The Power of the Mantra

Right before the 2017 NYC marathon, Meb Keflezighi came to Custom Performance to kick off the weekend with a Q&A session. When talking about training and racing he said "I really believe that during preparation it’s 90% physical, 10% mental. When the gun goes off it’s 90% mental and 10% being healthy.” As racing season ramps up, let’s not forget that mental training is just as important as physical training.

Mantras have traditionally been used to focus the mind during meditation, but they have also become standard in the running world. Mantras can distract you from negative thoughts, muscle fatigue, or discomfort and help you to stay focused on your training run or race. Having a mantra or two could be the key to getting through some of those tough runs. Like any other type of training, mantras should be practiced before the race day.

Often we find ourselves using them when a workout or run gets tough instead of incorporating them regularly throughout training. As mantras tend to be very personal to each runner, try out different ones during different types of workouts and runs. Practicing them is simple; just pick a motivational word or phrase and repeat it as needed throughout the workout.

There is no such thing as a "wrong mantra,” but positive mantras will lift you up instead of bringing you down. Studies have shown that positive self-talk can alter the perceived effects of physical exertion.

Additionally, a study conducted on cyclists showed that individuals primed with happy faces subliminally during an experiment cycled longer to exhaustion compared with those primed with sad faces. Even the unconscious presence of a smiley face improved performance! If you're new to mantras, start with something simple, such as "I am strong" or even "one mile at a time" and repeat as needed.

Don’t forget to pay attention to your body as well. Mantras should be used as a tool to motivate but not block out pain signals so that you run towards injury.

Blanchfield, A., Hardy, J., & Marcora, S. (2014). Non-conscious visual cues related to affect and action alter perception of effort and endurance performance. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00967

Lisbeth Hoyt, PT, DPT, CSCS