Purpose: Unpleasant physical sensations during maximal exercise may manifest themselves as negative cognitions that impair performance, alter pacing, and are linked to increased rating of perceived exertion (RPE). This study examined whether motivational self-talk (M-ST) could reduce RPE and change pacing strategy, thereby enhancing 10-km time-trial (TT) cycling performance in contrast to neutral self-talk (N-ST).
Methods: Fourteen men undertook 4 TTs, TT1-TT4. After TT2, participants were matched into groups based on TT2 completion time and underwent M-ST (n=7) or N-ST (n=7) after TT3. Performance, power output, RPE, and oxygen uptake (VO2) were compared across 1-km segments using ANOVA. Confidence intervals (95%CI) were calculated for performance data.
Results: After TT3 (ie, before intervention), completion times were not different between groups (M-ST, 1120±113 s; N-ST, 1150±110 s). After M-ST, TT4 completion time was faster (1078±96 s); the N-ST remained similar (1165±111 s). The M-ST group achieved this through a higher power output and VO2 in TT4 (6th-10th km). RPE was unchanged. CI data indicated the likely true performance effect lay between 13- and 71-s improvement (TT4 vs TT3).
Conclusion: M-ST improved endurance performance and enabled a higher power output, whereas N-ST induced no change. The VO2 response matched the increase in power output, yet RPE was unchanged, thereby inferring a perceptual benefit through M-ST. The valence and content of self-talk are important determinants of the efficacy of this intervention. These findings are primarily discussed in the context of the psychobiological model of pacing.