Focus during strength and conditioning training


Hubert Makaruk and Jared M. Porter.


— S. Strukov.

One of the most significant ways of transmitting information from a coach to an athlete is verbal (verbal) instructions. They are used primarily to inform the athlete about how to perform repetitions of an upcoming exercise, or about necessary changes in technique to improve the effectiveness of movements. By using instructions correctly, qualified coaches can guide a team or individual athlete toward the desired results in training and competition. However, if the instructions are not clear, too complex or imprecise, they will lead to undesirable results, such as losing the game or, worse, physical injury.

Separately, we study how verbal instructions affect concentration when performing movements. In particular, one of the main questions is: what should a person think about or focus on when performing movements in order to increase their effectiveness? Experimental data have consistently shown that the object on which attention is focused largely determines the quality of performance of a motor task (17). Previous studies have reported that athletes generally cannot select or learn how to effectively focus attention on their own as well as under the guidance of a coach (13). These findings demonstrate the importance of coaches' consistent and effective use of verbal instructions during training and competition to ensure athletes are focusing their attention in the right direction.

Training with properly focused attention has a direct impact on the athlete's learning of sports skills (13). In addition to developing sports skills, the athlete learns to find a better solution in a game situation. The structure of practice has a direct impact not only on the athlete's learning of movements, but also optimizes the level of execution of these movements in a game situation. An athlete's concentration can have 3 directions: internal, external and neutral. Concentrating on internal sensations means thinking about the movements of your body. In contrast, external concentration is focusing on the result of the movement, and not on the movement itself. For example, when an athlete performs a standing long jump, they focus on straightening their knees as quickly as possible to achieve maximum distance. This is an example of the internal direction of concentration, since thinking is aimed at body movements (straightening the knees). The situation when an athlete thinks about how to jump to a marked line on the floor in front of him is an example of an external focus of attention, since he/she is thinking about the result of the movement (reaching the line), and not about the movement itself. If an athlete does not choose an object of concentration while performing a task, they speak of a neutral focus of attention, since thinking is not focused on either the execution or the result of the task. A neutral focus of attention is often associated with the actions of highly skilled athletes when performing well-known movements. Trained athletes are often able to perform familiar movements without thinking; skill of automatic execution without mental stress or attention to performing a motor task.

Empirical observations in this area indicate that focusing on external cues is more effective in influencing movement outcomes than using neutral or internal cues (discussed in more detail in reference 17). The movement constraint hypothesis is often used to explain the benefits of movements with an external focus of attention compared to a neutral or internal focus. According to this hypothesis, focusing attention on the outcome of movement (external) allows the motor system to operate primarily autonomously or at an unconscious level. This leads to movements being performed faster, more efficiently, and with better coordination. When the internal focus of attention is used, movements are performed under the control of consciousness. Violation of automatic execution “restricts” the motor program and leads to deviation of movements from the optimal pattern, which, in turn, worsens the performance of motor actions (21).

People using a neutral or internal focus tend to perform the same number of repetitions (8, 10, 12). It may seem logical that people direct attention inward when instructed to focus attention neutrally. But recent research has shown that this is not entirely true. In an experiment by Porter et al (10), subjects were debriefed after performing agility exercises. The results of the study indicate that after the recommendation of a neutral focus of attention, the focus of attention was erratic rather than internal or external. This means that they frequently switched attention within and between tasks, and often chose commands that were not effective in improving dexterity. Further research is needed to understand why neutral or self-directed instructions do not allow for optimal movement performance.

Excessive instructions do not improve results. For example, Poolton et al (7) reported that excessive instruction during exercise overloaded working memory and impaired performance, regardless of external or internal focus of attention. Aggravating factors include the high complexity of the task being performed and the unpredictability of the environment. In such circumstances, it is difficult for the coach to come up with the necessary instructions that will allow the athlete to focus properly. In such a situation, it is better for the coach to choose analogies and metaphors that cause an external focus of attention. The coach's use of analogies and metaphors will help the athlete think about the desired outcome rather than the movement itself. For example, when performing a sprint, the coach imagines the surface as a “slab”, contact with which should be minimized. The use of metaphor leads to the athlete using an external focus of attention, without a lot of instruction about the athlete's sprint mechanics, which can quickly lead to mental overwhelm and cause "paralysis by analysis."

