For runners, cyclists, and triathletes, race-day preparation may take hundreds of hours of training and commitment to a proper nutrition plan. These are the most important contributors to success, but to what extent do psychological variables play a role in performance?
If you’re looking for that edge during competition, don’t neglect the mental side of training. Inadequate training and poor nutrition can result in fatigue, but the perception of fatigue can hurt performance just as much. To overcome cognitive barriers, some athletes engage in self-talk. This can be motivational (“you’re prepared and ready to win; you can rest when you cross the finish line”) or instructional (“take longer strides; don’t let your head fall forward”).
Blanchfield et al. (2013) examined the importance of self-talk during training by randomly assigning 24 recreationally-trained individuals to a self-talk intervention or a control group. The self-talk intervention had a motivational focus. Participants identified self-talk statements they used during a “time to exhaustion” test on a cycle ergometer. Participants then selected four self-talk statements from their own list or a list of sample statements provided by the researchers to use while training. Statements were used, evaluated, and modified (as needed) by the participants during a two-week period of endurance training that followed. The cycle ergometer test was repeated at the end of the intervention period.
Post-intervention results indicated that the self-talk group, but not the control group, experienced an increase in time to exhaustion. The self-talk group also reported less perceived exertion during the midpoint of the post-test training bout. Measures of mood, motivation, and physiological parameters revealed no differences between the groups, which suggests that self-talk alone was responsible for the differences in performance.
Summary: Motivational self-talk increased time to exhaustion and reduced perceived exertion during exercise on a cycle ergometer. The effect of self-talk was not accounted for by other psychological and physiological variables.
If you’re an endurance athlete, do you use motivational self-talk during training and competition? How does this impact your performance? Share your comments below.
Blanchfield, A. W., Hardy, J., de Morree, H. M., Staiano, W., & Marcora, S. M. (2013). Talking yourself out of exhaustion: The effects of self-talk on endurance performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Published ahead of print.