Forget about psyching out your competition. If you’re looking to get an edge on your rivals in your next race or game, consider psyching yourself up first. Pressure training, a mental technique that simulates the stress of high-stakes competition during practice, is the newest tool coaches are using to prepare athletes for battle. And for good reason: Research in the journal Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology found that when nearly 300 athletes underwent some form of pressure training before a competition, “they consistently outperformed peers who did not train under pressure,” says study co-author Billy Low.
How pressure training works varies by situation—one coach might put up a leaderboard in the locker room, where everyone’s practice times are ranked for others to see. Another athlete might post daily weightlifting goals on his Instagram account, then force himself to report the results that evening. The aim: Get used to training in an environment that mimics the pressure of competition over and over until you become immune to game-day anxiety.
“In my opinion, coaches should introduce pressure training months, rather than days, before a race,” says Low. “Athletes need time to learn skills to cope with pressure—then practice them.”
To really maximize results, he says, try applying performance-enhancing tools like visualization and positive self-talk while also undergoing pressure training. “If athletes always train in easy conditions, they won’t have to use those techniques to get through training,” says Low. “Then once they face pressure in competition, they struggle to refocus or stay positive because they haven’t made those techniques a habit.” So, go ahead: Drop and give us 40. Yes, we’re watching.
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