Does Focus of Attention Improve Snatch Lift Kinematics?
Read my publication from the NSCA's Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
We sought to further understand how coaching cues designed to implement different attentional focus strategies impact the technical performance of the snatch.
We used cues to guide the lifter to focus externally (toward the movement outcome) by telling them to "focus on moving the bar back and up rapidly" and cue to guide the lifter to focus internally (toward the movement action) by telling them to "focus on moving your elbows high and to the sides rapidly". Essentially, we're trying to cue the lifter into a better bar path from the 2nd pull to turnover and comparing how the two attentional focus strategies impacted the lift as a whole.
We analyzed the lifts using a measure known as the Barbell-cervical-hip (BCH) angle. The BCH angle is an investigative measure that views the barbell and lifter as a single system. It forms a vector angle from the bar to the 7th cervical vertebra and the greater trochanter of the hip to 7th cervical vertebra. We measured the BCH angle at 6 different points from liftoff to catch. Effectively, a small BCH angle is thought to be a sign of a more balanced and effective pull. We also looked at differences in velocity of the bar and elbow, since those were the two things we asked our lifters to focus on in each condition.
Results showed that when focusing internally (moving the elbows high and to the sides rapidly), the lifters increased elbow velocity and while focusing externally (moving the bar back & up rapidly) barbell velocity increased. This makes sense as this is what we asked them to do. Another difference we observed was at peak bar height, the lifters showed greater BCH angles when cued internally, relative to the external cue. Effectively, a larger BCH angle at peak bar height indicates the lifter is prematurely initiating their turnover and squatting under the bar early. Whereas when focusing externally, they were able to stay connected to the bar longer, and showed decreased BCH angle at peak bar height.
This study adds to the growing body of research suggesting small changes in coaching instructions and cues can impact technical performance significantly. When giving cues and instructions for the Olympic lifts, it can be advantageous to guide the lifter to adopt an external focus of attention, rather than an internal. This requires us as coaches to be mindful that what we're actually asking them to do is relatively complex and requires a large amount of attention to detail. We can make this easier to process by giving instructions & cues that are more global and do not lead them to focus on just moving a specific body part in an attempt to correct as issue that requires them to move their entire body + the bar in a specific manner.
A really easy way to do this is to note error you're trying to correct (better bar path through turnover), what action needs to occur in order for that to happen (elbows high and to the sides) and what the outcome of that action is (bar moving back and up). It takes some practice and thoughtful planning, but this goes a long way towards translating what you need them to do into an instruction that is more direct and actionable for the lifter to execute.