Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: Positive Feedback Helps While Running

>> Thursday, August 21, 2014

Runner's World recently shared a study that looked at receiving positive feedback while running. The results are interesting:

Researchers at UNLV recruited 20 experienced runners, divided them into two groups, and measured their running economy for 20 minutes at a pace corresponding to 75% of VO2max. For one group (but not the other), they provided positive (but completely imaginary) feedback about their running economy every two minutes starting at the 10-minute mark. For example:

- 10:00: "You’re doing great. Your oxygen consumption is in the top 10th percentile for your age and gender."

- 12:00: "You look very relaxed. You are a very efficient runner."

Here's what the results, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, look like:

The "EE" group stands for "enhanced expectancies" – i.e. they got the positive feedback. Throughout the 10 minutes of positive feedback, their oxygen consumption declined slowly but steadily, meaning they were running more and more efficiently. The control group, on the other hand, didn't decrease; in fact, the graph makes it look like they were getting a bit less efficient as they began to fatigue. While the graph is a little bit ambiguous, the statistics suggest that the control group had no significant change in VO2 while the positive feedback had a significant decrease in VO2.

This makes sense. When someone cheers you on and mentions how great you look, don't you run a little easier for a few strides? This is similar to some thoughts I had when I ran the 2010 TC 10 Mile where I broke 60 mins: this isn't exactly the same idea, but here's what I said in my race report when I was really hurting near the middle: "... So I focused on the 'good.' Honestly, I thought, 'Oh, my elbows don't hurt. They feel nice. OK, good - I can do this.' Really. That sounds dumb, but I just tried to find SOMETHING that didn't hurt and focus on how GOOD that felt. So my elbows it was."

The article sums it up nicely at the very end:

What this study reminds us is that there's a cost to consciously focusing on running form. You're expending not just extra mental energy, but also extra physical energy, when you start worrying about your efficiency. The result may still be worthwhile if you stick with it long enough that the new form becomes second-nature – but there's something to be said for just clearing your mind of doubts and running.


SteveQ 11:33 AM, August 21, 2014  

I learned in high school that the opposite works, too. I ran a two mile race and had teammates around the track saying, "You got him Steve, he's DYING! He looks terrible!" Eventually, the other guy fell apart, thinking he must really be hurting.

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