Tag Archives: motivation

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COMPETITION AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE: a conspiracy of researchers, stationary bikes and little white lies

Walt Disney once said, “I have been up against tough competition all my life.  I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

Well, weekend warriors and gym rats may be able to learn a thing or two from the creator of the goofy little mouse with red shorts.  Scientific research is now exploring the relationship between competition and athletic performance, and recent studies support the conclusion that people perform at greater levels when competing against an opponent.

For example, Professor Kevin Thompson, the Head of Sports and Exercise Science for Northumbria University, recently examined the effects of competition by asking cyclists to ride a stationary bike.   As they rode, each participant was shown two avatars on a video screen: the first avatar depicting the participant’s current pace and a second avatar depicting a cyclist riding at a rate equal to each participant’s personal best pace.  The cyclists were told to race the second avatar in an effort to beat their personal best time.

Dr. Thompson’s representations weren’t exactly true.  The second avatar was actually moving at a rate that was slightly greater than each participant’s personal best pace. Still, the participants, who were cycling while watching the avatars on the video screen, were able to match the second avatar.  As a result, the participants actually beat their personal best rate.

Dr. Thompson ultimately concluded that such competition can lead to an improvement of up to 5% in sporting performance.  He explained that

[t]hese findings demonstrate that a metabolic reserve exists which, if it can be accessed, can release a performance improvement of between two and five per cent in terms of their average power output.  At elite level sport, even an increase of one per cent in average speed can make the difference between somebody being placed in a race or not.

We may all have a little bit of untapped potential.  Dr. Jo Corbett, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Sports Performance at the University of Portsmouth, conducted a similar study.  The results, published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, were strikingly similar to the research conducted by Dr. Thompson.

Dr. Corbett directed fourteen cyclists to independently ride a stationary bike at maximum speed.  A video display rendered a computer image of each cyclist, providing a visual depiction of his or her pace.

Later, they were again directed to ride the stationary bike at maximum speed.  This time, however, each cyclist was told that he or she would be competing against another participant hidden behind a screen.  As they rode, the cyclists were shown two images on the video display: an avatar that represented the cyclist and an avatar representing his or her undisclosed opponent.

Almost every cyclist beat the opponent during the second trial.  After the race, however, they learned that the undisclosed opponent was actually a visual rendering of each cyclists’ previous best time.  In other words, each cyclist, believing that they were independently competing with another person, actually outperformed their earlier maximum performance.  Dr. Corbett concluded that

[w]hen an athlete finishes exercising they are almost always left with a physiological energy reserve but our results show that head-to-head competition provides the motivation to tell the brain to eat into a greater part of this reserve.

The basis of this and similar conclusions isn’t necessarily revolutionary: we’ve long noted the correlation between competition and athletic performance.  Now, however, we’re starting to uncover the scientific basis for the increased performance, and the key seems to be tapping hidden potential and drawing upon untapped energy reserves.  It may be time to ditch the energy shots and breathable caffeine and seek the company of a friend or a colleague when pounding the pavement or hitting the trails.


New Year’s Resolutions: Four Unconventional Sources of Motivation for Your Health

The new year is quickly approaching, and the turn of the calendar typically marks another arbitrary date where many people promise to eat better, start an exercise program, lose weight and get in shape.  Relatively few people, however, actually stick to their resolutions and accomplish their goals.

The talking heads and experts stand ready to offer tips and tricks that purportedly may foster motivation and contribute to success.  For example, they’ll offer a wide range of advice by suggesting that folks remember that exercising will increase attractiveness and lead to better health, bring exercise clothes to work and schedule a time to work out, develop an interest or hobby that requires physical activity, set goals, pretend that they’re Rocky Balboa or someone who enjoys exercise or suit up in their favorite apparel and wear lip gloss when heading to the gym.

Most of this advice is essentially worthless because it doesn’t address the core issue: a resolution to embrace these new habits is really a commitment to embrace a new lifestyle.  This is a monumental challenge, and in many ways its significance cannot be overstated.  People who resolve to eat better, start an exercise program, lose weight and get in shape are trying to reverse years, decades or a lifetime of behavior that has become fundamentally ingrained in the daily routing.  These change can prove daunting, uncomfortable, and even stressful.  Not surprisingly, even the best of intentions can quickly evolve into a litany of excuses and unfulfilled expectations.

