Those spectator signs aren’t just kind (and often funny) gestures—positive cues may get you to the finish line faster.

Motivational messages scrawled on spectator signs aren’t just kind (and often funny) gestures—positive cues may get you to the finish line faster.

According to new research, the fans holding signs and cheering at races may be providing more than just mild amusement for athletes. The study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience had a group of participants ride exercise bikes while being shown subliminal visual cues on a screen. These cues included sad and happy faces and inaction and action words, like “go” and “energy.” What they found was that the participants who were shown happy faces and action words were able to bike longer than those who were shown the more negative set of visual cues. Given that the run comes at the end of a triathlon—when you’re most fatigued and in need of motivation—positive signs on the run course arguably have the biggest impact.

This research highlights the significant role a positive mindset plays when it comes to physical performance. Whether you get a boost from an inspirational message scrawled across a sign, song lyrics being blasted out of a boom box, or motivational thoughts running through your head, perspective can make or break a race.

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“Athletes can use positive self-talk to combat the negative effects of negative self-talk,” says Patrick Hammond, a New York City-based coach with a master’s in sports and performance psychology. “Such encouragement can come from both internal and external sources.”

Hammond suggests pinpointing what exactly motivates you in training so the self-talk you draw upon or the inspirational messages friends, family and coaches communicate is familiar and helpful. When deployed properly, “trigger words” can be especially effective in helping to bolster positive thinking during particularly tough moments of a race.

“Trigger words allow coaches, fans, and the athletes themselves to communicate clear messages and trigger positive self-talk,” he explains, suggesting to keep these phrases short and sweet. The signs at left are good examples of trigger words that are simple enough to remember in the midst of competition, but still pack plenty of punch when it comes to motivation.

Mantra motivation

Post some of these trigger words on the wall of your home gym, suggest them to your crew of spectators or commit them to memory to get an extra boost.

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