longer jumps than a narrow internal
focus as a result of the narrow focus being more disruptive to
the organization of the entire movement.

METHODS
Experimental Approach to the Problem

The present experiment consisted of a between-participant
design to determine the effect of different attentional focus
statements on standing long jump performance. Volunteers
(n = 68) were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 experimental
conditions: broad internal, narrow internal, external, and
control. Consistent with Porter et al. (10), all participants
completed a 5-minute warm-up followed by 5 maximal
standing long jumps. Jump distance (in centimeters) was
used as the dependent variable. Before each jump, participants were read an instructional cue designed to induce their
prescribed focus and were instructed to focus on that cue
while they jumped. Jumping distance was recorded and analyzed to test for group differences due to attentional focus.

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Subjects

Sixty-eight undergraduate students (40 men and 28 women;
age: 20.84 6 2.72 years, age range: 18–40) with no current or
recent lower-body injuries volunteered to participate in the
study. Participants were screened to assure that they had no
previous training in the standing long jump. The average
height of participants was 174.75 6 9.76 cm, and the average
weight was 72.29 6 13.44 kg. Equal numbers of men (10)
and women (7) were randomly assigned to each condition.
Written informed consent was obtained from all participants.
The consent form and the study design were approved by
the University’s Institutional Review Board.
Procedures

After completing an informed consent form, participants
completed a 5-minute warm-up on a stationary bicycle
followed by a 2-minute rest period. During this rest period,
the researcher explained the task and attentional focus
statement to be used. Participants completed 5 maximal
standing long jumps on a rubber mat 5 m long and 0.76 m
wide. The goal was to jump as far as possible, and it was
emphasized that while jumping they should focus their
attention on the statement read to them. Participants in the
broad internal focus group were read the instruction, “When
attempting to jump as far as possible, focus on using your
legs.” Those in the narrow internal focus group were told
“When attempting to jump as far as possible, focus on extending your knees as rapidly as possible.” Those in the
external focus group were told “When attempting to jump
as far as possible, focus on jumping as far past the start line as
possible.” Last, those in the control group were told that the
goal was to jump as far as possible, but received no additional instruction. The narrow internal and the external focus
statements were consistent with those used by Porter et al.
(10). After each jump, participants completed a 2-minute
seated rest.
Statistical Analyses

A hierarchical multiple regression was first used to test the
effect of height and weight on jumping distance and to
determine their suitability as covariates in subsequent
analyses. Next, a 2 (sex) 3 4 (focus) analysis of covariance
(ANCOVA) was conducted on the mean jumping distance
to test the effect of different attentional foci. Sex was
included in the model because some studies have found
differential effects of attentional focus for males and females
(1,20). Where significant effects were found, Sidak pairwise
comparisons were used as a follow-up test. Partial eta
squared is reported as an effect size to describe the magnitude of significant differences. The a value for significance
testing was set at p # 0.05. The intraclass correlation coefficient for jump distance was .0.95.

RESULTS
A hierarchical multiple regression tested the effect of height
and weight on jump distance and was used to determine
VOLUME 29 | NUMBER 7 | JULY 2015 |

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Copyright © National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

Attentional Focus Effects

Figure 1. Mean jumping distances and SD for each condition.

their suitability as covariates in subsequent analyses. The
regression analysis indicated a significant effect on jump
distance. Beta coefficients for the 2 factors were height, b =
0.455, t = 4.15, p , 0.001, and weight, b = 20.097, t = 20.610,
p = 0.544, not significant. The best-fitting model for predicting
jump distance included only height, R = 0.455, R2 = 0.207,
F(1,66) = 17.20, p , 0.001. The addition of weight did not
significantly improve prediction, R2 change = 0.005, F = 0.372,
p = 0.544.
As a result of the regression analysis, only participant
height was used as a covariate in a 2 (sex) 3 4 (focus)
ANCOVA on mean jump distance. The ANCOVA indicated
a significant main effect of focus, F(3,59) = 4.16, p = 0.010,
partial ƞ2 = 0.175. Sidak follow-up tests indicated that an
external focus (198.09 6 31.89 cm) resulted in farther jumps
than a narrow internal focus (178.53 6 31.17 cm), p = 0.049
and a broad internal focus (173.74 6 35.36 cm), p = 0.010.
The narrow internal focus and broad internal focus groups
did not differ from each other, and the control group did not
differ from any group. See Figure 1 for mean jumping distances for each condition. There was also a significant main
effect of sex, F(1,59) = 52.267, p , 0.001, partial ƞ2 = 0.470,
with men (204.22 6 26.21 cm) jumping farther than women
(154.58 6 18.88 cm). The interaction between sex and focus
was not significant, F(3,59) = 0.294, p = 0.829.

