The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance By Alex Hutchinson
New research suggests that even weekend athletes can dramatically extend their physical and psychological limits
By Alex Hutchinson
… All of us, it turns out, are capable of pushing back the physical and psychological limits that we encounter at the gym, on the trails and in our sporting adventures.
The feeling that you can go no further is just that – a feeling. And feelings can be changed.
…. Whatever the mechanism, both camps agree that the subjective perception of effort is a sort of master controller – which means, in practical terms, that if you change your perception of a task’s difficulty, you can change your actual results.
…. Perhaps the most powerful and widely applicable technique for changing how your brain interprets incoming signals is to train yourself with motivational self talk.
Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you have an internal monologue running through your head during difficult tasks, and it has a measurable impact on how effortful you perceive those tasks to be. It is possible to channel that monologue in productive ways.
…. A 2006 study by Stephen Cheung, an environmental physiologist and avid cyclocross competitor at Brock University in Canada, gave cyclists two weeks of self-talk training before an all-out ride in a heat chamber at 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Replacing negative thoughts like “I’m boiling” with motivational statements such as “Keep pushing, you’re doing well” boosted their time to exhaustion from eight minutes to over 11 minutes. Most tellingly, it allowed them to push their core temperatures half a degree higher, on average, before quitting.
… None of this means that limits are “all in your head,” or that you can simply choose to ignore your brain’s diktats. But neither are those limits carved in stone.