Feeling of good movement

Attention to the work or surroundings (external attention) appears to be generally superior than attention to the body (internal attention) when it comes to performing or learning a movement skill.

But there are a few disclaimers:

While external attention is generally advantageous, there are specific situations in which internal focus may be especially useful;

  • Internal attention is a common strategy used by coaches and elite athletes, thus we should assume they are knowledgeable of it;
  • The disadvantages of a more localized and specific internal focus may be avoided by an internal focus that is “holistic”;
  • The division of attention into internal and external foci is frequently oversimplified and ignores the complexity and fluidity of focus.

These concepts are summarized briefly in the following recent paper:(https://doi.org/10.20338/bjmb.v16i2.255)

Adopting a single focus technique for every person in every situation is not enough to achieve attentional focus.

What players really accomplish

Although RCTs are a great way to gather evidence, we also need to be thinking about practical applications. Several studies have questioned top mover and coaches what kind of attentional focus they actually use to practice and acquire new skills, and these reveal that internal focus is something they utilize a lot. As an example: Guss-West and Wulf (2016) conducted a study with 58 professional dancers and discovered that 36.1% of them concentrated on internal cues, 27.7% on external cues, and 36.1% combined internal and exterior focus signals when dancing. Similar to this, most athletes on the US track and field squad (69%) said they competed by paying attention to their own body cues.

Fairbrother, 2016. Tiger Woods has made it clear time and time again that he controls his swing with his hands. That is focused within.

According to many research, practicing involves more internal attention than competing does, with exterior emphasis being more prevalent. For instance, among golfers:

Competent golfers were more likely to concentrate on the movement and associated kinesthetic experiences during training. Golfers were more likely to pay attention to movement outcomes, mental emotions (like confidence or focus), and visual cues (like hand placement or the target) during competition.

Internal focus for correcting bad habits

Why would practicing internal attention be more common than practicing competition? Maybe because it helps break instinctive negative behaviors when internal concentration is applied. The advantage of exterior cues, according to Gabriel Wulf, is due to their invocation of the automaticity and naturalness that define expert performance, whereas internal attention produces the self-conscious control tactics linked to choking and beginner performance. The “constrained action hypothesis” is the term for this.

Although automaticity appears to be advantageous, what if you wanted to modify your movement pattern? Since outward attention isn’t a very useful skill right now, you may require internal focus to stop moving in your normal manner and search for alternatives:


An internal focus of attention may “be indispensable when an athlete seeks to replace a suboptimal technique by a more optimal one in order to reach a higher level of performance,” according to Oudejans, Koedijker, and Beek’s 2007 argument. ..

Shusterman (2008) asserts that “we cannot only rely on our habits to rectify themselves through unintentional trial and error… To keep our attention on the consequences of our deeds is to “simply reinforce these bad habits.”

Presumably, the ineffective or impacted habit needs to be brought under conscious control in order for the coach to assist the athlete in regaining the “old” desired technique or in honing and acquiring a new, ideal movement pattern.

Toner in 2016. The concept of “deliberate practice,” put forward by Anders Ericsson, is congruent with the requirement for a certain level of self-awareness and inward focus:

Similarly, by staying in the “cognitive” and “associative” stages [of motor learning], elite performers aim to fight automaticity and so prevent “arrested development.” This is according to Ericsson’s intentional practice theory.

In broader terms, Rossano (2003) asserted that “deliberate practice is necessary for competence. Conscious practice is necessary for deliberate action.

Toner in 2016. The main lesson is to employ an external focus if you want your movements to be automatic and to save your limited attentional resources for other things, as you would probably desire in a competitive setting. However, an inward concentration might be helpful if you wish to block off routine movement patterns and experiment with new ones.

A holistic approach and an easy movement sensation

Numerous scholarly articles examine the possible advantages of an internal focus that is “holistic,” meaning that it addresses the nuanced emotions linked to effective movement, including being explosive, balanced, fluid, or rhythmic. Attending to localized and particular sensations, such the contraction of the glutes or movement in the hip joint, is not the same as this. Natural movement patterns can be disturbed by this “micro” concentration, but they are often encouraged by a holistic one:

An external emphasis (jumping toward a cone) and an interior focus (rapidly extending the legs) have been demonstrated to offer equivalent benefits over one another when it comes to doing a standing long jump. The holistic focus involves feeling explosive. This kind of cue may be helpful since it is also congruent with several of the athlete self-reported cues mentioned in the preceding paragraph, such as “being fluid and smooth” and “conveying a jazzy feel.”

The complexity and vitality of focus

In any case, when weighing the relative advantages of internal vs external attention, we also need to keep in mind that the separation between the two is somewhat artificial due to the dynamic, complicated, and ever-changing character of attention.

If you have ever meditated, you are aware that even when you are sitting still and doing nothing, your mind is still and active. Thus, it is not unusual that the focus of attention changes milliseconds during a sporting event. Certain goals are easily defined or located, whereas some are internal. The following is an excerpt from a research titled “Learning a badminton short serve is enhanced by both an external and holistic focus of attention”:

Athletes self-report that they move their attention across a wide range of focus locations throughout a sporting performance, demonstrating the dynamic nature of attention (Bernier, Trottier, Thienot, & Fournier, 2016; Fairbrother et al., 2016). Significantly, a large number of the attention cues athletes describe do not fall within the research’s binary internal/external paradigm. Golfers have stated, for example, that they concentrate on their swing’s rhythm and “the sensation of release in my hands” (Bernier, Codron, Thienot, & Fournier, 2011, p. 333)


Getting knowledge is always the first step in solving mobility difficulties. The body contains parts of this information outside and some internally. Simply said, attention is a technique that facilitates gathering and organizing the appropriate information at the appropriate moment.

Your focus must be directed internally at times and outside at others. Sometimes it must be quite keen to detect minute details, and other times it must be softer to identify broad patterns.

One of the main characteristics of a skilled mover is likely the skillful use of attention. Since it’s more art than science, we shouldn’t rush into prescribing solutions based on arbitrary distinctions.



  1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01028
  2. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.07.006