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Endurance athletes who talk to themselves perform better

Endurance athletes who talk to themselves perform better
If you're clocking up kilometres, and probably during killer cardio sessions too, your endurance capacity will increase if you encourage yourself out loud. This might not be news to you, but now for the first time there is scientific proof of the performance-enhancing effect of 'self-talk'. Sports scientists at Bangor University in the University published their findings in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

In the 1990s researchers demonstrated that athletes' strength and endurance capacity increased as a result of encouragement. Very often there's no one around to encourage athletes during workouts and training sessions, so some mutter encouraging words to themselves. Whether this had any effect was unknown until recently.

Anthony Blanchfield works at Bangor University on psychobiological interventions to enhance endurance exercise performance, and decided to measure the effect of self-talk in an experiment on 24 recreational athletes.

Blanchfield measured the length of time his subjects were able to cycle at an intensity of 80 percent of their peak power output.

Half of the subjects then looked, over a two-week period, for a number of phrases they could use to encourage themselves, and learned protocols for using the phrases. The control group did not do this.

When Blanchfield then got the self-talk group and the control group to cycle again he discovered that the endurance capacity of the self-talk group had increased and that of the control group had not. The figure below shows the number of seconds that each group managed to continue to cycle before and after the intervention.

Endurance athletes who talk to themselves perform better

Nearly all subjects in the experimental group reacted positively to self-talk. The figure below shows the times of each individual participant.

Endurance athletes who talk to themselves perform better

Blanchfield managed to partially elucidate the mechanism behind the positive effect of self-talk. Uttering words of encouragement to themselves reduced feelings of fatigue and exhaustion [RPE].

Endurance athletes who talk to themselves perform better

"This illustrates that psychobiological interventions designed to specifically target favorable changes in the perception of effort are of benefit to endurance performance and should be extensively investigated in the context of competitive preparation for endurance athletes", Blanchfield concludes.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 May;46(5):998-1007.

Words of encouragement make you stronger and fitter 03.07.2012


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