How Your Brain Can Make or Break Your Performance

Neuroscience isn’t an exciting term, but it can be one of the most important factors in how well our muscles perform. We talk about this fascinating connection between mind and body with Dr. Scott Frey.

girl sitting on track looking disappointed

It’s no secret that when it comes to sports performance, what happens between the ears is just as important—if not more—than what happens with our muscles. Sports psychology typically focuses on ways athletes can improve their mindset to help improve performance, but in this week’s show we take it one step further and look at factors that impact our brain in creating that mindset and perception.  

Welcome to the world of neuroscience, which, until recently, hasn’t had a great deal of crossover with the world of sports performance. Our guest on this show is Dr. Scott Frey, a neuroscientist looking to better understand sports performance by looking at the inner workings of our grey matter.  

Coaches and athletes used to believe that strength, fatigue, and performance were confined to our muscles. Researchers like Dr. Timothy Noakes have challenged that thought and shown evidence that our brains are integral to concepts like performance and fatigue.  

Instead of focusing on conditions in the local working muscle, such as glucose availability or oxygen delivery, our brain can modify our pace and performance based on our pain perception, the length of the effort, the environmental conditions, and other factors.  

We discuss all of this—and more—with Dr. Frey, a keen athlete himself who consults on sports performance and neuroscience through his company, Neurocognitive Consultants.  

Joining Dr. Frey is Rach McBride, a pro triathlete with some interesting anecdotes on this topic. We also hear from coach-physiologist Adam St. Pierre who talks about using uncertainty and deception as tools in training.  

So, get ready to change your perception and let’s make you fast! 

Episode Transcript

Rob Pickels  00:05

Hello and welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Rob Pickels, here with Trevor Connor.  


Rob Pickels  00:12 

Many times in this show, we’ve discussed sport psychology, and we’ve talked about actions athletes can use to affect their performance through improved mindset, but there’s another side to this science. The neuroscience of the brain, which tries to understand our behaviors through the lens of biology. Answering the question of what’s the mechanism that creates our mindset and perceptions?  


Rob Pickels  00:35 

Neuroscience has become critical to sports performance. Coaches and athletes used to believe that strength, fatigue, and performance were all confined to our muscles, but researchers like Dr. Timothy Noakes have challenged that thought, and shown evidence that our brains are integral to concepts like performance and fatigue. Instead of focusing on conditions in the local muscle, like glucose availability or oxygen delivery, our brain can modify our pace and performance based on our pain, perception, the length of the effort, the environmental conditions and other factors.  


Rob Pickels  01:07 

Discussing this fascinating topic with us today is neuroscientist Dr. Scott Frey, who interestingly, is an avid listener of Fast Talk who reached out to us with this topic. An athlete himself, he has been fascinated by how neuroscience can be used to improve performance and is consulting with athletes directly through his company, Neurocognitive Consultants. Joining Dr. Frey are Rach McBride, a top level triathlete who is very familiar with the importance of perception, as well as coach physiologist, Adam St. Pierre, who talks about using uncertainty and deception as tools and training. So, get ready to change your perception and let’s make you fast.  


Rob Pickels  01:50 

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Rob Pickels  02:35 

So Dr. Frey, you’re a “longtime listener, first time caller”, perhaps for us and I think it’s really interesting for everybody to know that you reached out to me and said, “Hey, I love your podcast, I listen to it all the time. This is the stuff I do in my professional life, would you be interested in talking about it?” So tell us how did you arrive at the table next to us? 


Scott Frey  03:01 

Yeah, I have a lot of regard for the way that you’re trying to distill science into actionable items to help people get faster, which is something that I’ve been on a mission to figure out how and do myself in my own world of endurance athletics for a few decades and I did reach out to you because I thought that one of the areas that is exciting, really is an area that I’ve spent a lot of time working in as a neuroscience professor currently at the University of Missouri, the human brain, trying to figure out the relationship between human brain function and human performance optimization. 


How our Perception Affects our Reality  

Trevor Connor  03:39 

We’re talking about the “neurology of the brain”, is that correct terminology here? How much different signals different perceptions can really influence our ability to perform, and how hard we can go and I actually find it really fascinating how much we can fool the brain and actually, either not go nearly as hard as we think we can go or actually go significantly harder than we think we’re capable of, just by fooling the brain a little bit, 


Scott Frey  04:08 

I share your excitement about this topic and I’ve spent a lot of my life studying the brain and studying how it creates our perceptions of the world around us and I’d have to say that I agree with you. Our perception of what’s happening is in essence, dictating our reality and so at any given moment in time, you might take me to an exercise science lab and tell me I’m putting out X amount of watts, but it’s really my perception of the effort that I’m making the feedback that I’m getting through my sensory system, and whatever else is going on, and I guess we’ll get into that a little bit, that is going to determine how I experience that ride I’m doing for you in the lab, for example. 


How the Brain Functions

Trevor Connor  04:52 

So I just brought up fooling the brain but I think before we need to go there and all the kinds of neat ways you can fool the brain. Let’s talk about how the brain works under normal circumstances, 


Scott Frey  05:03 

What a big topic, right? 


Trevor Connor  05:04 

Yeah, sorry. Can you give us a one minute summary of how the brain works, please. 


Scott Frey  05:08 

Or the Universe, right? I can try and tell you some things because I’ve been put in this position many times over the years and if you asked me for one sentence on what your brain does, I would say that it’s a prediction machine. It’s taking in information constantly, from your sensory systems, right? You’ve got vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, and you’ve got all these body systems, somatosensory body senses, touch being one of them, but you have feedback from your internal organs, you’ve got a pain system. It’s a very elaborate network of sensory systems that we’ve evolved to give us constant information about our internal world and the world around us and our brain puts that information together to try not only to control our behavior in the moment, but also anticipate the future and that’s the prediction part. A lot of what your brain is charged with doing, is happening outside your awareness and it’s taking in all that information, to try to come up with reasonable predictions about what is about to happen.  


Scott Frey  06:12 

Think about it this way, if you were just trying to control your behavior only on sensory feedback, it would be you’d be incredibly inefficient. That’s kind of like what a thermostat does, right? You turn the thermostat up to 70 degrees, the furnace turns on, it goes to 70 degrees and it turns off, it’s based on feedback. Those kinds of systems have no method for predicting the future, it can’t say, “well, in a little while, I’m going to need to turn back on so why don’t I edge up the temperature right now”, that would be very efficient, but that’s not how a feedback-based system works. Our brain needs to anticipate the future, because the sensory feedback that you’re getting in the moment is delayed, right? All that information coming in from vision and hearing and touch happened a little while ago, by the time it’s registered in your nervous system. In order for us to really control, say movement in the world efficiently, we have to not only have that feedback, but also use it to make predictions about what’s likely to happen and I think that that’s a really important thing when it comes to optimizing performance. We’ll hopefully get into that a little. 


