Threats to internal validity in exercise science: A review of overlooked confounding variables

Document Type

Journal Article


Human Kinetics Publishers Inc.


Health, Engineering and Science


School of Exercise and Health Sciences


This article was originally published as: Halperin, I., Pyne, D.B., & Martin, D.T. (2015) Threats to internal validity in exercise science: A review of overlooked confounding variables. In International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 10(7), 823-829. Original article available here


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.