Psychological Determinants of Endurance Performance

Psychological Determinants of Endurance Performance:
A Systematic Review
Alister McCormick, Carla Meijen & Samuele Marcora
Endurance Research Group, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Kent
[email protected]
A systematic literature review was conducted to identify psychological constructs that influence whole-body endurance performance (distance
running, cycling, rowing, swimming, triathlon) and to identify psychological interventions that are effective at improving endurance
performance. Systematic reviews support evidence-based practice by identifying interventions that have been shown to be effective by
reliable research studies. They can also be used to identify gaps in the literature and to direct future research (Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).
Endurance was defined as whole-body, dynamic exercise that
involves continuous effort and lasts for 75 seconds or longer.
Inclusion Criteria
Included research studies used an experimental or quasiexperimental research design, a psychological intervention, an
endurance outcome measure, and athletes or physically-active
adults as participants. Included research studies were peer
reviewed and published in English language.
Electronic databases (Academic Search Complete, PsycARTICLES,
PsycINFO, SCOPUS, Web of Knowledge), forward-citation searches
and manual searches of reference lists were used to locate
experimental studies. 175 keyword variations were included in
database searches (e.g., self-talk, motivation, running, cycling,
marathon, time-to-exhaustion).
Evaluating Included Studies
The Effective Public Health Practice Project Quality Assessment
Tool for Quantitative Studies (Thomas, Ciliska, Dobbins, & Micucci,
2004) was modified to evaluate included studies.
Constructs (11 studies)
Eight studies related to motivation, which was increased using
head-to-head competition, verbal encouragement and financial
incentives. Motivation generally improved performance. Mental
fatigue decreased endurance performance and high efficacy
strength improved performance.
Quality of Included Studies
(n = 11)
(n = 24)*
* One study was assigned “not applicable”
Interventions (24 studies)
Of the studies that aimed to improve endurance performance, all except one found that at
least one of the tested interventions was effective. Effective interventions were association,
dissociation, goal setting, hypnosis, imagery, pre-performance statements, psychological
skills training (PST) packages and self-talk. Particular support was found for PST packages
because these interventions were effective in three sports, with athletes, in real-life and
simulated competition, and in multiple posttests.
Implications for Practice
Practitioners interested in performance enhancement could use self-talk, imagery or goal setting (individually or combined) for motivational
purposes. As mental fatigue increased perceived exertion and decreased endurance, sport scientists could help endurance athletes with their
time schedule to ensure that they avoid mentally-draining activities before they compete.
Implications for Research
Different PST interventions were not compared for effectiveness and PST packages were not compared with their individual components. A
PST package might be more time consuming than a single strategy (e.g., self-talk) without further improving performance. Researchers are
therefore encouraged to compare alternative interventions.
Researchers testing interventions are encouraged to carefully choose and measure psychological mediating variables, include a placebo
control group and measure performance in multiple posttests. Researchers are also encouraged to check if participants continue to use the
intervention after completion of the study and report withdrawals and dropouts. Studies that consider moderating variables (e.g., competitive
level, gender, goal orientation) or measure performance of athletes in competition could complement existing literature.
Take Home Message
We have a clear understanding of what interventions “work” at improving endurance performance; less is known
about how and for whom these interventions work or what works best.
Petticrew, M., & Roberts, H. (2006). Systematic reviews in the social sciences: A practical guide. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Thomas, B.H., Ciliska, D., Dobbins, M., & Micucci, S. (2004). A process for systematically reviewing the literature: Providing the research evidence for public health nursing interventions.
Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, 1, 176-184. Retrieved from

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