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Intense Mental Training Enhances Endurance Performance

The Human Brain

Many ask me how I managed academics and college swimming training. I often reply, many college athletes don’t flunk out of school during the sports season, but during the off-season. A tight schedule helps many stay on task and focused, but are intensive studies helpful for an athlete?

One study had trained thirty-five soldiers three times a week on stationary bikes for the experiment, riding each time for the same duration and intensity relative to their own baseline fitness. In addition to the physical effort, half of the soldiers were also asked to engage in a mentally demanding task — watching combinations of letters appear on a computer screen and clicking only when certain combinations appear — while they pedaled.

At the end of a 12-week study, both groups showed comparable increases in VO2max, a common indicator of physical fitness. This makes sense since the training regimens were physiologically identical. However, when the soldiers completed a “time to exhaustion test” in which they rode at a constant effort — 80% of their respective VO2 maxes –for as long as possible. The group that had trained without the mentally demanding task improved time to exhaustion, on average, by an impressive 42%. Soldiers who clicked letter combinations on the computer during their workouts, however, improved 126%! This is three times as much as the control group!

During intense endurance training, the psychological demands are strenuous. If you combine this demand with mental stress and the overload stress further increased. Therefore, when the mental stress was removed, the training seemed easier, allowing a greater enhancement.

The main researcher said:

Brain Endurance Training


Now, intense cycling training 3x/week is far different than many elite sports training teams. However, many brilliant athletes are seen in college sports everyday. Sometimes, popular culture depicts athletes as dumb jocks, but high-level athletics and high intelligence are possible. We incorporate this at COR during the KADP. Don’t be afraid to push mental and physical training, as intense mental training enhances endurance performance.