DISCUSSION
Based on the prominence of internally focused cues in
teaching and coaching literature, the purpose of this study
was to determine how a broad internal focus would compare
with both a narrow internal focus and an external focus. We
hypothesized that an external focus would result in the best
performance and also that a broad internal focus would be
more effective than a narrow internal focus. We made no
predictions about the performance of the control group
because previous results have been somewhat inconsistent in
how the control group compares with each type of focus.
As expected, participants using an external focus of
attention jumped significantly farther than those using both

1782

the

types of internal focus statements. This finding is consistent
with the results of Porter et al. (10) and Wulf et al. (16),
confirming that for a maximal jumping task, an external
focus produces the best results. Previous research has attributed these differences to more efficient neuromuscular coordination as evidenced by greater performance with lower
electromyographic (EMG) levels during jumping (16).
Although we did not record EMG levels during jumping
here, it is plausible that the external focus advantage was
due to a similar process occurring.
Our second prediction was that a broad internal focus
would result in farther jumps than a narrow internal focus. It
was thought that by having a broader statement, the lowerbody movements would not be as disrupted as with a narrow
focus, resulting in more efficient jumps. The results of this
study did not support this hypothesis. Those jumping with
a broad internal focus of attention did not jump any farther
than those using a narrow internal focus. It is likely that both
internal focus statements induced too much conscious
control of the body movements, resulting in a less efficient
movement pattern. Future research should consider using
even broader internally focused cues that focus on the feeling
or movement of the entire body. Wrisberg (14) reported that
in some cases, high-level athletes indicate using cues about
the general feel of their body during performance. Studying
the effect of such cues could be fruitful in finding the best
types of instructions for coaches to give athletes.
The fact that the control group did not differ from any
group is not surprising because the performance of control
groups in previous research has varied. Some studies have
found that those in the control group performed similar to the
external focus group and superior to the internal focus group
(6). Others have found that the control group performed similar to the internal focus group and was inferior to the external
focus group (19). An issue with control groups in attentional
focus research is that what is being controlled is not the focus
used by the performer, but instead the focus assigned.
Although those in the control group were not assigned a particular focus, it is impossible to ask somebody to have no focus
at all. Thus, what happens is some people may spontaneously
choose an internal focus, whereas others may spontaneously
choose an external focus. In this study, it is likely that control
group members were also divided in which focus they spontaneously chose, and this added variability left them being no
different from any group. Wulf et al. (18) provided support for
this contention in an experiment where participants practiced
with both an internal and external focus and decided which
they preferred. Of the 17 participants, 10 preferred an internal
focus, and 7 preferred an external focus. Future research
should consider asking participants retrospectively in control
groups what they focused on during the performance to
determine whether their spontaneous choice of focus influenced their jump distance.
The results here provide additional support for the constrained action hypothesis. This is the first known study to

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differentiate between a narrow and broad internal focus. We
predicted that a broader internal focus might allow for less
disruption of the movement pattern, and thus better
performance than a narrow internal focus. The results,
however, showed that both internal foci resulted in similar
performance and that they were both inferior to an external
focus of attention. Thus, for the performance of maximal
force tasks such as a standing long jump, current evidence
suggests that instructions should avoid focusing on the
mechanics of body movements.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
In a setting where physical test results are increasingly
important measures of progress, strength and conditioning
practitioners need to consider the psychological factors that
might influence performance. A person’s focus of attention
while performing a skill such as a standing long jump has
a significant impact on the outcome. Although this study
used untrained undergraduate students, previous attentional
focus research has demonstrated that an external focus benefit exists with both novice and skilled athletes in both the
standing long jump and other sport skills (2,9,12,19). Thus,
these results are pertinent to practitioners working with athletes and exercisers of all skill levels. In exercises where maximal strength or power is the goal, strength and conditioning
professionals need to carefully consider the instructions they
give to ensure athletes and exercisers are reaching their best
performances. In nearly all cases, instructions should be designed to induce an external focus of attention. In the standing long jump, this can be accomplished by focusing on
jumping as far from the start line as possible, or focusing
on jumping toward a specific target. In other strength training exercises, a strength coach may give instructions about
the movement of the bar as opposed to movements of the
athlete’s body. There are, however, certain situations where
an internal focus of attention may be of some value. Vance
et al. (13) found higher EMG levels during a bicep curl with
an internal focus, which could potentially be a benefit when
muscle hypertrophy is the primary goal, or in cases of injury
rehabilitation. Additionally, if an athlete’s technique is
flawed, it may at times be necessary to use internally focused
instructions to make a correction. However, as often as possible, instructions should avoid breaking down the mechanics of what the body is doing to allow for those processes to
occur automatically.

REFERENCES
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potential moderators of attentional focus effects. Percept Mot Skills
117: 130–144, 2013.
2. Bell, JJ and Hardy, J. Effects of attentional focus on skilled
performance in golf. J Appl Sport Psychol 21: 163–177, 2009.

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3. Bernstein, NA. The Co-ordination and Regulation of Movements.
Oxford, United Kingdom: Pergamon Press, 1967.
4. Duba, J, Kraemer, WJ, and Martin, G. A 6-Step Progression model
for teaching the hang power clean. Strength Conditioning J 29: 26–35,
2007.
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Elementary and Middle School Students. Reading, MA: Benjamin
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