And, let’s face it: most guys aren’t willing to pretend that they’re a prize fighter who wears lip gloss when heading to the gym.  Heck, I may dream of being a fictional prize fighter, but I’m certainly not wearing lip gloss.  At least not in public.

So, without further ado, I’m going to present my own unconventional tips and tricks for fulfilling promises to eat better, join a gym, lose weight and get in shape.  It may or may not help, but at the very least the suggestions are an alternative to those provided by the mainstream media.

TIP NUMBER 1: DON’T BE A THIEF.  Folks looking to adopt a new lifestyle may consider participating in a walk/run, a 5k or some other event that requires training and commitment.  Many events allow participants to secure monetary pledges from family, friends and others that will benefit a charity or non-profit organization.  The concept is fairly straightforward, and is predicated on the expectation that the participant will actually attempt to complete the event.

It can be relatively easy to skip training and not participate in the aforementioned activity.  In this case, folks are only letting themselves down.  Folks who solicit money from others to support their training and participation, however, essentially undertake a responsibility to others to train and participate.  Anyone who fails to even attempt to complete the event are essentially failing to uphold their end of the bargain.

This can be a powerful source of motivation, because it involves not only the desire to exercise but also a moral obligation to participate.  The conscience can be a powerful tool.  Harness it.

TIP NUMBER 2: EAT ALL SNACKS AND MEALS IN FRONT OF THE MIRROR.  NAKED. The honest truth is that most people who truly need to exercise are overweight, obese or simply unhappy with the way they look.  The reflection in the mirror serves as a rather unpleasant reminder of being overweight or obese.  The consumption of unhealthy food in front of a mirror highlights the behavior that led to being overweight or obese.  Being naked only emphasizes the consequences of eating unhealthy foods.

Ultimately, there’s simply nothing appealing about a naked fat guy downing his third chili cheese hotdog, a mountain of greasy fries and an ice cream sundae.  Keep reminding yourself that you don’t want to be that guy.

TIP NUMBER 3: CHANNEL THE EFFORTS OF OTHERS.  Have you seen somebody with a physical disability or injury busting their butt at the gym?  He may have every reason to throw in the towel and stop exercising.  But he’s not.  He’s rising to occasion and overcoming what may be a fairly significant challenge to perform the very same action that you want to accomplish.

He’s able to do it with the physical injury or disability.  What’s your excuse?

TIP NUMBER 4: STARBUCKS AND THE FOOD NETWORK ARE THE ENEMY.  Don’t grab a frapathingie and walk on a treadmill while watching the Food Network.  ’nuff said.



FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS for the morning: common sense, wounded warriors and compression clothing

This September, I completed the toughmudder course in Austin, Texas.  I can honestly say that it was the most physically demanding challenge that I’ve ever voluntarily undertaken. I chipped a tooth, I’m still sore, and to this day I’m continuing to find leftover dirt and mud in remote places on my body that I never knew existed.  This is probably an indication that I lack judgment and common sense.

Toughmudder was my first introduction to the Wounded Warrior Project.  From what I’ve read and heard, the organization is a top notch charity that really does a great job of helping those who truly deserve our help.  The organization is featured in a number of articles and videos on the web.

Also, if you’re a fan of Under Armour, you probably already know that it has a line of products dedicated to the Wounded Warrior Project.  They’re also offering this gift set for wounded veterans, and if you’re looking to make a donation you may find that this package gives you more bang-for-your-buck.  And no, I don’t get a commission if you donate or purchase anything – I just think that it’s a heck of a good cause that deserves as much awareness as possible.

Speaking of Under Armour, I really wish some folks – and you know exactly who you are – would use a little bit of discretion when purchasing and wearing compression or fitted exercise gear.

Never underestimate the motivational quality of the right song at the right time.  If you’re looking for a little bit of meaningful inspiration this weekend, you may want to check this out.

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