How to Increase Mental Strength in Endurance Sports?

All endurance sports demand great mental and physical strength from athletes. Do you know how to increase your mental strength?
How to Increase Mental Strength in Endurance Sports?

Last update: 08 January, 2021

If there’s something that characterizes all endurance sports, it’s the sometimes superhuman effort that the people who practice them have to make. Examples of these kinds of sports are triathlons, swimming, or cycling. In all of them, the athlete must be able to maintain physical effort and mental strength over long periods of time.

It’s true that in order to obtain optimal performance in these sports you need to have a good cardiopulmonary capacity, however, you also have to have mental strength. The incredible effort that takes place is not only physical, it’s largely mental.

Working on mental strength will allow you to do more physical work. It’s often said that the mind can provide a welcome break. That’s why we’ve prepared a few tips to work your mental strength.

Clear the mind of negative thoughts

It’s normal for athletes to experience unpleasant physical sensations during the course of a competition. However, if negative thoughts about oneself are added to these physical sensations, the discomforts can increase exponentially.

The trick in these cases is to direct your attention to neutral thoughts or environmental stimuli. Since the movements are automated, you don’t need to pay attention to how you should run, swim, or pedal.

Think of a song, about a movie, perform a mental to-do list. These are all examples of dissociation strategies that can free your mind from the feelings of suffocation and fatigue.

Don’t stop working on self-confidence

men race

Self-confidence is closely related to performance in endurance sports. In other words, if you work on your self-confidence, you’ll feel more positive which in turn will allow you to reach your objectives.

According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Psychology, a high level of self-confidence can prevent discomfort before a competition. This reduction of discomfort can increase performance.

In order to increase your self-confidence, you’ll have to work on it constantly. Techniques such as self-instruction or visualization are very helpful when it comes to increasing confidence.

Relax and control your breathing

An increase in nerves before a competition is a very common phenomenon. This increase is not harmful per se, but the problem arises however when there’s too much stimulation. This can hinder your performance.

Increased mental stimulation has its origin in the sympathetic nervous system. When it happens, your breathing becomes faster and shallower and your muscles tense up. If they’re not controlled, these symptoms can negatively affect physical performance and motor control.

What can be done to control your nerves? The answer is simple: relaxation techniques. Diaphragmatic breathing or the progressive muscle relaxation techniques described in academic publications are the two most used tools to control pre-competitive anxiety.

Set appropriate personal goals

Goal setting is a powerful psychological technique that can positively influence motivation and self-confidence.

According to a study conducted by the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, runners who set higher goals, both in relation to performance and result, obtained better times than those who set lower goals.

Happy man

It’s important to set demanding goals, however, don’t set goals that exceed your physical capabilities. The key is knowing how to graduate the difficulty of each goal and adapting it according to your progress.

Mental strength will drive your legs

To achieve the maximum possible performance in endurance sports, it’s not enough to train the cardiopulmonary system. You’ll also have to carry out mental training to control all the unpleasant thoughts and feelings that cross your mind.

In addition, sometimes it’s the thoughts such as, “I can’t take it anymore!” Or, “I feel as if I’m going to faint!” That hinders your performance. Mental strength can provide an extra boost that’ll be able to unlock additional strength even when you feel you can’t take it anymore.

Unpleasant sensations aren’t avoidable, however, you can prevent them from limiting your performance. The key is to have control over these sensations rather than the sensations having control over you. Your fatigue doesn’t control you, you control your fatigue.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bueno García, J., Capdevila Ortís, L., y Fernández-Castro, J. (2002). Sufrimiento competitivo y rendimiento en deportes de resistencia. Revista de Psicología del deporte, 11(2), 0209-226.
  • González, A., y Amigo, I. (2000). Efectos inmediatos del entrenamiento en relajación muscular progresiva sobre índices cardiovasculares. Psicothema, 12(1), 26-32.
  • Stoeber, J., Uphill, M.A. & Hotham, S. (2009) Predicting Race Performance in
    Triathlon: The Role of Perfectionism, Achievements Goals and Personal Goal
    Setting. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, nº 31, 211-245.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.