Trying to Overcome a Fitness Hurdle? Talk to Yourself

Overcoming fitness hurdle woman on a cliff.

We wish we could say that struggling to motivate yourself while training is a rare phenomenon, but anybody who has been on a fitness journey knows that, sometimes, you just can’t muster up the energy to get a workout in. Talking to yourself might get a bad (or, you know, just weird) rap, but when it comes to your athletic performance, a little self-directed motivational speaking might actually go a pretty long way.

There has been quite a bit of research to support the efficacy of positive self-talk in boosting athletic performance. One study from the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, for example, found that a 10-week self-talk intervention improved the competitive performance of swimmers significantly more than it did for swimmers in the control group. On a similar note, another study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that when runners tap into the power of self-talk, it increases the time to exhaustion during their endurance training. Moral of the story? While talking to yourself might not feel a little odd (at least in public), it might be a good way to continue pushing your fitness gains to the next level.

So what does all of that mean exactly? How should one talk to his or herself, exactly, to reap these performance-enhancing benefits? For starters, you can try a mantra. Pick a daily saying that really speaks to you and embodies your goals. This can be a general saying (think “progress trumps perfection” or “stay strong”) or it can be something a little more specific (“you can run six miles, and you can kill it”). Pick your mantra and then kick your day off by repeating it to yourself a few times to really get it ingrained in your mind. Then, when you feel yourself starting to lag during your workout, you can always come back to it to replenish your energy and positive mindset.

If you’re trying to go the extra mile (both literally and figuratively), you can also give yourself a pre-workout pep talk. Think about the kind of speech a coach gives a team in a locker room before a big game. Sure, there’s a bit of pre-game strategy discussion, but there’s also some of that emotional riling up that helps get a team in a winning mindset before playing. Take a page from that playbook and try pepping yourself up before a big workout by offering up some encouraging words (“you can do this!” or “you know you’re capable of beating yesterday’s time,” etc.) to help you step up your game.