We’ve all heard the phrase “mind over matter,” and we’ve all had moments when our mental powers were the only thing that got us to the end of a tough set. But in these desperate spots under a heavy bar, we have to ask: Was it really “mind over matter” that got us through – or something else?
Researchers wanted to find this out by looking at the effects of using attention span as a way to change the perceived difficulty of a workout. In other words, they wanted to see if changing the way that you use your attention span changes the levels of mental stress and perceived difficulty of a hard set, allowing for better performance and greater gains. They found that although directing your attention outside of yourself is effective at increasing performance at low to moderate exercise intensities, it becomes less so as your body approaches its physical limits at greater intensity levels.
The next time you’re about to load up a heavy bar and bust out a heavy set, take a realistic look at the situation and determine if you’re actually able to do the work, or if you’re just trying to convince yourself. To tell the difference, sit down for thirty seconds and close your eyes. If they spin or you feel burned out, your nervous system has reached its limit and no amount of mental trickery will get you safely through the set. The fact is, mental tricks work to get you in the gym and to get you momentum, but as you get more fatigued, they lose effectiveness. At this point, if you keep pushing yourself, you’ll get hurt. So know your limit, and bodybuild within it! Reject inappropriate mind-over-matter strategies. This will help keep you growing and prevent you from becoming an injury statistic.
Lind E, Welch AS, Ekkekakis P. Do ‘mind over muscle’ strategies work? Examining the effects of attentional association and dissociation on exertional, affective and physiological responses to exercise. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):743-64.