Trevor Connor  07:25 

Rach McBride is a top level triathlete, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had their anticipation of an event lead them to bad places. We just talked about the importance of perception and here Rach describes how a simple change in perception had a big impact. 


Rach McBride’s Change of Perception and the Effect on their Performance

Rach McBride  07:40 

I think that what I have realized, especially in the past couple of years, is that what I am doing in my training is more about training myself to be able to tolerate pain and for myself, I have been working with a performance coach, who has really helped me understand where my brain goes in those terrible times. I have really recognized just being aware that at some point in every single race, my brain is going to tell me “just stop. You don’t want to do this anymore. This is terrible. Why are we doing this?” To recognize, ‘okay, this is normal. This is part of racing. You anticipated this, and let’s just refocus and continue on’ because you really do actually want to be here and I had this actually really profound experience at the beginning of my career, when I first started triathlon and I would go up to the start line, I would just want to go home and turn around and go back to bed and I was like, ‘I don’t want to be here. This is terrible. I don’t know why I do this’ and I thought something was wrong with me. I thought that there was some reason this was happening. I shouldn’t be here because I was having these thoughts and what I realized a couple of years later, was that this was just my body’s nervous system getting excited, getting amped up. It’s that fight or flight, it was telling me to run away and as soon as I recognize that and as soon as I was aware of that, it completely changed how I approached that start line and how I approach those thoughts and feelings in my head. For when I finally understood these feelings are normal. I expect these feelings, then it wasn’t a stressful situation. It was not anxiety. It was my body’s way of saying I’m excited about this and that was super profound. I was actually giving a talk in front of conference of surgeons and one of the surgeons piped up and said, “every time I’m about to step into the operating theatre I feel the same way” and it was this lightbulb moment for her of, ‘now I understand this’. Now I don’t feel like an imposter going in, I understand how my body is reacting, and then it is that physiological response and I think that mind body connection is incredibly powerful to be able to understand that. 


Our Brain’s Biased Perception

Trevor Connor  10:23 

So I’m gonna get a little philosophical here and this is probably the basis of a lot of philosophy the way our brain works, but in short, basically, what I’m hearing from you is the brain can’t perceive the world unbiased as it is at the moment. That we are taking in these signals, but as you said, there’s a bit of a delay, the brain is picking what to process what to not process and then it’s always trying to interpret it and predict. So we are always looking at the world from a certain perception. It’s not just an unbiased here is the world around me? 


Scott Frey  10:59 

Yeah, no, it is very hard to talk about the brain and talk about human behavior in the context of neuroscience without getting into philosophy a little bit, right? Because what in essence we’re talking about here is our own construction of reality based on perceptions, which sounds pretty far out, admittedly, but think about it this way, the brain being a physical organ, it takes time for those nerve impulses, those action potentials to fire off. So by the time you experience having seen something, it’s already happened and when you’re talking about being in an environment like we are as cyclists, where things are happening very rapidly, that kind of delay could be significant.  


Scott Frey  11:45 

I’ll give you an example. We did an experiment some years ago, back when I was at Dartmouth College, and we had people wear some virtual reality goggles and we just had them doing simple movements, I think they were picking like little pegs out of a pegboard or something that required dexterity. Unbeknownst to them, we could introduce a little temporal delay in the visual information that we’re getting, they weren’t seeing the world live, they were seeing it through a little camera projected onto this little screen, but we can insert a little delay and we were interested in how much delay we could insert until they became consciously aware of it, but also when they started to show evidence of having trouble controlling their movements. The upshot of this is we could insert upwards of a 10th of a second of delay before people were even aware of it and their movements were being affected at very short amounts of delay. We were messing with that whole perceptual feedback system and forcing people to rely more on prediction, which they do quite well up to a point, but then things start to break down, but that’s kind of analogous to the situation we’re living in all the time, right? We’re always a little bit behind what’s going on around us. We don’t see the world that way. We don’t perceive the world that way, but it does have a lot to do with why we’ve evolved these big brains to do prediction.  


Neuroscience and Sports Psychology

Rob Pickels  13:05 

Dr. Frey, this has been a really interesting high level beginning of the conversation and you brought up a term earlier neuroscience, which is ultimately the point of today’s episode, but oftentimes, when I think of exercise performance and the brain, I go to the sport psychology side of things and so I would love to know from you for all of our listeners, where do those two paths diverge? What falls in the realm of neuroscience? What is sport psychology?  


Scott Frey  13:33 

Yeah, what a great question. So my original training was in experimental psychology, we have all these different flavors of psychology, experimental psychology, sports psychology, clinical psychology, developmental, all these different areas and I guess the hope is that we would come up with some kind of grand theory of the brain in mind that would unite them all and we’re still kind of waiting on that. Sports Psychology, as I see the field, has contributed enormously and particularly in the realm of actionable items that athletes can implement, that coaches can implement to improve performance. Neuroscience looks at things a bit differently. We look at human behavior and human performance through the lens of biology. So we’re really looking at, we’ve got this roughly three pound organ between our ears, that is ultimately responsible for all of the perceptions we were talking about a moment ago, Trevor, all of our behavioral control of our of our movement and performance is being ultimately regulated by that Oregon and so neuroscience looks at the world from that perspective and our real goal is to try to get a mechanistic understanding. We often talk about neuroscience is trying to reverse engineer the mind, right? We’re trying to understand what the mechanisms are of the sorts of processes like those that we’ve been talking about. With the belief that once we understand the mechanism and this is general to most kinds of science, that we can start to come up with some principles that underlie how those mechanisms work and that then we can use those principles to start to come up with some actionable goals because that’s what we all want. I’m an athlete as well, I want to know how I can get faster, how I can get stronger, how I can maintain what I have, efficiently in, in my case, in the least amount of time, unfortunately, in a busy life. So I would say that those are the big differences. 


Rob Pickels  15:33 

In preparation for this, I was watching a workshop that actually Trevor and Ryan Koehler our head coach did previously and that was with Alex Hutchinson, on the topic of teleoanticipation and the example that Alex gave, I think really drives the point home for meand it was essentially this. If you’re on the start line of a race, the very first step you take is very different if it’s a 5k or if it’s a marathon and so your brain is taking this information that it has the distance of the event, and then your body is choosing actions that are appropriate thereafter and a follow up example was, if you’re running a five minute mile, you will perceive that very differently if you’re one mile into a marathon or one mile into a one mile race, even though it’s the exact same pace, your rating of perceived exertion, how you feel, the pain you’re feeling are very different in those situations and that really struck home for me, oh, wow, ‘that is the length that the brain has’, because there is no difference in your muscle, but you think you would feel differently about that. That’s along the lines of what we’re talking about, specifically on the neuroscience side. 


