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Get Emotional, Go Faster | Psychology in the Saddle

Want to improve stamina and strength? According to the University of Portsmouth and NYU, the answer is simple. Get ANGRY!

We’ve already looked at the effects of caffeine on your body, but new studies show that unleashing your emotions significantly boosts physical performance. Can it all be in your mind? Check out the science behind the claims below.

The Portsmouth study – don’t keep it bottled up

At the University of Portsmouth, studies involved asking 20 subjects to watch a video of a woman eating her own vomit (!) before engaging in a cycling endurance exercise. The aim was to evoke strong emotions and monitor how these impact on physical cycling performance.

Dr Wagstaff, who conducted the study, said: “We needed to elicit a strong emotional reaction. While there is huge variation in what individuals find happy or sad, most people agree on what is disgusting.”

One control group was instructed to suppress their feelings whilst watching the video and not show any emotion. Another group weren’t shown the video and a final test set were shown the video but given no instructions. Unfortunately it’s not known if popcorn was provided or what the reactions were during the screening.

Scared Viewers

Presumed reactions.

The results? Those who suppressed emotions before the 10 km cycling race performed significantly worse than those allowed to get upset. The suppression group finished slower, perceived they had worked harder and had a lower maximum heart rate than those who were given no self-regulation instructions. Suppression participants also felt more tired than the other groups afterwards even though they had put in less effort.

The NYU studies – focus on the target

In a separate study by NYU, participants agreed that to get what they wanted in life they needed to hide their true feelings. In most situations this meant using self-control to display false emotions and generally avoiding acting on impulse. One participant explained that it was all “part of the game”. As an example, in an argument with a sports coach, he would only go talk with his mentor about it later, when his opinions that caused the argument would be seen as “more considered”.

Another study by New York University found that those who focus their attention on a single object finish tasks faster and see them as more achievable. In this second study, participants were attached to weights amounting to 15% their body weight then asked to walk towards a traffic cone. On average, those told to only focus their attention on the cone got to it 23% faster and judged it to be 28% nearer than the group given no instructions.

A third control group had participants sit outside in the summer sun. After letting them bake for a few hours, they were asked to guess the distance between themselves and a cooler filled with drinks. Again, participants who had been asked to focus their attention on the cooler judged it to be much closer than those who were given no instructions.

Putting the psychology into action

What does this mean for the average rider? Simple. It’s all in the mind.

Focus! Scream! Laugh! Now focus again! Well… maybe not quite…

Just let the emotions fly. Get angry and don’t try too hard to stay composed, whether your tackling a steep incline or flying down a rocky trail. Focus your attention on what you want to achieve, be it saving a few minutes on your evening commute home, perfecting a tail whip or removing your back wheel without getting it caught in the chain.



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