Competition Helps Athletes Perform Better, Finds Studies

Competing Works: How to Use That Edge in Everyday Workouts

When your lungs are at their capacity, your legs are aching, and all you want to do is stop, you may think you can't possibly push yourself to perform better during your workout. But you may just need a little mental boost. In competition, your brain can give you that extra push to perform better, according to new studies as reported by the New York Times.

The studies found that while our bodies may tire out before we'd like them to, competition spurs our brains to give us an extra mental boost, which can translate to better performance. In one study, cyclists were tricked into racing against what they thought was their fastest time but was actually one percent faster than their personal bests. The cyclists ended up performing just as well as the faster times, even though their previous best times were slower.

In another study, cyclists consistently beat computer-generated images that mimicked their own personal bests when they thought they were actually racing against someone else's time. As the cyclists crossed the finish line, they sped up in order to beat their "competitors" and ended up beating their best times by a significant amount.

The results show that reaching our limits isn't always about physical fatigue. Scientists think that our brains may allow us to tap into stored anaerobic energy — nonoxygen-derived energy that's converted from glucose stored in our muscles — just when we need it most, like when we're crossing a finish line and striving to push past a competitor. Ready to improve your game? Use that competitive mentality in your everyday workout with these tips.

  • Sign up for a race. You'll be able to understand race-day mentality, push yourself, and have a good basis of what your pace is, which can help you set goals for future workouts.
  • Enact a speedy plan. Once you've identified your best time, try to improve on it with a definitive plan to up your speed and endurance. Use these tips to help you steadily increase your speed and endurance to shave seconds off your race time; you'll also be conditioning your body to work out anaerobically, which will help it tap into stored energy when you need a boost.
  • Enlist the help of a stranger. No one has to know, but getting competitive with the gym rat running next to you on the treadmills can help improve your workout.
  • Think positive. When the cyclists were told at the beginning of their races that they were racing against someone with a better overall time, they gave up right away and never tried to beat their competitor. Try not to discourage yourself if someone is blowing through a course, and you're trudging along behind them. Our brains may be able to give us an extra push, but everyone's got their own limits, so don't get stuck on constant comparisons.
Source: Thinkstock
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