Sports psychology and yoga

How yoga and motivation exercises boost performance

Mental preparation for competition is an increasingly important factor in athletes’ training, but there has been very little field research on how the various preparation strategies affect different types of athletic performance. Now a new US study has shown that yoga and motivational exercises can both boost one-mile run performance through sports psychology, although the latter was most effective.

Ninety male and female high school distance runners completed a one-mile trial run on a 400m track to the best of their ability after a typical 20-minute warm-up routine. A week later they repeated the exercise immediately after taking part in one of the following three preparation exercises:

  • Motivational group intervention – involving each of the runners shouting out motivational statements of their choice – eg ‘you’re the definition of speed’ – both individually and as part of a group;
  • Yoga – consisting of 11 basic entry-level yoga asana positions;
  • Attention control – the control (inactive) condition involving a facilitator asking the runners questions relevant to competitive running, such as how they were feeling, what events they ran particularly well, etc.

The researchers then compared the runners’ times for the two runs. After the second run, all the runners were asked to rate (on a scale of 1-5) their satisfaction with their particular intervention and how much they believed it had improved their performance.

Key findings were as follows:

  • Runners in the motivational group improved their run performance significantly more than those in the yoga group, who performed significantly better than those in the control group – improvements of 5s, 1s and -1s respectively;
  • These outcomes were accurately reflected in the runners’ ratings of perceived improvement;
  • Runners in the motivational and yoga groups both expressed more satisfaction with their intervention than those in the control group.

The researchers have called for further studies to evaluate the two active interventions in truly competitive situations, commenting that ‘the motivational intervention developed could be effective in actual track meet situations and perhaps other team sporting events, such as baseball, basketball and volleyball’.

Br J Sports Med 2006; 40:60-63

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