Scott Frey  16:43 

Yeah, exactly and I love that example. It’s really a great one having been in that situation, literally many times because I come from a running background actually, until I move strictly to cycling as my knees kind of didn’t like it so much anymore over the years, but that encapsulates a lot of the things that I think we’ve been talking about at a pretty high level already in our conversation, right? The fact that you approach that first step, or first 100 meters, or however you want to think of it differently in those two circumstances, has a lot to do with predictions about what you’re anticipating next and I think it’s important to realize that when we talk about predictions, it’s probably tempting to think about, oh, ‘predicting the weather’ or something like that and in a way we do mean predictions that are anticipation in that sense, but what I think is really important here is a lot of the machinery that is making predictions in the world that we’re talking about now in the world of the brain, it’s outside your awareness, it’s non conscious, right? There are elements of which kind of are above the waterline of consciousness. If you want to think of an iceberg, we often use that analogy. The tip of the iceberg is conscious experience and awareness, but a whole lot of what’s going on the majority of what’s going on in the brain is stuff that’s happening outside our conscious awareness, but is influencing our behavior, is influencing that approach to the first step of the marathon, the 5k, or however you’d like to think about it. 


Evolutionary Science

Trevor Connor  18:11 

So I’m gonna go on a real tangent here. So we’ve covered philosophy, we’ve covered neurobiology, psychology, so I’m going to bring in evolutionary science here because you’re touching on something that I really love, I love looking at how we evolved and how that influences the way we are now and I’ve said this a bunch of times on the show, that we weren’t designed for sport, we were designed for survival, which for a lot of our history have involved, hunting, gathering, running away from much larger creatures that wanted to eat us and that’s how we’re wired. So a couple examples here, when you talk about that pacing, you have to think most of the time, through human history, we didn’t have a medical system. If you were running and you tripped and you broke your leg, you’re basically dead. There’s nothing you could do about that. So we evolved to be very careful about doing anything that was overly risky, which would involve pacing ourselves, yes, we could run faster, but why would you take that risk? Now, if you have a lion chasing you. Yeah, you’re going to take that risk, and all of a sudden, your mind is going to open up and say, go a lot harder and what I find really neat about sports, especially when we’re talking about this neurobiology side of sports, we’re manipulating that. We’re trying to tap into that you’re getting chased, convince the brain to open up and let you go a lot harder and take those risks that normally wouldn’t let you take. 


Scott Frey  19:35 

Yeah, I think that’s great. Two thoughts. One is relating to what Rob was talking about a moment ago. What is the difference between the world I’m coming from kind of neuroscience world, Experimental Psychology world and sports Psych? I think that a big revolution in my world, having been trained as an experimental psychologist has been to embrace neuroscience more and more and realize that biology and it’s grounding in evolution has a lot to tell us and to try to frame things in that grand theory, right that we have, and connect ourselves to the rest of of science in that way has been really impactful and is continuing to impact things. I think traditionally, sports psychology hasn’t been as grounded in that and so that’s another important difference, but absolutely, I think, to the extent that we don’t frame our behavior in the context of evolution, then we’re really missing out on some important stuff and your points are really well taken.  


Scott Frey  20:35 

When people talk about the advent of human culture, one of the things they’ll point to is fossilized remains of people who clearly survived having had something like a broken femur, that wouldn’t have happened unless someone else cared for them and so yeah, I think this idea that we can take more risk, when we have a safety net of sorts, right? You go out on a long ride in the mountains, and you probably approach it really differently. If you know that the little food store down the road is open than if it’s not, or if you’ve got some arm warmers in case the temperature drops versus not or, the sun’s about to go down versus not. We’re doing those computations all the time, about risk and we’re taking into consideration all sorts of things. That bum knee that I have, for example, I won’t step off the curb in the way I used to, because of that, I won’t be thinking about that consciously, but I’m adapting my behavior all the time to things like that. 


Human’s Societal Need

Trevor Connor  21:37 

This is going on a bit of a tangent, but continuing with that evolutionary approach, you brought up the whole societal side, I mean, we are social animals. Humans really can’t survive on their own and there’s all sorts of great research that talks about how that’s evolved our need for social acceptance because that was literally survival. If your society didn’t accept you of your village and accept you and kick you out. You’re on your own, you’re in trouble and that’s also you know, I’ve read a little bit that says, that explains our need for competition because you need to prove your value to your society, to your village that you can serve your role. 


Scott Frey  22:17 

Yeah and some villages are tougher than others, aren’t they?  


Trevor Connor  22:19 



Rob Pickels  22:20 

I think that a lot of people who are listening are probably familiar with the work of Dr. Tim Noakes and maybe to a lesser extent, but hopefully so of Dr. Sam Marcora as well, working on anticipatory regulation and the psycho biological model. Respectively, I don’t want this to be a conversation of which model is the way to go and Dr. Fry, I hope that you’re ‘neither of those are good, I have my own and you come over the top’, but both of those are essentially getting to a lot of this neuroscience side of things, essentially that the body is taking in information, whether it’s a subconscious master controller or NOD is a big difference between those two theories, but that the subconscious sensory information plus some external cues, like feedbackor motivation, ultimately get integrated together and they affect our performance. Where do you fit in the model? How does how does all of that compute in your brain? 


Peripheral versus Central Fatigue

Scott Frey  23:22 

Yeah, well, first off, I would say chapeau to Noakes and to Marcora for really being early adopters in a way of the importance of incorporating neuroscience into exercise and sports science. I think they both rightly point out that exercise science has told us a tremendous amount, but until it also considers this central controller role in some capacity, it will always be limited. Likewise, to the extent that we study the brain and ignore the body, we won’t ever have a good theory of human behavior that is in any way relevant to human performance. So we need each other and those guys really were early in recognizing that and a lot of the work, I guess, particularly from Dr. Noakes, but likewise from Dr. Marcora, has focused on understanding our limitations. How do we do those complex calculations that hold us back from going too deep and I guess that relates to what we were talking about a minute ago, Trevor. I think that my perspective on things is just a bit broader, perhaps in saying that, most of the time, we aren’t in a situation where we’re going completely to the mat, or have to even be concerned with that right? To take an example of watching the tour. There are days when those guys go all out and you can think about the breakaways and the mountain stage finishes where everything is laid out there, but most of the time, in most racing situations, you’re not trying to get to your physical limit, you’re trying to do what you need to to defeat your opponent, given the context of everything that’s going on. Situations where we go to the limit are things like in the lab when we do a max test, but that’s pretty unusual and so a lot of the time, I think the way my perspective differs on things is just thinking that this kind of prediction, taking into consideration all of these different variables, all the information we’re getting based on our past experiences, our memories, feedback about the internal state of our body, feedback through our sensory systems about the world, beliefs that we have about the fitness of our opponents, who’s likely to jump from a group. All of these things are feeding into a very complex calculation, that is then predicting what the future is likely to hold and that prediction is then the basis for our decision making.  


