Placebos Improve Running Performance

In several past posts, we’ve discussed the amazing impact that your mind can have on your athletic performance. And, for generations, athletes from any number of sports have known about – and exploited – this fact. But it’s also true that many things that athletes thing to give themselves an edge really have no reason to work. Yet, sometimes it seems like these expected placebos may actually be making a difference.

A new study, published in the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, explored the full impact of the placebo effect on runners. It even sheds some light on how you can use this phenomenon, which is usually seen as a negative thing, to improve your performance.


The Switch

A group of 15 male suspects who were all trained runners with 10k times averaging out at 39:15, were enrolled in the experiment. Over the course of the study, the men ran several 3k races. During a specific week of the study, the subjects gave themselves daily injections of what they were told was a performance enhancing drugs called OxyRBX. In reality, the drugs was a simple saline solution.

At the end of the “doping” week, the men participated in another 3k race. Believing that they had been taking a powerful performance enhancer for the past week, the runners finished an average of 9.73 seconds faster. The comes out to be a full 5 seconds off each mile – a very significant improvement.

What’s probably the most interesting aspect of this study, though, is how expectation effected the final results. The men who anticipated the greatest improvements from OxyRBX, saw the greatest improvements. On the other hand, those subjects that expected little-to-no change experienced just that.



But what’s the real world application for you? Clearly, your belief and expectations can be powerful ways to improve your performance drastically but you can’t trick yourself into injecting fake drugs into your system.

But you can use positive self-talk to encourage yourself and build anticipation. The key is adding an element to your training that you truly believe will improve your performance. Maybe it’s a specific goal for the month or incorporating strength training or regular hill-running. Either way, make it something that you genuinely believe in and will do regularly. Your positive outlook going into your new routine will give you both motivation and confidence. You will also be more positive and quick to recognize even small improvements that you may have overlooked as insignificant in the past.

There’s also another side to this, though, that I would be remiss if I did not mention: You can also have this sort of effect on other athletes – for the positive or negative. If someone introduces a new aspect to their routine that they wholeheartedly believe in, you may be doing them a huge favor by allowing them to continue to think that way.





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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.