Critical Analysis in Physical Activity, Health, Sport and Rehab


Critical analysis of information and more specifically peer-reviewed literature is an essential academic skill for any student. Critical analysis involves thinking with a critical perspective, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, and understanding a paper's contributions to the field.

 A key point when learning how to do this is that a "critical analysis" is not a negative concept that requires the dismantling and debunking of a paper. It's more likely that you will need to be able to describe the critical aspects of the study and give context to its findings. What does it add to the wider body of knowledge and what does it not add? In some ways, "contextual analysis" is a better way to think about this task. 

This page contains resources designed to help improve the reader's ability to critically analyse a study or an argument. Enhancing your knowledge, skills and abilities to review and critique research articles will help your academic grades improve and make you a better practitioner in the future. 

Slideset by @PillePP

Recommended Reading

How to critique a research paper #1: The first sweep

When reading a paper, some reflections could be described as Descriptive (e.g. how many people as participants, what type of study is it, what type of analysis was used, what were the conclusions, what limitations were highlighted) and some reflections could be described as Analytical (e.g. was it the best method of analysis, what limitations were not mentioned but would add context)

Task: Identify a paper/study and conduct a preliminary, surface level review of it using the tips above

How to critique a research paper #2: The Deep Dive

After an initial review of the paper, it is sometimes necessary to conduct a deep-dive analysis of a study. The following section offers suggestions for doing this. 

TASK: review the tips below, then pick the most suitable checklist from the CASP resource at the bottom of this section and review that. Then revisit your chosen paper and conduct a second review using this insight. 

The following tips and recommendations are designed to work with both qualitative and quantitative research 

Key Point: Critical analysis usually means offering context and perspective on a paper rather than undermining its conclusions. "Critical analysis", or "critique" does not often result in a full and extensive "takedown" of a paper as most published papers are good in many ways - that's why they were published. They're usually produced by academics and practitioners with experience and training and they have usually been well-planned, and the write-up has had multiple edits before going for peer-review. The peer-review process will not spot every limitation with a study but it will act as a form of filter, rejecting most poor work and helping to improve the final version of any accepted work. With that in mind, we can proceed to review papers with a "critical", balanced, contextual approach. 

Recommended Resource: 

Also See Critical Appraisal Checklist below

Critical Appraisal Checklists

Critical analysis checklists are tools that can be used to evaluate the quality of peer-reviewed papers. They typically consist of a list of questions or criteria that should be considered when reading a paper. Critical analysis checklists can be used to evaluate the following aspects of a paper:

A brief example of a critical analysis checklist for a randomized controlled trial (RCT) could be: 

The strengths of using critical analysis checklists are that they:

The limitations of using critical analysis checklists are that they: 

Tips for using a checklist: 

Examples of Checklists

Case Study # 1: Ketogenesis and resistance training

This sample exercise could be followed in a similar way to sample exercise #1 if you have a particular interest in physiology, nutrition, and resistance training. 

Journal article for this workshop


Teaching Input

Case Study #2: Ergogenics in sport | Nanobubbles and sprint cycling

Case Study: Read the King et al paper below and conduct a brief critical analysis. Then read the comment paper and tweet/replies listed below. 

Case Study #3: The Psychology of Injury


Sample Papers for Analysis

A quantitative approach: Niering, M., & Muehlbauer, T. (2023). Changes After a Conventional vs. an Alternative Therapy Program on Physical, Psychological, and Injury-Related Parameters in Male Youth Soccer Players With Patellar Tendinopathy During Return to Competition. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 37(9), 1834-1843. 

A qualitative approach: Williams, T., Evans, L., Robertson, A., Hardy, L., Roy, S., & Lewis, D. (2021). Distinguishing characteristics between high and low adherence patients following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: A qualitative examination. The Sport Psychologist, 36(1), 61-72. 

Contextual Reading 

Further optional reading on the topic of psychology of injury

Critical Writing as an aid to Critical Thinking

Critical writing is essential for critical thinking. It is a way to process and synthesise information, develop and evaluate arguments, and communicate your thoughts and ideas in a clear and concise way.

When you write critically, you are not simply summarizing or regurgitating information. You are actively engaging with the material, analyzing it, and evaluating it. You are also developing your own ideas and perspectives, and supporting them with evidence.

This process of critical thinking can help you to:

Critical Writing Resources

Critical Analysis of Quantitative/Statistical Studies

Critical Analysis of Systematic Reviews/Meta-Analyses

A high-quality systematic review should clearly describe its comprehensive and unbiased search methods, use appropriate tools to assess the quality and risk of bias in the included studies, employ suitable data extraction and synthesis techniques, and draw conclusions that are well-supported by the evidence while acknowledging any limitations or uncertainties. The review should be transparent about its methods and allow readers to critically evaluate the validity and reliability of the findings. Key aspects to assess include the thoroughness of the literature search, the rigor of the quality appraisal, the appropriateness of the analysis methods, and the alignment between the conclusions and the synthesized evidence. 

Recommended Book: Calling Bullshit by Bergstrom & West

In a world where information is more abundant than ever before, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically and spot bad science. This book will teach you how to do just that.

Calling Bullshit is a comprehensive guide to critical thinking and spotting bad science. It covers a wide range of topics, including:


Recommended Book: The Skeptic's Guide to Sports Science (2020) by Nick Tiller

Skepticism in Health & Wellbeing

Recommended Books: Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre is a British doctor, science writer, and academic. He has been a leading figure in the movement to promote science literacy and to combat the spread of misinformation. He is well known for his two seminal books on bad science, Bad Science (2008) and Bad Pharma (2012).

In Bad Science, Goldacre exposes the widespread presence of bad science in popular culture and the media. He debunks common myths and misconceptions about health, nutrition, and medicine, and he criticizes the way that science is often misrepresented or distorted in the news.

In Bad Pharma, Goldacre turns his attention to the pharmaceutical industry. He argues that the industry is corrupt and that it puts profits ahead of patients' best interests. He also criticizes the way that clinical trials are often designed and conducted, and he highlights the dangers of over-prescription of drugs.

Goldacre's work has also had a significant impact on public policy. In the UK, he helped to establish the AllTrials register, which requires all clinical trials to be registered and their results published. He has also been a vocal advocate for open access to scientific data and research.

Recommended Resource: CEBM Catalogue of Bias

Stemming from original work by David Sackett, and to better understand the persistent presence, diversity, and impact of biases, the Centre of Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford have compiled and maintained the Catalogue of Bias. The entries describe a wide range of biases –  outlining their potential impact in research studies.

Further Reading and Resources


Other sources

Research Bias in Exercise Science

Case Study

Nunan, D. (2019) Salt reduction in heart failure: where has the uncertainty come from? 

Follow on Twitter

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