Why Body Language Can Help You Dominate Your Training

Expressions of power and dominance are clear to see both in the animal kingdom and sport, so how do you rate?

Photo By Bev Childress

Photo By Bev Childress

Social psychologist and Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy goes deep into the research of the influences of non-verbal behavior. Through research, she found that we are influenced by nonverbal behavior. The most exciting part? Our own non-verbal behavior has the ability to change how we feel.

Expressions of power and dominance are clear to see both in the animal kingdom and sport. This involves opening up the body and taking up the most space—an outstretched gorilla beating its chest or world record holder Usain Bolt with his arms out and fully extended after winning his race. In that moment, it’s clear that the performer of the expression feels powerful.

Conversely, the powerless like to close up, wrap themselves up, and appear smaller. The fetal position is an example of this. One’s shoulders are typically hunched over as a way of trying to “shrink.” Those in this position seem to lack confidence.

How the person feels seems to dictate how they appear and act, however, that’s not all. Cuddy goes on to explain that our non-verbal behavior also has an effect on how we feel and think about ourselves. In short, the mind-body relationship goes both ways, and you can use this to your advantage. Trying forcing a smile for two minutes and see how that affects your mood.

So, why is this important? From Cuddy’s research, it appears that non-verbal behavior affects us on a physiological level, too.

Controlling Your Hormone Levels Through Non-Verbal Behavior

For this research, subjects were tested for testosterone (the “dominance hormone”) and cortisol (the “stress hormone”). Those with powerful non-verbal behavior showed higher amounts of testosterone and lower amounts of cortisol, and the reverse was also true. Those with powerless non-verbal behavior showed lower amounts of testosterone and higher amounts of cortisol.1

The research didn’t end here. Next, Cuddy ran an experiment in which test subjects were instructed to either assume a power position or a powerless position for two minutes. Saliva samples were also taken before and after to measure any possible changes that occurred as a result of the experiment. The results were nothing short of fascinating.

Those who were instructed to stand or sit in a position of power saw a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol. Conversely, those who stood or sat in a position of low power saw a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in their cortisol. In plain English, those who assumed a power pose felt more dominant and less stressed while those who assumed a position of low power felt the opposite.1

Hormones Influence Performance

Studies show that healthy level of testosterone leads to higher athletic performance, along with numerous other benefits. On the other hand, excess cortisol levels lead to sub-optimal performance and decreased recovery over time. In short, for peak performance, you want higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol.

These findings present us with an opportunity to improve our athletic performance along with our mental well-being by focusing on our non-verbal behaviors. Tiny tweaks seemingly lead to big changes. Just think; the test subjects stood or sat in their respective positions for all of two minutes and notable differences were found.

Body language is something you can mindfully pay attention to outside of working out. Make it a habit to force yourself to assume a power pose throughout the day. Based on the research, your body will thank you.


1. Cuddy, Amy. “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are“. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. October 1, 2012. Accessed March 18, 2018.

2. Wood, Ruth I., and Steven J. Stanton. “Testosterone and Sport: Current Perspectives“. Hormones and Behavior. October 1, 2011. Accessed March 18, 2018.

3. Rupp, Ted. “How Cortisol Effects Performance“. LinkedIn. June 12, 2015. Accessed March 18, 2018.

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