Performance Cueing: Implications in Velocity Performance?

Performance Cueing: Implications in Velocity Performance?

By Vince Lucente,
December 10, 2017

Sound coaching requires sound communication. The intricacies into how we cue, instruct, and coach our athletes can certainly aid in fostering a better relationship, buy-in, trust and performance outcomes to those whom we serve. On the other side of the coin, poor communication with over-coaching and -cueing, using scientific jargon to get your message across can take you down a path of misunderstanding, lack of adherence, and disrupted focus. As coaches, we need to discover how to effectively manage the way in which we communicate on more of a spectrum, finely tuning and balancing to individualize our message to cater towards better outcomes in our athletes.

This past week, I thought wise to assess how cues may interfere with attentional focus, and thereby velocity outcomes during set performance. I wanted to see if there may be ‘more harm than good’ in cueing during a compound lift (safety bar box squat in this example), where communication must be direct, concise, clear, to-the-point, and short between reps if you have any hope of getting the feedback from the athlete that you wish to reflect in the next repetition.

Before we get to the data, a few points to touch across:

  • Cues were external: objectively using the environment to direct athlete movement.
    • E.g., “push the floor” in replacement of an internal cue “knees out”
  • Exercise performed was the safety bar box squat.
  • Maximum of two cues were given to the athlete during set performance that were discussed objectively prior to performance, so as not to over-cue too many moving parts.
  • Velocity cut-off, final rep velocity, and inter-rep consistency was observed in each set.

The data presented below depicts two sets of a Safety Bar Box Squat exercise. In the first set (cues given), we can see that the cut-off in velocity exceeded the 20% threshold that was prescribed for this specific exercise. If you are interested in learning more about determining specific velocity drop-off recommendations, Chris Chapman has recently written a piece on this topic to help coaches with the new cut-off feature.

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Another interesting assessment is of the final repetition at 0.41 m/s, indicating that this value may be conducive to approximately 1-2 repetitions in reserve (RIR) subjective response, as discussed by Owen Walker in his piece on Science for Sport and supported by the recent publication from Moran-Navarro et al (2017). Important to note, I know this athlete well and understand that he is far more capable of attaining better outcomes and intent with the load that we were working with. When asked about a reflection of his set shortly after, it was met with “I had to think between reps”. This is exactly the answer that I was looking for. Even at a maximum of two short cues, I felt that may have been enough to induce enough thought for this athlete to negatively affect his outcome.

Now, let’s take a look at Figure 2 (non-cueing sample). Prior to this set, the athlete and I discussed what needed to be better in order to maximize his intent and drive in the lift. Following this, I stood back, quietly to assess without providing feedback until this athlete had finished his set.

What do we see off the bat? With the same load as his previous set, the following was found:

  • Loss of velocity of 10%
  • Mean set velocity of 0.6m/s
  • Final repetition velocity of 0.57m/s
  • One additional rep performed (real-time velocity performance allowed us freedom to add one rep).

One small, theoretical take away? Strength has a neural component, let us remember, and anything that takes your mind off of the task at hand, especially in a neurally demanding exercise at a given intensity, you are immediately limiting your performance.

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Although this is a small sample size, it is important to note that discussion with this athlete following his set was met with respect in independence. This is what matters, knowing your athletes, communicating in reflection after a performance and discovering what can be done to foster better performances in all facets. Cues are great, do not get me wrong, but as coaches, we have to provide our athletes with some semblance of independence, and guide when it is appropriate to. Every athlete that we work with will require different demands, in context, and as such we need to understand that there may be implications with too much a good thing. We must ask ourselves the following questions:

Did the cue(s) I deliver provide meaningful change in the next rep? Did I repeat the same cue over multiple reps? When I did, did that cause meaningful change? Did the athlete respond well to your communication when you asked about their set?

Now, we can spin our tires ask ourselves many more questions, the beauty is in the reflection. As is the answer with just about anything in our field in regard to what works, it depends. Some of our athletes may not be primarily auditory learners, and may require visual or kinaesthetic feedback to perform their best. How much of what we do in our communications affects positive change? Let us not cue for the sake of cueing, but rather to find exactly what it is that gets our athletes actionable, sustainable results. Cueing does require context, and understanding when it is most beneficial to our athletes to bring the heat, and when to pull back the reins matters.

To conclude, I look forward to continuing to observe the feedback of cueing on a broader spectrum as it pertains to attentional focus in compound lift performance, as well as ballistic/plyometric activities.

About the author

Vince Lucente is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Elite Training Systems in Whitby, Canada and the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In 7 years in the Industry, Vince has prioritized his focus on youth athlete development (12-22 years old) in various High-Performance Sport Organizations in Ontario, Canada

Instagram: coachvincesc