In the following sections, we will discuss scientific research and provide evidence-based recommendations that coaches can use to improve athletes' performance in weight training, speed development, jumping, and functional balance training. The training areas mentioned generally fall under the responsibility of the strength and conditioning specialist; therefore, it is important for coaches to understand what instruction will work best for their athletes. Additionally, we will provide examples of how it will be easier for coaches to adapt these methods into their training programs when working with athletes.

Reflective exercises to develop concentration

Reflection is the conscious management of your attention. Once you realize that you need to train your concentration , you can start exercising right away.

  • Try to ask yourself more often, where is your attention directed? Are there attention scatterers, those objects that “steal” concentration?
  • Reflective reading. While reading, try not to be distracted, and as soon as you feel distracted, re-read the passage on which you lost concentration again.
  • Reflexive breathing - that is, deep breathing with concentration only on the process of air intake itself. This helps not only to concentrate attention, but also to saturate the brain cells with oxygen.
  • Exercise “The surface of the lake” implies that you will imagine an absolutely serene lake with a mirror surface. Consider it in your imagination, concentrating on the smallest details.
  • Exercise with rosary. The rosary puts thoughts in order, so many people use this item during negotiations, as well as at times when it is necessary to make an important decision.

Of course, these exercises give results, but do not forget that you need to do them every day, devoting about 10-20 minutes to self-development. And then the concentration of attention will increase in about 2 months.

Where to start training your mind

Our brain is the most energy-consuming organ. Therefore, most of the time it works in the background and actively resists attempts to load it. This leads to loss of motivation and laziness. There will always be more important things to do - the brain will invent a lot of reasons to force a person to stop studying. Therefore, it is important to learn not to react to external stimuli. Meditation will help with this.

Mind training: 10 exercises for concentration Photo: Depositphotos

Find a quiet place where no one will disturb you. Sit comfortably. Straighten your spine. Take a few deep breaths in and out. Focus all your attention on your breathing. Then relax your body - take turns releasing tension from each muscle group from the feet to the neck-collar area. It is important to let go of all thoughts and immerse yourself in the sensations of your body.

For the first lessons, 5 minutes is enough. After several workouts, increase the duration of the exercises. Increase them gradually to 15 minutes.

Relaxation exercises should be performed daily. It helps calm and organize the flow of thoughts. In this state, it is easier to make decisions, and they are more likely to be correct.

Physical training of attention

Absent-mindedness is very clearly visible to the naked eye. Remember the image of the “absent-minded man from Basseynaya Street”, the hero was constantly unlucky, and all because he could not concentrate. Now imagine the conductor of a symphony orchestra. His movements are refined and unfussy, he is focused on his activity.

Pay attention to your behavior - do you have unnecessary habits that negatively affect the properties of attention? It could be a slouched back, tense muscles, even the habit of scratching your head or other parts of the body can become a distraction that interferes with concentration. To improve concentration, remove distractions, set yourself comfortable conditions and start working only when you are completely relaxed and not distracted by other factors.


In this article, we reviewed the growing number of scientific studies showing benefits when using an external focus of attention compared to an internal or neutral focus. Specifically, they looked at 4 categories of motor skills that are directly related to strength and conditioning training: resistance training, speed, jumping, and balance. In addition, they provided evidence-based training tips that can be quickly adapted to practice and directly incorporated into training to optimize the training process. Coaches should be careful about the words they use when interacting with athletes. We recommend that trainers identify and eliminate verbal commands that direct attention to body parts or movements. By doing this, you direct your attention to internal guidelines, which leads to a deterioration in your demonstrated abilities. It is not always obvious and easy to provide commands that direct attention to external reference points. In fact, those who are accustomed to relying on instructions related to the mechanics of practice problems may find the proposed approach difficult. However, we believe that a coach who is creative and committed to getting the best out of their athletes will find a way to communicate effectively with their players. Ideally, communication with a coach will direct the athlete's attention to an external reference point.