Rob Pickels  25:58 

The traditional way that scientists would look at fatigue and performance in people was very peripherally based. The assumption was, oh, ‘there’s too many ways products, you can’t go on’. Oh, ‘your heart can’t possibly beat any faster, you can’t move any more oxygen’, you’re hitting these limits in your muscle, you run completely out of substrate and therefore, you can’t turn the pedals over anymore and what we’re realizing and coming to find out is ultimately, it is significantly more complex than that. It’s not just a peripheral situation and I hope that as we move forward, in this episode, we’ll outline exactly why it is complex and all of these different considerations. 


Trevor Connor  26:40 

Yeah and I want to summarize this really quickly because a lot of our listeners might be new to this concept and so I just want to give the real basic to help with this conversation. So there was a belief and I think a lot of this, particularly when we were in high school and doing gym classes kind of the way we thought, is a fatigue is in the muscles. So you’re doing hard work, you start to feel that acid burn, legs are working really hard and that tells you you’re fatigued and you shut down, your brain has nothing to do with that. It’s really your muscles saying, ‘I’m done, I can’t do anymore’ and that’s that whole peripheral belief about fatigue and what Dr. Noakes and what several other researchers and what you’re talking about is, there might actually be this central so we’re talking central, talking in the brain, governor that determines fatigue and it’s taking in that information from the muscles, the muscles are saying, ‘Hey, this is starting to hurt’. So it’s hearing those pain signals, but as you said, it’s taking in a bunch of other factors. ‘What’s my competition doing? How important is this event to me?’ There’s a whole bunch of things that aren’t just physiological information that’s taken in and then that leads your brain to say, ‘here’s how fatigued I am. Here’s how much more I can do’. Is that a pretty good summary of this peripheral versus central at the very basic level? 


Endurance Limit or Max Output

Scott Frey  27:58 

Yeah, I think it’s a wonderful summary and I guess I would just again, pull back and just say, a lot of what we associate with with the Central Governor Theory of Tim Noakes and to some extent, the theory of of Sam Marcora as well is, is based on this concept of limits. ‘What’s defining the limits?’ and that’s what you’re talking about right now and I guess my perspective on this is just that these kinds of calculations that we’re talking about aren’t just concerned with limits. They’re concerned with every aspect of our behavior all the time. So these calculations are going on during that first step off the line, as Rob pointed out, as Alex Hutchison was thinking about and so I think, talking about limits, and what defines the limit, peripheral versus central is an important first step. Now that we’ve made that first step, there’s a lot more we can be thinking about in terms of what is the role of this central nervous system, the brain, in particular, in regulating performance, even in non-max situations, which for those of us who do endurance athletes, constitutes virtually all of the situations we find ourselves in. 


Trevor Connor  29:12 

So if I’m hearing you correctly, what you’re essentially saying is that our max or limit actually isn’t as set as we think it is and let me give an example of this for any of our listeners who are again, new to this concept. I’m thinking of about 12 years ago, there was an athlete who I was coaching and this is back when I was still doing the whole NRC circuit in the US and I was getting him ready for his first NRC and we were doing a lot of training together and we’d go on these training rides, he’d want to race me, so we’d race up a hill or whatever and he was feeling great because he was beating me up all these hills and you know, it wasn’t like I was not trying to race him a bit. So he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do great at this race’. I’m like, ‘just hold back, get ready for your first NRC’ and he’s like, ‘No, I’m killing you. So I’m going to do great’. We went to the NRC and unfortunately, you know it was his first and he just wasn’t ready for the pace and he was getting popped and I was up in the lead group and after the race, he’s just like, I don’t get it and basically, what I just told him is, ‘I have a very different limit, in a race from what I have in training.’ 


Scott Frey  30:18 

Yeah, well, I think many of us have been in that circumstance, either as you or as your athlete, or both and I guess what I would say about that is, from my perspective, that is those differences that you’re talking about in your capacity in a race versus a training circumstance, are really all being dictated by variations in your brain and your perception of those contexts and what you can get away with and so forth. That’s really not something we can understand just by studying traditional exercise physiology.  


Julie Young  30:58 

Hi listeners, it’s DD Barry and Julie Young and we’ve been hard at work creating a new podcast featuring content for female endurance athletes and coaches of female endurance athletes. We’re thrilled to announce an upcoming series from Fast Talk. Fast Talk Fem podcast. Listen, for our first episodes coming this fall, join the fast talk labs newsletter for more information. 


Tactics to Push Endurance Limits

Trevor Connor  31:24 

Let’s hear again from Rach McBride, and how they’ve been able to change the perception in an Ironman in order to change what they see as their limits. So you’re in an Ironman, you’re five hours in, you’re hurting and you have to keep pushing, and you still have a whole marathon to run. What tactics do you use to keep yourself going? 


Rach McBride  31:47 

Well, you can’t be in there thinking that ‘oh my goodness, I have a whole marathon to run’. Your body’s gonna your brains gonna shut down, ‘No, I can’t do this is too hard’. I had an experience where I was doing a half Ironman, during the pandemic, running with one of my best friends and they had never run a half marathon before and we’re trying to keep up pace with me and in their brain, they were like, ‘we still have 16k to go at this pace’.  ‘I can’t hold this’ and they fell off and dropped back and that was a really interesting experience to go through with them because to understand just how powerful it is to just break things down into smaller chunks of being, ‘let’s just run the next kilometer or the next mile. Let’s just run to the next lamppost at this pace’ and that’s often what I will tell myself in a race is especially onto the marathon is like, ‘okay, Rach, just give me another kilometer at this’, just to the next aid station. That’s the tactic that I used at Boulder 70.3, as well, when things started to get tough on the run, is, let’s just get to the next aid station  


Trevor Connor  32:02 

And you won that event.  


Rach McBride  32:59 

I did. 


