You Can Think Your Way to Faster Times

WHETHER YOU USE a mantra, positive self-talk, or visualise hitting a PB before a race, you’re probably getting some benefit from it, according to a new review from the journal Sports Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Science conducted a review of published articles examining the efficacy of psychological interventions (think: mantras, positive self-talk, and goal setting) on endurance athletes. After looking at 46 of the best-designed studies (from the thousands of results returned by the researcher’s initial search), it was concluded that more often than not, psychological techniques improve performance.

Goal setting, hypnosis, imagery, self-talk, and psychological skills training were all found to be beneficial. Competition and verbal encouragement also proved to be helpful for endurance athletes. Meanwhile, mental fatigue – or losing focus after a long period of hard work – was shown to be detrimental to endurance performance in three different studies.

“I think the important thing is that learning to use a psychological strategy can have a beneficial and worthwhile effect on endurance performance,” Alister McCormick, the lead author on the review, wrote in an email to Runner’s World. “If a recreational runner is interested in improving their performance, it would be worthwhile for them to look into principles of goal setting and self-talk and imagery or visualisation strategies.”

Most of the studies reviewed looked at only a single psychological intervention, so McCormick said that it’s impossible to know whether one of these strategies is more potent than the others. However, he and his colleagues did look at several studies that compared cognitive associative strategy (thinking about what you’re doing and how you’re feeling) to cognitive dissociative strategy (actively working to distract yourself during exercise). The results for which strategy was more useful were mixed. Some groups did better with dissociative strategies while others did better when thinking about the task at hand.

Of course, visualisation alone probably won’t get you that PB (so keep running those kilometres). But since it could help, it appears to be a worthy addition to your training routine.


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