Emotional concentration training

Very often, the lack of necessary concentration is explained by the lack of stimulus. It is impossible to force yourself to concentrate on what is not interesting. What if you try to cheat and negotiate with your attention? For example, set yourself the condition that if you concentrate on work on Friday evening, you can go to the cinema on the weekend.

Try to mix interest even in those things that seem boring. Pay attention to curious details, be inspired by even simple everyday tasks, do them with enthusiasm and your concentration will increase, you will find new features of your usual actions that you had not paid attention to before.

How to improve memory and attention

Proper focus on a specific thought, goal or subject depends on three important factors:

  1. Comfortable environment. Absence of external and internal irritants, convenience, necessary furnishings.
  2. Nutrition and healthy lifestyle. Mandatory walks in the fresh air, enough water and food rich in vitamins.
  3. Way of thinking. The ability to focus on one thing, highlighting priority tasks.

These three points ensure the reliable operation of think tanks. But even with all the necessary conditions, sometimes there is absent-mindedness and forgetfulness. Then we should think about how to improve memory and force the brain to concentrate on the object we need unquestioningly.

Techniques for quickly capturing attention

It often happens that it is difficult for a person to concentrate, but it must be done. If so, try these exercises.

  • Divide the action into cycles. For example, you need to sort documents according to a certain criterion. Tell yourself mentally “start”, pick up the document, look at it carefully and decide which pile to send it to. Next, say “stop.” This focus will help you avoid mistakes, and you will quickly concentrate on the task at hand.
  • Reception of photographer Sasaki. Creative people tend to have their head in the clouds. Photographer Chris Sasaki decided that every time he noticed that he was distracted, he would say “Attention!” in his mind, look around and be clearly aware of what was happening around him and what he was doing.
  • Do you feel like your attention is slipping away? This happens during long lectures or tedious seminars. Quickly change your facial expression or posture, so that distraction and drowsiness will disappear.
  • Clearly state the purpose for which you need concentration. It's impossible to find something unless you know what you're looking for. Thus, if you need to concentrate on searching for information on the Internet, formulate your request as clearly as possible. You can also break the question into several subtasks.

Exercise 5

1. Take two markers.

2. Try drawing with both hands at the same time. And it starts and ends at the same time. With one hand - a circle, the other - a triangle. The circle should, if possible, have an even circumference, and the triangle should have sharp corner tips.

3. Now try to draw in 1 minute. maximum circles and triangles.

4. Grading system:

  • less than 5 - bad;
  • 5-7 - average;
  • 8-10 - good;
  • more than 10 is excellent.

Why is it difficult to concentrate?

Most often, a person has difficulty concentrating on several objects. That is, concentrating on one event, there are usually no problems; if you complicate the task and add several more objects, the person will have difficulties. It's all about the capacity of short-term memory. Typically it can hold 5 to 7 items at a time.

Psychologist William James concluded that attention is not voluntarily held on any object for more than a couple of seconds. That is, everything that we mean by concentration is an attempt to return thoughts to a specific topic. From this we can conclude that the established rhythm of thinking helps to better concentrate on any objects, and concentration training will not be complete without exercises to develop thinking.

Balance training (functional)

Often, trainers make comments about errors in technique during functional training. This appears to be due to the logical assumption that in order to correct an error the athlete must be aware of it. At first glance, this conclusion sounds reasonable and plausible. However, when a trainer provides information about the correct or incorrect position of the head, torso, or limbs when performing an exercise, this directs attention to internal reference points. Fortunately, research has emerged that can help improve functional training, especially if the goal is posture and balance. Wulf et al (20) demonstrated the positive effect of external attentional orientation during balancing on an unstable platform. The subjects' primary goal was to hold the platform surface horizontally using either an external or internal focus of attention. It was proposed to hold the platform horizontally as an external reference. The internal instruction was to focus on keeping the feet horizontal. The results showed that the simple advice of keeping the platform (rather than the feet) horizontal resulted in improved balance. Similar results were reproduced in another study (17). In a similar experiment (22), the balance task was more difficult, as subjects stood on a lowered rubber disk while at the same time trying to support a 2-meter pole as close to horizontal as possible. When focusing attention on the pole (external), the subjects' posture stability increased and deviations decreased, compared to focusing attention on the immobility of their hands (internal).

