A feature story in the January 30, 2016 issue of New Scientist cites research conducted by UCRISE Director, Professor Kevin Thompson, that investigated the extent to which our brains can influence our athletic endurance. Not at the physiological, but at the mental level. In other words, how does our thinking affect endurance?
Entitled “Hidden Stamina”, the New Scientist feature story includes a description of several studies conducted by Professor Thompson between 2011 and 2014.
The first of these began by having a group of cyclists complete a 4 kilometre time trial on an indoor exercise cycle as quickly as they could (i.e. at their best pace).
Then, in the next phase, the cyclists completed the trial again, only this time they were watching themselves racing against an on-screen avatar which, they had been told, was going at their best pace.
In truth, the avatar was riding with a power output 2 per cent higher than that of the cyclists’ best pace and amazingly, the riders kept up, cycling more quickly than ever before.
When the same experiment was conducted with different riders, and with the power output of the avatars set to being 5 per cent higher, the riders could not handle it.
The study was replicated three years later, and this time athletes were told that they had been deceived by the avatar and asked whether they wanted to race again. At the 2 per cent level they still managed to keep up, even while knowing they were being deceived.
“Overall, the studies suggest that the body has an energy reserve of between 2 and 5 per cent which can be tapped by tricking the brain,” Professor Thompson said.
Could this type of approach push athletic performance to new extremes?