Placebo and Deception Trials

Rob Pickels  33:00 

I think that this is a great time for us to really talk about some of the information that your brain is integrating when making the predictions when making these calculations that are going to affect our performance and what I’d love to do is start with the external information that we’re taking in perhaps from the world around us and two of my favorite types of research out there are around placebos and around deception trials because they just highlight some really interesting differences. So I want to kick off with one placebo trial and then kind of maybe get some thoughts on the deeper you know, analysis of it from from your point of view there, Dr. Frey, but back in 2014, Broach did a placebo recovery research study that had essentially three recovery conditions after subjects did some fatiguing exercise, I think it was for 32nd all-out sprints and then they did a recovery condition and then they tested various factors, muscle temperature, interleukin six, white blood cell count and then also a maximum voluntary contraction, how well they functioned, but what was really interesting about his research were the three different recovery conditions that the subjects did. In one condition, they did a neutral temperature bath, I don’t remember exactly what the temperature was, but a luke warm tub, so to say. In the second condition, they did a cold water immersion with the thought that almost everyone knows that cold water is supposed to improve your recovery, but they didn’t want that placebo effect alone to affect the results of the study and so what they did in the third condition was the neutral temperature bath, but they very obviously scored it in a recovery lotion into the water with the subjects saying, ‘Oh, this is supposed to improve your recovery’ and so the subjects had that embedded in their brain, they made it pretty obvious. Lo and behold, that recovery lotion was just cetaphil either face moisturizer, or cleanser, it was just a neutral, it had no unless a little bit of lanolin, or something is going to improve your recovery, maybe the glow of your skin, it should not have had any difference, but the subjects thought that it did and we know that it thought that it did because of an effectiveness belief. When they asked the subjects in which condition do you think you’re going to do the best, cold water was rated pretty high, this recovery lotion was rated pretty high, and the bath was rated pretty low, the neutral bath and lo and behold, that’s exactly what they saw in the results, that the neutral temperature bath with this recovery additive, actually outperformed the other conditions in terms of the maximum voluntary contraction, even though there was no difference in any of their blood plasma parameters or anything else, the placebo effect of adding this lotion to the water, suddenly, they performed so much better on all of the follow up tasks and in the situation where they thought they were going to be the worst than neutral bath, they happen to perform the worst even though again, there was physically no difference in the body. 


Scott Frey  36:23 

I love that study, because it really gets to the heart of what we’re talking about today. If you want to do have a one word summary of what we’re talking about today, we’re talking about perception  and our perception is what constructs our reality and it’s what our beliefs are based on and so the fact that you could have this kind of difference in recovery based on a manipulation of your perception, which translates into a manipulation of your beliefs, is not surprising to me whatsoever and here’s why. One of the great things that’s come out in the last 20 years or so, being able to have these wonderful imaging techniques to study the brain, which has been at the core of a lot of my work. Things like functional MRI, fMRI I’m talking about, is that we’ve been able to actually start to capture the effects in the physiology of the brain of these kinds of things that we label as placebo effects. When you have an experience, like you’re describing here, we can label it as placebo and I think what many people will hear is ‘Oh, trick or deception’, like a magician would do, but what I’d like people to replace that with is ‘no’, yes, the belief may be based on a bit of sleight of hand here. However, that sleight of hand is inducing real physiological changes in the state of people’s brains and those physiological changes have implications for our bodily physiology as well. So I think this is really a very powerful thing, and it’s starting to receive a lot more serious attention in medicine. Let me give you another example to kind of lend some credibility to the whole notion of placebos. We would never have a drug approved for medical use, unless there were clinical trials, which demonstrated that it is more effective than what? A placebo control. A placebo control is, like the other conditions of this experiment where you’re basically having a group that doesn’t get the actual pharmacological agent, but they get something that looks exactly like it administered in exactly the same way and ideally by someone who doesn’t know whether it’s the real thing or not and if you look at the difference in response to a lot of medications, actual drugs versus the placebo group, sometimes you’d be shocked by how much of an improvement people get in the placebo group. I’ll give you an example. Antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States, something like 20 million prescriptions are written every six months in our country for those drugs. If you look at a meta analysis of the clinical trial data, and you look at people who were in those studies, and these would be huge studies, right, because we’re summing over studies and a meta analysis many 1000s of people, the placebo effect accounts for about 60% of the decrease in depressive symptoms that are produced by the drug. It’s an enormous thing. If we could bottle the placebo effect and hand it out. 


Trevor Connor  39:42 

This is such an important point because I think culturally the word placebo has become associated with ‘it’s made up, it’s in your head. It’s not real’ and that’s not true. The placebo effect can actually be remarkably powerful. 


Rob Pickels  39:56 

Well, it is in your head, but it also is remarkably powerful. Everything is in our head. 


Trevor Connor  40:02 

Yes and I’ve seen a turn remember where I saw this study, but a study comparing the placebo effect to painkillers and showing, not quite as effective as being fillers, but amazingly, pretty effective. 


Scott Frey  40:13 

Very effective and one thing I would say is this all, to me relates really interestingly, to something that Trevor mentioned earlier, which is evolution. The placebo effect, the fact that we can change our physiology in ways that benefit, performance recovery, and so forth. Based on our belief, based on our perceptions, has real evolutionary significance. It’s like self medicating, in a way, right. Without any external agent, you can actually manipulate. We have in our bodies, a natural opioid system, this relates to the comment you made a minute ago and we can modulate the activity in that opioid system, that pain controlling, modulating, analgesic system that was within all of us and that is the basis for a lot of the placebo effects. 


Rob Pickels  41:04 

Let’s move on to a study that I think is super interesting, because it involves cycling and lying to cycling and I’ll use the word lie instead of deception because it hits home a little harder, but Stone and his group did two studies, one was an original one was a follow up in 2012, and 2017 and in these, they had cyclists do a time trial and then that was a baseline condition and then they did a repeat of that time trial and they were shown an avatar that they were told was their previous performance and that they should beat their previous performance. Well, there was actually two conditions there and one of those, the Avatar was an accurate representation of what they had did and then the other one, the Avatar was deceptively faster, it was actually 2% Faster than than what they had done. In both of those studies, the riders were able to exceed their baseline performance. So in the actual accurate condition, they were able to go faster and beat their avatar like instructed, but in the 2%, faster, they were still able to be a faster avatar. So they were able to pull out more of this performance inside of them that they didn’t necessarily know they had, that they weren’t able to do when they just had the accurate avatar. Now, what’s interesting is in that five years later, in the 2017 study, they repeated it with the 2%, faster avatar, but they also did a 5% Faster condition and interestingly, the riders were not able to improve their performance in the 5% Faster condition that was a little bit too much a little bit too deep. They still did better than baseline, but they did no better than their 2% condition and this really highlights some of that performance reserve that we have within our body. 


Scott Frey  42:54 

Yeah, those are really interesting studies because I think those are such terrific examples of what we’re what we’re talking about here and I guess that the last point you made is really worth bearing out. What we’re not trying to say here to people is, well, ‘perception is everything’ and you can think your way to a faster time and a 5% gain or whatever. Of course, there are real limits physiologically, but there is a little margin, right and most of us would would do a whole lot to have a 1% or 2% gain and the idea that you might be able to get that out of yourself through some kind of manipulation, like what you’re describing is pretty exciting for us, for most of us who will work really hard to get that kind of boost in performance and we’ll try all manner of different interval sessions, different recovery practices, we’ll spend lots of money on wheels and titanium bolts and all those great things and this might be offering some real actionable ways to start to train ourselves to get that. So if you can deceive people in ways that influence their performance about something as fundamental as the things we’re talking about. That’s pretty exciting stuff. 


Trevor Connor  44:11 

Before we talk about ways you can use your neurobiology to improve your performance. Let’s hear from Adam St. Pierre, an experience coach and physiologist about the tactics he’s used to improve his athletes training. 