Strength and conditioning specialists can come up with different training situations with similar commands for different activities. An experienced coach simply needs to use verbal cues that keep the athlete from focusing on his/her body. For example, athletes performing back squats need to focus on maintaining the stability of the barbell rather than the hands, arms, shoulders, or back. We provide additional examples of exercises and instructions in Figures 10 – 13.

Rice. 10.

Exercise from the group “balance in a stand on one knee.” Recommended external instruction: “Maintain a T position while standing on the ball.” The internal instruction is not recommended: “Focus on keeping your body level with your arms horizontal.”

Rice. eleven.

Russian turns on the ball. An external instruction is recommended: “Focus on moving the weighted ball from side to side.” The instruction “Focus on moving your arms from side to side” is not recommended.

Rice. 12.

Hip extension with leg raised. External instructions are recommended: “Focus on keeping the ball still” or “Focus on keeping the left shoe just above the waistline of your pants.” Internal instructions such as “Focus on lifting your hips up” or “Focus on keeping your left leg over your hips” are not recommended.

Rice. 13.

Walking inclines on one leg. Recommended external instruction: “Lean forward until your T-shirt is parallel to the surface.” The instruction that is not recommended is: “Lean forward until your chest is parallel to the surface.”

Exercise 8

Find hidden names in phrases (example: “Bring coffee to your uncle” - Fedya).

1. This lobster is tasteless and so are the apples. Nanny, give me fresh ones - in orange jelly!

2. The May light doesn’t bother me either, but I feel bad from the early night.

3. Bring some hot peppers from the summer market, please!

4. I forged iron on a bright day.

Tips for Developing Mindfulness

To increase your productivity, follow these recommendations:

  • Set one goal for yourself, and once achieved, master the next one. Remember that you cannot simultaneously do tasks to develop several stages of stage attention.
  • Give yourself time to relax when you are not thinking about increasing your attention.
  • Try not to dissipate your attention on others, it is better to concentrate and go deeper into studying one phenomenon or process, at least in the initial stages.

By following these recommendations and completing tasks conscientiously, you will achieve a sufficient level of attention in a short time.
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Exercise 11

1. Before going to bed today, remember all the faces and objects you encountered during the day.

2. Remember the words addressed to you during the past day. Repeat verbatim what was said.

3. Recall the last meeting, lecture, etc. Remember the speeches, manners and gestures of the speakers, analyze them.

4. Assess your powers of observation and memory.

We train mindfulness in a playful way

If you are tired of exercises or you do not like the stage attention of a child who cannot be forced to complete tasks, then use play exercises to increase the level of attention:

  • You can play this game together, or you can play it alone. In the first case, each participant takes a sheet of paper and traces his palm with a pencil. On each finger, he randomly places a number from 1 to 100. After this, the participants exchange leaves and try to find the numbers on the opponent’s palm that they see in front of them, grouping them in ascending order. Speed ​​game.
  • Take a deck of cards, shuffle them and arrange the cards face down in the shape of a rectangle. Take 5 minutes to memorize the location of the cards, then turn them over. Now you need to find paired cards as quickly as possible. An analogue of this game is developed in an electronic version, but we recommend using a card version.
  • Find and download the Flash game online. It consists of looking at a picture for a specified time, after which any detail in it changes. Your task is to understand what has changed and point out this phenomenon. This process is much more complicated than it seems at first glance.

Along with the above mindfulness exercises, try working specifically on your stage image. Stage attention is a necessary characteristic of a person of any age speaking in front of an audience; its level can also be increased with the help of exercises.

Look at the drawing for 30 seconds, and then reproduce it on a piece of paper without looking.

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