February 09, 2018

Credit: (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

As you watch Shaun White execute a trick on the halfpipe, or Ashley Wagner land a triple axel, or Lindsey Vonn race down the slope...you might ask yourself a question. What exactly separates me from these Olympic athletes? Obviously there's the years of training and the fact that they're extraordinarily fit, but there's also something else. Something mental. Something that lets them push their limits. To find out exactly what that is, we talked with Alex Hutchinson, author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.

Three Takeaways: 

  • The mind plays a big role in what your body can do. Hutchinson points to a 2016 study in which cyclists were told to ride to exhaustion in a 95-degree heat chamber. After two weeks of training in “motivational self-talk,” the athletes were able to ride significantly longer, and, on average, push their core temperature half a degree higher before quitting. 
  • If you look at marathon racers’ finish times, you’ll find that there are big spikes in the number of people completing the marathon before the three hour mark, the four hour mark, and the five hour mark. People care a lot about hitting these arbitrary times, and are able to run faster than they thought possible to achieve it.
  • It’s not just athletes that can benefit from these ideas about the connection between mind and body. Hutchinson believes that we all have some leeway between when our body gives us a warning sign, and when we actually hit a limit. That isn’t to say that you should go hurt yourself at the gym, but if you’re panting hard on the treadmill, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop.
More Reading:

Body and Mind, athletes, Alex Hutchinson, endurance

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