Adam St. Pierre  44:23 

I mean, as much as I would like athletes to be, you know, purely physiological machines where you do do certain workouts and you get certain results. That’s obviously not the case in reality. So one thing this is actually a focus for our Montana State Nordic team this year is kind of improving that mind body connection. Like last year, we had a lot of a lot of issues with the sort of anxiety related to workouts where, if the men’s team started workout together and you just feel bad and can’t keep up then the rest of your workout is shot because you just go into a state of anxiety where you are not not willing to push you’re not able to push because you’re kind of down on yourself. So we’re working on focusing more on the sensations and doing the appropriate workout that’s appropriate for the individual instead of necessarily having to stick with the team or you know, be the fastest on on any particular workout. I love the Twitter arguments that used to erupt between some of the the Ross Tucker and the Sam Marcora. I always thought that they were sort of arguing for the same thing, but with different semantics and no one is denying that both the mind and body are are important in athletic performance, but it’s like one side is arguing that it’s 51%. Mind in 49% body, the other side is arguing that it’s 51% body and 49% mind, but some of the anticipatory stuff is really interesting, we’ll be experimenting with some workouts that don’t necessarily have a set endpoint, which I think is different. A lot of workouts end up being four by 10 minutes, or six by 10 minutes and then going into workouts that are more distance based, instead of time based. So you know, six by 2k, or four by one mile, or whatever the distance is being, but then there’s also an opportunity to have when you have a group training together, at least to have some uncertainty within a workout and so one thing that we experimented with last year and had some good success was having the workout is to ski as a pack and each athlete in that pack has two attacks that they are asked to launch on the pack and it might be, you know, when athletes supposed to do a 32nd, and a three minute another athlete is supposed to do a one minute, and you sort of leave it up to the athletes as to when they’re going to attack and how they’re going to stage that attack and it’s good to practice those skills from start racing, but it also sort of keeps the athletes more engaged throughout the workout because you’re constantly on edge, watching for that attack and preparing to launch your own perhaps. So I think workouts like that, that introduce a layer of uncertainty, force athletes to focus more on on their body and on their readiness in the moment and sort of anticipate what it’s going to feel like and what the effects should be. So I’m, I’m looking forward to that. 


Rob Pickels  47:06 

Adam, do you ever alter or withhold feedback or provide deceptive feedback to athletes maybe that they’re performing better than they actually are or vice versa to affect their performance? 


Adam St. Pierre  47:09 

I haven’t done the the false negative feedback, give them splits that are actually slower. I think generally, that would sort of demoralize athletes, but I’ve definitely used little white lies out there if an athlete’s kind of struggling in a workout, give them some positive feedback that may not be completely true, to try to turn around their their headspace for the rest of the workout. Whether that’s something as simple as giving them some positive technique, feedback or maybe saying like, ‘Hey, that was that was stronger than your last one, keep it up’. So yes, I’ve used some of that feedback. I’ve also done some where you look add a rep or two at the end, athletes think they’re done after six by six by 1k and then you informed them that it’s actually seven or are actually eight, but with techniques like that you can only use them so often are then the athletesa nticipate and then they start maybe saving a little more than they otherwise would, anticipating that you’re going to throw throw something tricky in there for them. 


Rob Pickels  48:17 

Adam, I think it’s interesting your workout about having people attack. I could see assigning people to be the attackers and giving them a specific time or whatever and then other people have to follow and changing it up for different workouts. It’s actually a really interesting way to do a workout. 


Adam St. Pierre  48:33 

Yeah, I mean, one of the benefits of having, I get to see my, my eight men and my eight women every day and have them all training together, as opposed to the remote based athletes, I coach, my workoutsc like that wouldn’t be feasible, but yeah, it’s been really fun and the last couple years, we’ve actually done some sort of team time trial start ski races, just as a different format to mix it up for the athletes. We actually started doing workouts, essentially baseline practice on skis and I think it helped us a lot and then these other group based workouts sort of grew out of that because those were such popular workouts, the guys just really liked doing them and then we’ve made other iterations. 


Trevor Connor  49:18 

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Trevor Connor  49:51 

So that leads me to the question I really want to ask both of you. So you’ve now talked about the placebo effect. You’ve talked about deception. One other I’ll quickly mention is there’s a couple other good studies that look at the impact of competition and show that when you feel you’re in a competitive state, you tend to open up a little more and you can perform a little better as well. So how do you take these concepts of the placebo and deception and use this to your advantage to perform better? 


Rob Pickels  50:19 

Yeah, Trevor, I think that this becomes the actionable information for coaches and to start with where you finished the the motivational side of things, the competition side of things. Group workouts can oftentimes bring a lot more effort out of athletes than individual workouts and this is one of them, the powerful things about training together with a team is there’s that extra 10%, maybe that you’re able to go on that climb or in that interval, whatever it may be and that will have real physiological adaptation changes down the line and that cascading stream because you are pushing yourself closer to that limit. I put a lot of this thinking into practice almost in the opposite manner, not through deception, but through purposely avoiding information, especially when I’m working with as everyone knows, the one person that I coach is my wife, and she, quote on quote, does not do well in the heat and so we don’t talk about the heat, we don’t bring it up because if the athlete says to themselves, ‘Oh, it is so hot today, I’m not going to perform well’ guess what they’re not going to perform well. She has actually changed her temperature into Celsius, and she doesn’t really know Celsius and in my mind, I always convert it and I start to convert it out loud and she gets mad at me as I don’t want to know and so the avoiding sometimes of this external information, especially if it’s going to have a deleterious effect on your performance, that can be a way to manipulate and improve performance as well, but Scott, how do you put this into action? 


Scott Frey  51:59 

Well, you bring up so many interesting things. We in the world of cycling have so much technology now. I stepped out of the world of cycling and was focused on running for many years and kind of was still riding but didn’t really adopt all of the new gizmos and gadgets. I even tossed out my little ancient sight kilometer, my cat eye with the little thing on the wheel that went around, but now that I’ve kind of focused on cycling, I went out and got myself this wonderful Wahoo and it tells me how fast I’m going. It tells me my heart rate. I couldn’t resist the urge and went out and got myself a power meter. I can see all of this information now that before I could make guesses about, I can get pretty close to telling you where my heart rates at from having run with a monitor a lot, but this real time feedback that we have, is a real inundation with information and one of the things that we were talking about a little bit before the podcast is there probably are costs for that. There’s a lot of cognitive load, you’re looking at that head unit all the time. That is a lot to process and it can work to your advantage, but it could also be working to your disadvantage. That is tying up all of those neurological resources in a way that they could be free to do some of the other jobs that might benefit us more performance wise. 


