Deceive Yourself for Better Results?

Your new fitness mantra: "I know I can. I know I can. I know I can."

When it comes to exercise, what’s the limiting factor? Obviously, you can only lift as much – or push as hard – as your body will allow. But, as it turns out, your mind plays a significant role, too.

In a series of interesting experiments, Dr. Kevin Thompson, head of sport and exercise science at Northumbrian University in England, set out to test the effects of deception on performance.

In a test, cyclists raced a 4000 meter virtual course at their top speed. Then, an avatar was introduced on the course. Though the cyclists were told that the avatar represented their own top speed from the previous test, it was actually programmed to go 1% faster. Keeping up with the avatar, the cyclists actually beat their own personal best times. When, on the other hand, cyclists were told that the avatar would be exceeding their personal best, they found themselves unable to keep up.

The findings of the study aren’t entirely surprising. I’ve seen trainers use deception on clients at the gym. If, for example, a person believes that they can bench 200 lbs for 8 reps as their max, the trainer might slip on an extra five pound plate to either side. The client ends up doing 8 reps of 210 lbs, believing the weight is actually lighter. If the trainer had disclosed the actual weight, the client might have only been able to do 6 or 7 reps.

While this sort of deception can erode the trust in a client-trainer relationship, it does speak to the power of our beliefs. Yes, our bodies have physical limitations – but our minds play a bigger role than many of us may realize.

For me, the takeaway is this: If you tell yourself you can’t do something, you probably won’t be able to do it. If, on the other hand, you believe something is possible – and perhaps even visualize yourself achieving it (many professional athletes use visualization) – then you are far more likely to actually do it.

Since positive self talk is easy, free and makes your fitness goals more achievable, why not give it a try?

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.


  1. I feel like in this case, the whole “lying” thing would be forgivable to some people. I know I wouldn’t mind if my personal trainer was deceiving me in such a way (as long as I didn’t end up getting hurt, of course!).

  2. *Smiles* I have often mis-counted the weights and ended up lifting more than I intended – obviously at peak effort, but quite do-able. What we believe definitely influences what we can do. Great article.

  3. Dennis Oliver says:

    I showed this article to a friend. She said that when she is (rock) climbing she thinks light thoughts. It works especially well on difficult climbs with almost nonexistent foot and hand holds.

  4. emmabee11 says:

    I agree lol especially if someone is there to push and motivate me, i workout on my own but the odd time i’ve had someone there and they push me further than i actually thought i could go when working out on my own. I guess it helps to have someone there with you a tone, it’s a lot harder on your own, i mean if you go to the gym with your friends your just happily chatting away and pumping those muscles yet your pushing harder than when your on your own because it seems like when your working out yourself you have no distraction for your negative thoughts so it’s going to make it a lot harder than say you chatting to your friends who make you smile, laugh and generally give you positive thoughts :). I guess we need that little bit of a distraction when working out even if we think we need to fully concentrate on it, i know i do lol my brain jsut tries so hard to tell me “no no i cant do this!” so thus stops me from pushing myself but i mean i lost 4 stone i know i can do it just somehow i gotta find that motivation and for me it’s training with another person.

  5. christopher says:

    positive self talk-it makes for better workouts.i last week bested my previous weeks performance in the has been going on for the last few weeks-even before this blog entry and topic of today.instead of mentally or verbally call out rep numbers-i still do that-i visualize and call out names of family and friends-the very same friends encouraging me-im dedicating my workouts in their name-and i benefit-and im progressively getting better.its as my friends are virtual guardian angels in the gym.i could use a personal trainer-im short on funds-but its working with my angels-im increasing weights-on machines-free weights-and reps as well.i have to build on this-like a pyramid-upside down-if you progressive step might be analytical-brain with brawn.