Power of the Placebo

Power of the placebo effect on running and cycling.

The placebo effect is one of the most fascinating aspects of athletics.

It takes that which should not work, adds in a sprinkling of faith from the user, and splits out improved performance.

How this happens is a combination of a reduction in perceived effort (how hard something feels) and an increase in your potential motivation.

Below, we'll go through some studies that have tested the placebo and discuss how you can use it yourself!


How can YOU use the placebo?

It's simple, really.

You see the placebo effect in use at every single race.

Kinesio tape, compression socks, nose breath strips, cupping, and special necklaces or bracelets that promise improved performance. The research is unclear about these truly having a beneficial impact on performance, but the research is clear that if you think they are beneficial, they are.

Christopher J. Beedie of Canterbury Christ Church University in England surveyed 30 high level athletes of various sports about the placebo effect.

  • Almost all of the respondents believed placebos to be helpful.
  • 73% knew they have benefited from the placebo effect.
  • One weight lifted performed a "nearly impossible" lift because he thought the weight on the bar was less than it actually was!

Study: Effects of an Injected Placebo on Endurance Running Performance.

Details: Participants with an average 10k time of 39 minutes were given a daily saline injection that they were told was a performance enhancing drug.

Results: The researchers state that "Race time improved significantly more in response to placebo intervention" and the runners reported reduced perceived effort, improved recovery, and increased motivation.


Study: Placebo effects of caffeine on cycling performance.

Details: Participants were told they were being given a placebo, 4.5 mg.kg of caffeine, or 9.0 mg.kg caffeine. However, they were all given a placebo.

Results: Cyclists who were told they were given a placebo lost a bit of power during the trial. Those who were told they were given the lower amount of caffeine gained some power and those who were told they were given the maximum amount of caffeine gained even more power. Interestingly, "All subjects reported caffeine-related symptoms.".


Study: Anabolic steroids: The physiological effects of placebos

Details: Varsity level athletes were told some of them had been selected to receive anabolic steroids, however you already know they were definitely not given steroids, but a placebo.

Results: Of course, the individuals who believed they were given steroids experienced "strength gains above and beyond reasonable progression."


Study: Effects of respiratory muscle training versus placebo on endurance exercise performance.

Details: Participants received inspiratory resistance strength training and hyperpnea endurance training and others were given a sham hypoxic trainer as a placebo test.

Results: In the laboratory setting, the researchers suggested that "the effect of respiratory muscle training on exercise performance in highly trained cyclists does not exceed that in a placebo group."

Kyle Kranz

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