Trevor Connor  53:24 

So I mean, my take on this. This is gonna sound like I’m joking, but I’m only half joking. As a coach, it almost sounds like you should just be lying like crazy to your athletes, which No, you shouldn’t lie to your athletes, but the I do know many cases where coaches have carefully use placebo effects or deception. So example, is a coach rubbing a hand lotion on their athletes legs and saying, Hey, this is going to take the pain away and convince them it’s going to make them feel better. Another great example I know of is is a few cases in the Tour de France where they’re in the time trial, and it’s a critical time trial and the manager in the car is intentionally giving wrong time splits to their athlete knowing what’s going to motivate them. 


Rob Pickels  54:11 

Yeah, I think that this is also the manipulation of workouts and a thing that coaches will do with their athletes is maybe four by one mile and the athlete goes all out knowing that they’re going to complete those and they’re going to be dead on the end of the fourth one mile interval and sometimes the coach comes back and says let’s do another one, then the athlete is able to push themselves and get that deeper sort of effect. Whereas if they were going to do five by one mile, maybe they would have done each mile a little bit slower. 


Scott Frey  54:42 

So I think Trevor and Rob you both bring out really great points because you’re you have so much experience coaching athletes, which is something that I don’t have. Coaches know a lot of this stuff. I always love it when I hear Joe Friel talk about the science because he has this spective that the coach has got there first on a lot of these things and I think that’s true here in some way. I think what we’re doing now is starting to in some ways backfill the science to support some of the things that coaches have been doing, like yelling out slightly wrong splits to their athletes doing track workouts and running and things like this. With respect to the issue of deception, that’s what’s really prevented the medical community for decades from actively prescribing placebos. There are ethical issues about that, that come up in the world of medicine, probably not as much a concern in coaching, but how many times can you play that game? If I know that my alarm clock is actually set 10 minutes ahead, it might work for a little while, but then pretty quickly, I caught on to that and I start saying, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got an extra 10 minutes I can snooze’. So here’s something really interesting that is just getting started that I think will be interesting to your listeners. We have thought for a long time that the only way placebos could have a significant effect on behavior was if the people getting the placebos didn’t realize they were getting the placebos. We’re starting to have to reconsider that there have been a number of published studies first in the world of medicine with what are called Open Labeled Placebos, where you say to the person, ‘I’m going to give you a placebo, we’ve got science that shows that placebos actually change your physiology and we’d like to give this a try and these are there things that might come about by way of this placebo’. This is making its way into the exercise world. There was a study by, first author was Saunders, this was back in 2019 and the name of this study was, ‘I put in my head that the supplement would help me open label placebo improves exercise performance and female cyclists’, I think we’re going to see more of this and this may lead to ways of actually applying some of this stuff if we could get placebo effects through educating people about the fact that those effects are arising by virtue of changes in your physiology and get by on that. Another way, you know, just thinking about, we’ve we’ve come up with all these great ways to give ourselves feedback as cyclists about our speed, our power, and all of this myriad of other information. Well, one could imagine that you could write a simple little algorithm that could tinker not all the time, but some of the time and unpredictably, so with the output of your power meter and we know from placebo effects that have been done in labs, that preconditioning is a phenomenon that happens. So there was a study by Benedetti done back in 2007, where they looked at opioid mediated placebo responses and pain, endurance and physical performance and of course, giving people opioids in the context of sport is highly illegal and doping. What they did is they preconditioned individuals, so they gave them opioids to take the edge off the pain that the athletes were experiencing and then after that administered the placebo, but what you’re doing is you’re setting up expectancies at both the conscious level, but also the unconscious physiological level. I’m not suggesting we should be giving athletes preconditioning loads of any kind of medications, but what I am suggesting is the basic mechanism that they were modulating in this way might be open to other sorts of legal and safe sorts of manipulations and that there are a lot of interesting possibilities here. Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time writing indoors and on Zwift against avatars, right? Avatars are very manipulable in ways that real people aren’t and the feedback, you could imagine that there could be subtle variations in your avatar that you didn’t expect or no or in someone else’s avatar and even what we were talking about a moment ago, Rob, those might have some pretty profound effects on behavior. 


Rob Pickels  59:04 

Well, I’m convinced that by everybody that beats me in Zwift races, they’re all virtual doping and they’re they’re cranking their avatars up a lot, lot harder than my avatar can go.  


Scott Frey  59:14 

Yeah, they really weigh like 85 kilos, but they report their weight at 45 kilos, a lot of skinny people on Zwift.  


Rob Pickels  59:21 

I kid, I kid. 


Trevor Connor  59:22 

Let me askone last question. We talked about ways that coaches can use deception and you just brought up more examples of placebo effects and deception. It’s much harder to deceive yourself. Is there a way for an athlete to take advantage of that I’ll throw one out there. This is a trick I use with myself all the time that works is when I’m going out and doing intervals and they’re really hurting. So let’s say I’m going to go do four repeats of a hill and they’re hurting. I will just tell myself, okay, ‘just get through three and we’re fine and we can go home’. Even though I’m sort of aware, I’m still going to do the fourth. Just telling myself I can quit after three allows me to keep going and then I finish that third and go, ‘Well, there’s just one left, let’s go do it’. So that’s one way I’ve been able to use deception. Are there other ways that athletes can take advantage of that? 


Scott Frey  1:00:11 

That’s interesting, I have a little tool that I use to get myself out the door, which is that I, if I feel particularly horrible, I’ll go out for 20 minutes, and then I’ll turn around and you know, I’ve been doing this endurance gig for like, the last 40 years and I can probably count on one time, the number of times the 20 minutes expired, and I went back home. Not to say it hasn’t happened, but most of the time you get out there, by giving yourself that out. If you want to think of that, as is deception. Maybe it is, but rarely have I had to employ it.  


Rob Pickels  1:00:46 

Yeah, Trevor, I think that this goes back to what I mentioned before. For me, it’s it’s not a deception, quote, unquote, but a manipulation of that external information that I can recognize, just like I can recognize, if I have Oreo cookies in the house, I’m going to eat all of them, I can recognize if I think I’m going to take in some information that is going to negatively affect my performance and I can purposely not take that information and so that it doesn’t have that deleterious effect. If my heart rate seems a little high, maybe I’ll change my screen so that it’s not on my screen. If my power is a little bit off, maybe I’ll ignore power and I’ll just convince myself, ‘hey, you know what your power meter is probably just reading a little low today, keep going hard, it doesn’t matter what the number says’ and so it’s almost the removal of the information as opposed to actively lying to myself, but I will say, definitely pulled that lie to myself about how many intervals I’m going to do, and then just pull the bait and switch at the end. For some reason, I can do that too. Maybe that’s common that people were able to do that.  


Trevor Connor  1:01:48 

I’ve told my athletes to do that. It can help. It breaks it down into something smaller and more manageable and then as it’s like what you were saying before, where the coach then says, now do one more, you can kind of do that with yourself. 


