Simply telling yourself you aren’t tired seems to be a great way to not get tired.
A new study released last month in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise demonstrates that personal mantras and encouragement can increase time to exhaustion and keep you working out or racing longer.
Fatigue and exhaustion is a fickle subject, with researchers suspecting it is largely related to a mental state as well as a physiological one.
Researchers at the University of Kent performed an experiment on 24 healthy, fit and active, young men and women. The group was first all given the same baseline test, where they cycled at 80 per cent of their maximal power output until exhaustion. Two weeks later they were divided into a group who performed the same test again, and the others performed the cycle while talking to themselves with personal mantras and encouraging advice. The group that used self-talk was also instructed to practice using it during the two-week period between tests.
The group who used self-talk vastly outperformed the control. The finding is the first to give some scientific backing to what has been a largely anecdotal understanding amongst athletes for quite some time. It also gives weight to a suspicion that exhaustion takes place in the mind as well as the muscles. There are of course physiological limitations to power output and they still play a large role.
Interestingly, Canadian Running’s Alex Hutchinson wrote in his book Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? about a study done at Keele University in 2009 which suggested that swearing and cursing has a cathartic effect on pain tolerance.
These developments are important because they suggest, if understood more thoroughly, that if exhaustion also takes place in the brain it can be tweaked carefully to maximize performance, just as physiological training can maximize performance.