Is Negative Self-Talk Sabotaging Your Workout?

Mantras and motivational quotes are all the rage in the health and fitness industry, but don't be fooled, there's something to it. In fact, studies show when it comes to fitness, you are the voices in your head, literally. 

Self Talk and Endurance: Experts Weigh In

Fitness is as mental as it is physical. Studies show if we can find a way to coax the brain out of cowering in the face of pain, fatigue, and stress, our bodies will follow suit. 

Take the study published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, for example. 24 participants were asked to pedal until they were spent on a stationary bike. Once baselines were recorded for each individual, they divided the participants into two groups. One group was told to continue with their normal exercise routine for two weeks and the other group was coached and encouraged to use positive “self-talk” while performing the same fitness tasks.The results? Participants who engaged in positive “self-talk,” specifically with mantras like “Feeling Good" and "You've Got This," outperformed their peers in the cycling test and even perceived the workout as easier. Um, sign me up.

Mind Over Matter: You've Got This Workout!

You don't need to see a therapist to learn the art of positive self-talk and the process isn't complicated. It's simply mind over matter. Start by being aware of your self-talk (AKA the voices in your head). It's OK, we all have them! When I did this a few months ago I was shocked at what I was hearing: "I'm so hot," "I can't do this anymore," I'm dying", "bleepin' burpees!" I was my own worst critic!

Once I was aware of my sabotaging speech, I started to replace negative talk with positive affirmations. When I found myself thinking "it's so hot, I'm dying here," I would counter with "yes, but you're uncomfortable because you're pushing your body to new limits." "I can't go any further" was addressed head on with "your mind will give out before your legs." I've even been known to throw around the corny "you got this" and "girl, they ain't got nothing on you!" Thank goodness those voices aren't audible!

Using Motivational Mantras to Push Past the Breaking Point

Ready to talk your way to a new PR? Use these tips:

  1. Pay attention. Start by being aware of what your unbridled "self-talk" is during a workout. Don't judge, just listen. In fact, Psychologists say it’s okay to acknowledge those comments — just immediately redirect your attention with a positive mantra.
  2. The mantra you choose is yours to own. Don't overthink it. There's no specific mantra that will help you place first in the CrossFit Games or your next marathon. The results suggest it doesn’t matter exactly what we’re telling ourselves (“You got this, hot stuff!”) as long as we’re engaging in some kind of positive "self-talk."
  3. Practice makes perfect. Just like any new habit, it takes time to perfect. Don't be surprised to find yourself returning to your old way of thinking. Just keep replacing the negative with the positive and eventually, it will require little to no effort.

I haven't won my marathon yet (a girl can dream!) but I can vouch for the fact that positive "self-talk" has had a positive impact on my endurance performance. A tough WOD? BRING IT!

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