Exercise Longer With...Subliminal Messages? Study Says They May Affect Your Workout Performance

What gets you motivated at the gym; are you trying to be healthy and fit, or is it that cute guy in the corner and the bumping techno music? Well, a recent study may have found a new frontier for gym motivation; apparently subliminal messages affect workout performance. Yes, your read that right — subliminal messages, ie non-conscious cues that leave an impression on your mind without you noticing them.

And even though, as New York Magazine points out, this sounds like the stuff of “Cold War espionage plots,” researchers from the University of Kent and Bangor University did find that subliminal messages can alter perception of effort and endurance performances. The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal, looked at two separate experiments. The first experiment observed the performance of 13 participants on exercise bikes as they biked to the point of exhaustion. The bikers were primed with images of either happy or sad faces, which were flashed so quickly that the participants could not process them. Bikers who were given the subliminal message of a happy face cycled for around three minutes longer than bikers who had a sad face stuck in their mind. The happy face bikers also reported less perceived exertion than their counterparts.

In the second experiment, an endurance performance athlete was observed while using an exercise bike. He was then subliminally primed with action and inaction words. When he was given action words, he peddled for almost six and a half more minutes than when he was given inaction words. The action words also lead to the athlete feeling less tired during his exercise. And even though the experiment needs to be done on a larger scale before we can come to any solid conclusions, it looks like subliminal messages could be a new tool for professional athletes.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a team of scientist at our disposal who can give us non-conscious messages to improve our performance at the gym. But, this study goes to show that it really is mind over matter when it comes to working out — if you believe that you can do it, you probably can. So next time you're at the gym flash someone a quick smile — you just might help them get through their workout.