Rob Pickels  1:02:00 

So I think that what you just said Trevor jogs something for me, the smaller and more manageable side of things and Dr. Frey, let me know if you think that this fits into the neuroscience side of things, because maybe it doesn’t. If you look at cyclocross racing, which is my preferred method of racing, all lap of cyclocross is very hard and you have to do multiple laps of that, in, when you evaluate the entire event, you get this very large challenge and threat perception, ‘how can I possibly go hard for the next 50 minutes, there’s no place to rest, I can’t’ and so riders will maybe start out slower than they otherwise would, or their pacing strategy will be different, but with the athletes that I work with and how I look at it myself is I really try to have people break the course down. Okay, ‘this is a climbing section on the course you are going to be hurting by the time you get to the top of this, it’s going to your legs are going to burn, but there’s a technical recovery or attorney section out of that’ and it changes that threaten that challenge perception so that they are able to really push themselves here. Know, they’re gonna pull back there and ultimately, I think that their workload, their output is higher because of it. 


Scott Frey  1:02:25 

Yeah, I have no doubt about about that and if we had more time, we could probably get into studies about sort of the overlap between motivation and these kind of placebo like effects that we’re talking about, but they’re wonderful studies where, you know, people have gone into a lab to do an experiment with a putting a golf ball into a hole and if the experimenter hands the ball to somebody and says, ‘This is the lucky ball, right? Everyone who’s used this ball has been doing great’. There are other examples where people were allowed to bring in a good luck charm and, you know, we’ve all heard the stories, the baseball players that have the lucky socks and so on and so forth, but I can tell you this, and here I’m a scientist, I’m supposed to see the world really through clear lenses objectively, but boy, do I ride fast after I get, say, a new pair of shoes. That day, or even a new pair of cleats on my old shoes. It’s amazing. Boy are those group glides fast when you go out after an exciting episode of the Tour de France. So I think maybe even deception is too broad of an envelope for some of the things that we could be doing pragmatically crossing over into motivation, just little things right sometimes make huge differences in how an athlete performs. 


Trevor Connor  1:04:32 

So actually, what we’re talking about right now is another important bit of information that we take in that affects our pacing, which is how much time we believe is left and that’s something that you can play with a little bit. So the classic example here. It’s been a few of these studies. I’m trying remember the you’ll probably know the one I’m talking about, where they had athletes ride on a trainer until they literally couldn’t turn the cranks over one more time like that research is said, keep going, keep going and you keep pedaling, do you still have anything left and when the athletes said, ‘No, I can’t go any further’ then the researchers would yell at them, ‘do a sprint’ and they could all do a sprint, but the idea here is, before when it’s, go until you can’t pedal anymore, there’s no defined end to the exercise. So they just go, ‘Well, I can’t just keep going forever. So I’m at my limit’. When they’re told to do a sprint Sprint’s 10 seconds, maybe 20 seconds, it has a defined length, so suddenly, they could find that energy and that’s been showing that the shorter you believe the length is until you can quit, the harder you can go. So that’s, I use that trick in races all the time and I do a time 12, I’m doing a 40k, I don’t start and go, I’ve got 39.5k to go, that’s hard. You have markers, you just let’s get to the you know, just focus on the next couple kilometers focus on getting to the next turn getting to the next hill and that defines the length and allows you to go a little harder, so you can kind of deceive yourself that way. 


Scott Frey  1:06:05 

Yeah, holding on by your fingertips to the back of a group and realizing they can’t possibly hold this much longer because that hanging on for another five seconds could be the difference between staying in the group or being spit out the back and your days done. So any little games that you can come up with are going to be potentially pay huge dividends in this way and breaking things down is one one approach that really comes out of sports psychology, give sports psychology, some cred here, right? What we’re doing here is kind of looking under the hood a lot, but the sports psychology has contributed many really valuable actionable goals of this, this variety. 


Rob Pickels  1:06:46 

Well, guys, I think that this has been a really interesting hour. There is so much more for us to talk about and I really do hope that we have a follow up episode that dives into maybe some of the internal factors more that we have alluded to in this episode. 


Trevor Connor  1:07:01 

We didn’t even touch on perception of pain.  


Rob Pickels  1:07:03 

We have not 


Trevor Connor  1:07:04 

Which is another really interesting subject.  


Scott Frey  1:07:06 

Perception of time. 


Rob Pickels  1:07:08 

Yeah. Okay. Awesome. So I think we have some plans for another episode, but let’s go ahead and wrap this one up with our take homes. So Dr. Frey, you you listen to the podcast, I’m sure you heard takeaways, now’s your chance to sum up, what should listeners what are the most important elements of today? 



Scott Frey  1:07:27 

Yeah, great. I’ll keep it very brief because I know I have one minute. What I would say is that our perceptions are really not necessarily aligned with objective reality and that is true all the time. We’re constructing our perceptions of the world and the people around us and how we’re feeling inside and so forth and knowing that is absolutely key to getting the best kinds of performances out of yourself. It would be interesting to think about some of the ways in which that fact could be put into actionable world and I guess I would just finish by hoping that we have more time to talk about that in a later episode. The best training plan is the one that you believe in and can stick with. 


Rob Pickels  1:08:12 

It’s hugely accurate, important advice right there. For me, you know, the beginning of this started with this central versus peripheral, the old way of looking at it, the new way of looking at it. I don’t know that it necessarily matters for the athlete, at the end of the day. Maybe I shouldn’t say I don’t know that it matters. What does matter, though, is it is the combination thereof of the two of those things because those come together, and they integrate into performance and so I want listeners to always remember that when we’re isolating variables in research that might not tell the entire story and for people to take away the fact that physiologically, if we’re only talking about physiological concepts that might not tell the whole story either and that the brain is a part of the integration here. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, a lot of this is happening outside of our realization, the whole organism is what’s determining performance, not necessarily just the quadriceps or just the mind. 


Trevor Connor  1:09:13 

So I think I’ll go back to something near and dear to my heart, which is that whole evolutionary biology side, which is when you look at our neurobiology, we have a very finely tuned system that was designed for survival in a world that we don’t live in anymore and when you get into sport, it wasn’t fine tuned for sport, which gives us this great opportunity. Stop thinking that our performance is based purely on our fitness, it’s going to come down to just how strong our legs are and realize there’s this whole opportunity to manipulate our perception of effort to get more or if you do it wrong to get less out of your legs. 


Rob Pickels  1:09:56 

True words. Alright guys, anything else to follow upwith? 


Scott Frey  1:10:00 

Thanks so much 


Trevor Connor  1:10:01 

Pleasure having you on the show 


Scott Frey  1:10:02 

A lot of fun.  


Rob Pickels  1:10:03 

Appreciate having you here. 


Rob Pickels  1:10:05 

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback. Join the to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at to become a part of our education and coaching community. For Dr. Scott Frey, Rach McBride, Adam St. Pierre and Trevor Connor. I’m Rob Pickels. Thanks for listening. 


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