As knowledge in sports science and sports psychology grows, it is apparent that the mind is a very important tool when trying to harness peak performance in triathlons – as shown by many elite triathletes. But as well as keeping calm during a race, a recent study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine and carried out by a team at Germany’s University of Freiburg’s Department of Sport Science, found that an individual’s attitude and expectations about an exercise session can influence the psychological and neurophysiological benefits gained from that session.
So, when you are faced with a gloomy 6.30am training session in the rain, it might be worth taking a few moments to get yourself in a more positive headspace, as it could benefit your brain and body in the long-term and make the difference on race day.
The research involved 76 participants, whose age ranged from 18 to 32 years old. The subjects were randomly allocated into different groups, with each group being shown one of several multimedia presentations, before all groups completed 30 minutes on an exercise bike. Some of the presentations highlighted the benefits of cycling on health, whilst others didn’t.
The participants were also asked to answer questions on whether they already believed the positive effects of physical activity (‘habitual expectation’), and their mood before and after the exercise session. Brain activity was also measured, using an electroencephalogram (EEG).
Participants who already believed the positive effects of exercise before the start of the study reported reduced anxiety levels, being in a better mood, and enjoyed the exercise more. They were also shown to have neurophysiological changes on the EEG after the exercise –in this case, more brain-activity in regions linked with relaxation and well-being.