Tired? It’s in your head

fatigue-sport-athleteConventional wisdom says fatigue comes from depleting the energy stores that fuel our muscles. But there’s more to it than simply ensuring there’s enough fuel in your tank.

Research by Alister McCormick, Carla Meijen, and Samuele Marcora suggests psychological factors are critical and that appropriate “psychological interventions” can positively impact your performance.

In their research paper (Psychological Determinants of Whole-Body Endurance Performance) McCormick et al found

Practical psychological interventions consistently improve endurance performance in published studies. Psychological skills training could therefore benefit an endurance athlete.

The researchers looked at three studies which examined the effects of priming interventions on endurance performance. Two of those experiments looked at the effects of subliminally presented visual cues on cycling time to exhaustion. They presented subliminal images of happy and sad faces on screens in front of cyclists on stationary bikes.

In one study, they found a reduced perception of effort with eight of 13 participants performing for longer when presented with happy faces rather than sad faces.

Action words reduced the perception of effort and increased the time to exhaustion, compared with inaction words, in a single-subject experiment.

A third study found that rowers who were primed for an autonomy motivation orientation performed faster than control-primed and impersonally primed rowers.

What’s the application of this? Well, many athletes use music to motivate themselves before an event. But there are all sorts of cues sportspeople can use to get a little more out fo themselves. For example, positive visualisation techniques, mantras and other tools can help you get a little more out of your body when you think you’ve depleted your fuel stores.

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