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The Mental Cheat

by Coach Seiji


Athletes will go to some far-reaching extremes to extract that last bit of performance; training is distilled to minutiae to direct even the slightest effort in the correct direction and recovery has become its own segment of exercise science. Diets are analyzed and the array of possibly beneficial supplements is endless. Some even turn to PEDs. Sports psychology gains more and more ground, athletes finally exploring this “final frontier” of sports performance. One aspect of the mental side that is often overlooked is the simple power of belief.

Belief, no matter it’s root, is amazingly powerful; wars have been started, religions spawned and entire cultures have been based on beliefs, proven or not. Belief in yourself, your training, your recovery, your diet, even your supplements can have huge benefits on your competitive outcomes. Then there is the power of others believing in you, osmotically enhancing your motivation and drive.

if the lap time of the track is 1:30, a 2% gain is 1.8 seconds per lap. Multiply that by say, 6 laps (ridiculously short local race), that’s 10.8 seconds!

Indeed, this seems like a “soft science,” but studies have been done with statistically significant results.

  • Placebo injections: Fifteen club level competitive runners self-administered daily injections of saline, but believing it was a new drug that mimicked the blood boosting effects of EPO. After seven days, a 1.2% improvement in 3km time was achieved compared to the same duration control phase. The runners also reported decreased perceptions of effort, improved motivation and better recovery.
  • Placebo ingestion: Six well trained cyclists performed two baseline and three experimental 10km time trials. During the experimental efforts, cyclists were told that they received either a placebo, 4.5mg/kg of caffeine or 9mg/kg of caffeine, but they were all placebos. Up to a 2.2% increase in power was recorded by those believing they received caffeine. Those that believed they received placebos actually had reduced power while those that believed they received more caffeine produced larger gains. All subjects reported symptoms associated with caffeine intake.
  • A high-end study involving thirty internationally competitive and professional athletes recorded that 73% of these athletes experienced placebo effects. World champions and national record holders in a wide variety of sports were participants.

I have fully experienced the placebo effect. I use an altitude tent to aid in acclimatizing for high mountain adventures. Studies go either way, some stating a slight positive effect, some stating none. I believed it would help with acclimatization, and not necessarily performance. To prepare for a mountaineering objective, I slept inside the claustrophobic, hot, loud and uncomfortable contraption for three weeks. I killed it, felt great despite inconsistent training, and chalked it up to another successful deployment of the altitude tent. Once I got home and started putting the tent away, I found out that my oxygen content measuring device wasn’t working and I had spent the entire three weeks prior to my trip doing nothing but making myself sweat during sleep! Did I use the altitude tent again? You bet I did.

Before you write off what seems like minuscule gains of 1-2%, review some math: if the lap time of the track is 1:30, a 2% gain is 1.8 seconds per lap. Multiply that by say, 6 laps (ridiculously short local race), that’s 10.8 seconds! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The main, broadly encompassing, take home of all this is that you have to go all in. You have to fully believe in your training program, that it is the path to greatness. You especially have to believe in the taper, that your relative resting is allowing all your previous hard work to absorb into your body and create the physical changes that drive your improvements. You have to believe that tapering for your important event is guaranteeing a breakthrough performance.

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You have to believe in your day to day and week to week recovery efforts. When your feet are up and you are simply relaxing, you have to fully know that this is actually when you get stronger, faster, fitter. Whatever dietary guidelines you follow, however much you sleep and/or nap, you must believe that those ways are the best for you in particular and you can feel how the food and the rest energize you for ultimate performance.

Lastly, if you have done your research, and the supplements are legal and safe, you have to be all in and fully trust that they are indeed enhancing your performance!

When your family and friends throw encouragement your way, let it boost your confidence. As long as you are doing the things you do for yourself and not them, take those affirmations and deposit them into your bank of motivation.

Believe. It sounds so easy. And really, it is, if you let it be.


  1. Ross, Ramzy, Cindy M. Gray, and Jason M. R. Gill. "Effects of an Injected Placebo on Endurance Running Performance." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 47.8 (2015): 1672-681. Web. 15 Nov. 2016
  2. Beedie, CJ, EM Stuart, DA Coleman, and AJ Foad. "Placebo Effects of Caffeine on Cycling Performance." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2006. Web. 15 Nov. 2016
  3. Beedie, Christopher J. "Placebo Effects in Competitive Sport: Qualitative Data." Placebo Effects in Competitive Sport: Qualitative Data. J. Sports Sci Med, 1 Mar. 2007. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Lucas November 17, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    I don't know where you're from, but where I'm from 6 laps would be a marathon. I race the expert classes and most of the time we only get 4 Laps, same as the other classes. Only occasionally do they give us 5 laps. I'm on the bike ~7 minutes per moto.

  2. Gravatar
    mark November 17, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    I am a firm believer of all things mental and so much of MX is mental from believing you can do something to pulling your speed from where it comes from which is your head.

    Your head has so much more to do with riding then what people think as just riding very relaxed rather they trying to make the bike do what you want it to do or even holding on and that comes from your head.

    If you can mentally make yourself not hold on as tight as you are and only use the energy you need rather then what you really do you can use so much more energy it isn't even funny.

    The riders who have figured it out come off the track looking like their race was effortless, not to mention they really won't have to train as hard just because you don't need to if your are using much less energy.

    Roczen has said many times after a race that he needed to be more mechanically efficient which conserves energy. Why hold on with 15 lbs of force when all you really need is 5lgs of force. The trick is to figure out how to make your mind realize this and do it.

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer November 18, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Lucas - 4 laps is still 7.2 seconds. I'll take that any day!

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