This is a study that I did in order to examine the impact of instructions on how hard people work  – the results show a dramatic change in sit to stand performance with simple but deliberate changes in the instructions given

Goal-oriented instructions can increase the intensity and amount of practice completed by healthy adults

Simone Dorsch


  • Hundreds of repetitions of practice are required to promote neural plasticity.
  • In many contexts physiotherapists promote neural plasticity for skill acquisition, for example, to change muscle recruitment patterns to avoid musculoskeletal injury, or to improve task performance after acquired brain damage.
  • Observational studies show that physiotherapists do not often give instructions that encourage high repetitions.
  • Research about how instructions influence repetitions completed is limited.


  • The aim of this study was to quantify the effects of different instructions on repetitions of a task completed by healthy adults.


  • An activity was studied under baseline conditions followed by three different instructions.
  • Participants were allied health professionals attending the one-day workshop 1000 reps a day: Strategies to increase amounts of practice in rehabilitation.
  • To mitigate the effect of the order of instructions, the order of each instruction was randomised across six workshops .
  • The activity used was repeated sit-to-stand for a period of 30 seconds

The baseline instruction was, Now stand up and sit down  (with no information about time). The three different instructions were;

  1. Stand up and sit down for 30 seconds, count your repetitions
  2. Stand up and sit down for 30 seconds, count your repetitions 

Shouted encouragement was used at 20, 15, 10 and 5 seconds such as Go Go Go!, halfway there….Go Go Go!, 10 seconds to go

  1. Stand up and sit down for 30 seconds, count your repetitions. It’s a competition and there’s a prize for the winner . A small prize such as a chocolate bar was used.


  • The number of sit-to-stand repetitions was recorded for 152 participants across six workshops
  • Baseline; Average repetitions 13.9 (SD 5.4, range 1 to 35)
    Instruction 1: Average repetitions 23.5 (SD 6.8, range 10 to 45)
    Instruction 2: Average repetitions 28.5 (SD 6.4, range 14 to 46)
    Instruction 3: Average repetitions 28.2 (SD 6.6, range 3 to 45)
    Repeated measures ANOVA revealed significant difference between the baseline number of repetitions and all types of instructions, with a significant difference between instruction 1) and Instructions 2) and 3).
  • There was no significant difference between instructions 2) and 3).


The delivery of instructions can have a profound effect on the number of task repetitions completed, with a doubling of repetitions from the baseline measure to the most encouraging types of instructions.


In the context of motor skill acquisition when many repetitions of practice are required to change performance, physiotherapists can use specific instructions and encouragement to influence the number of repetitions people complete.

Instructions 1-3 compared to baseline