As part of my Honours research, I investigated the effectiveness of using action observation (AO) in teaching athletes a novel skill of performing the power clean exercise. I thought I’d share an insight on the background of AO and the findings of the investigation for those that prefer a quick snapshot as opposed to reading the entire scientific publication. This is just a bullet point summary with a few graphs and figures included.
The purpose of the investigation was to;
- determine whether the use of AO would better/faster facilitate the learning of a complex and novel RT exercise and;
- if improvements in performance were associated with an improvement in lifting technique.
- Action observation (AO) is learning a skill through observing another individual perform the same skill. AO is the most commonly used method of instruction in motor learning and has been shown to be a beneficial technique to facilitate learning of motor skills (Magill, 2007).
- Two major theoretical concepts underpinning the success of AO on learning have been identified within behavioural literature:
- a) Visual perception theory (Scully & Newell, 1985); emphasizes how perceptual information picked up by the observer acts to constrain movement production and the importance of relative motion for learning through observation.
- b) Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977); proposes that information observed from the model is transformed into a reference of correctness for the observer to later compare their attempts at the skill. This theory also provides evidence that the type of model selected can influence the extent of learning.
- Working with large groups of athletes is not uncommon for S&C coaches where teaching technical resistance training (RT) exercises can often be time consuming and unsafe especially when athlete to coach ratios within the gym are not favourable to teaching and supervising adequately.
- S&C coaches understand the importance of good quality lifting technique for safety reasons and for reducing the likelihood of injury during RT. However the effects of good technique on performance improvements have rarely been quantified in an RT exercise learning/teaching studies.
- The application of AO theory into S&C practices, specifically RT, of athletes could potentially assist S&C coaches in facilitating the learning of athletes in novel and technical exercises.
What we did
- We recruited 15 participants (mean ± SD; age 20.9 ± 2.3 years, height 183.4 ± 8.4 cm, body mass 83.1 ± 6.4 kg) with no previous power clean experience.
- Participants completed 12 training/testing sessions over a 4 week period and were asked to perform 3 sets of 5 repetitions of the power clean on each occasion.
- Participants were split into two groups.
- Control (n=7) – who received verbal coaching cues and physical practice as is normal in S&C coaching, and;
- Experimental (n=8) – who received verbal coaching cues and physical practice (same as control group), but also observed video of a skilled model performing the power clean prior to them performing each set.
- We analysed kinematic data from video recordings of participants performing the power clean who were fitted with joint centre markings during testing. We then transferred the video to a computer and were able to calculate joint angles using a specific computer program.
- Kinetic data was also analysed and collected from a weightlifting analyser (Tendo unit) attached to the barbell.
- A repeated measures study design was used with testing at pre-intervention, end of week 2, end of week 3 and post-intervention
What we found
- Results showed faster improvements (3%) of power clean technique with AO facilitated learning in the first week (Fig. 2).
- Performance improvements were associated (21.5%) with technique improvements (Fig. 3.)
Below I’ve included some comparison pictures of the expert model, AO group and control group in each phase of the power clean during the 4 week training study (see figures 4-8). These are only examples of individual members from each study group and not a representation of the entire cohort.
***Apologies for the relatively low image quality in figures 4-8.
The published version of the full study is available for download (click on image below for link).
- AO combined with verbal coaching and physical practice of the power clean resulted in faster technique improvements.
- The association presented in the current study suggests that correct technique should also be considered beneficial for improving the performance of the power clean exercise.
- Potential limitation – the constant weight of the barbell throughout the training intervention. This may have been a contributing factor for the plateau seen in technique improvement for the AO group after initial improvement.
Bandura A. Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychol Rev 84: 191, 1977
Magill RA. Motor learning and control: concepts and applications. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
Scully DM and Newell KM. Observational learning and the acquisition of motor skills: Toward a visual perception perspective. J Hum Mov Stud 11: 169-186, 1985.