Mental Strategies from Professional Strength and Conditioning Coaches

Researchers questioned over 100 experienced strength and conditioning coaches to find out what mental strategies they employed with their athletes. Are you using these techniques?

Do you use mental strategies in the gym to improve your performance? Which mental strategies are most important? A recent study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research posed this question to 102 experienced coaches. The answers may surprise you.

The coaches were comprised of ninety men and twelve women, averaging over seven years as professional strength and conditioning coaches. Researchers created a daunting questionnaire about training psychology, complete with multiple choice and short answer questions. No, I’m not joking. The answers were compiled and analyzed to determine the most common mental strategies that professional coaches employ with their athletes.

The most used strategies turned out to be goal setting, adherence, and self-talk. Goal setting is definitely the cornerstone of training. Without a goal, how do you know where you’re going? Adherence is decidedly less sexy, but equally important. Stick to your program. Do the work – even when it sucks, and even when you’d really rather not. Self-talk is probably my favorite mental strategy. If you merged George Carlin with Conan the Barbarian, and then made him fight that witch from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers that lives on the moon – the resulting dialogue is what my self-talk sounds like.

Another interesting result was that more experienced coaches are more likely to use mental strategies with their athletes. The use of every single mental strategy increased along with the experience of the coach. This means training psychology should be a tool in your coaching toolbox. If it’s not, then start learning and practicing – today.

Finally, the study identified the top factors most damaging to an athlete’s success. Stress and anxiety took center stage. This speaks to me about the importance of recovery and the athlete’s lifestyle. Training is just one part of athletic development. But since it’s the sexiest part, it gets the most attention. Managing stress and getting quality sleep isn’t something most gym rats like to tackle, but ignoring its importance can derail all your hard work.

Do you use mental strategies to improve your performance? Tell me about your self-talk. Is it uplifting? Scary? Something else entirely? Jump in the comments and let us know.


1. Jon Radcliffe, Paul Comfort, and Tom Fawcett. “The Perception of Psychology and the Frequency of Psychological Strategies Used by Strength and Conditioning Practitioners.” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. April 2013. Vol. 27. Issue 4. p1136–1146. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182606ddc

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