Threats to Internal Validity in Exercise Science: A Review of Overlooked Confounding Variables

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Israel Halperin
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David B. Pyne
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David T. Martin
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Internal validity refers to the degree of control exerted over potential confounding variables to reduce alternative explanations for the effects of various treatments. In exercise and sports-science research and routine testing, internal validity is commonly achieved by controlling variables such as exercise and warm-up protocols, prior training, nutritional intake before testing, ambient temperature, time of testing, hours of sleep, age, and gender. However, a number of other potential confounding variables often do not receive adequate attention in sports physiology and performance research. These confounding variables include instructions on how to perform the test, volume and frequency of verbal encouragement, knowledge of exercise endpoint, number and gender of observers in the room, influence of music played before and during testing, and the effects of mental fatigue on performance. In this review the authors discuss these variables in relation to common testing environments in exercise and sports science and present some recommendations with the goal of reducing possible threats to internal validity.

Halperin and Martin are with the School of Exercise and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia. Pyne is with the Physiology Dept, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, Australia.

Address author correspondence to Israel Halperin at israel.halperin@ausport.gov.au.
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