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One Key to Endurance Performance May Be Subliminal Visual Cues

By Ken Johnson | April 09, 2018, 10:22 p.m. (ET)

Soon it may be possible to improve your multisport performance not by necessarily training harder, but by wearing glasses that flash positive subliminal cues.
Positive subliminal visual cues — words, pictures and symbols unidentifiable in your consciousness — have been shown to improve performance in endurance athletes. Based on research from the University of Kent and Bangor University, athletes presented with positive cues were able to cycle significantly longer to exhaustion than those shown negative or neutral cues. 
The positive subliminal cues included the words ACTION, GO, LIVELY and ENERGY, and happy faces. Negative cues were STOP, TOIL, SLEEP and TIRED, and sad faces. The words and faces appeared on digital screens in front of the athletes for less than .02 seconds, and were also surrounded by other images, making them unrecognizable to the athletes’ conscious.
These positive cues significantly reduced athletes’ rate of perceived exertion (RPE). In the experiment, those with a longer time to exhaustion reported significantly lower RPE when primed with happy faces.
The research is the first to show that subliminal visual cues can directly affect performance in endurance athletes. Perhaps more importantly, it shows that how much effort an athlete thinks they are using can be altered during training and racing; the perception of less effort can increase overall endurance capacity.
Subliminal cues have long been known to affect behavior, including shopping, drinking water and buying soda at the movie theatre. However, Dutch researcher Martijn Veltkamp demonstrated success only comes if the subliminal message matches a biological need and if the behavior is associated with a positive effect.
Researchers plan to look at technology as a way of implementing their findings, such as “smart glasses” (like Google Glass) that would display positive subliminal visual cues. Smart goggles are already used by world-class skiers, including Mischo Erban who posted a snowboard run of over 80 miles per hour. At the same time, endurance athletes may not be the only ones to benefit. Such smart glasses could also increase exercise compliance among everyone that needs to get more physical activity. 
Ken Johnson M.S. has been a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach since 2003 and for 10 years coached at the largest municipal recreation facility in the country. His website is
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.