The Placebo Effect in Fitness.
Have you ever heard of the placebo effect??
Well it’s a term that gets thrown around a lot in the health/fitness field.
A quick search on WebMD defines the word placebo as "anything that seems to be a ‘real’ medical treatment -- but isn't. It could be a pill, a shot, or some other type of ‘fake’ treatment. What all placebos have in common is that they do not contain an active substance meant to affect health."
So in basic studies they’ll have one group that gets a test drug and another that gets the "fake" drug, or placebo in this case. They use this model to see if the drug is actually working.
Now, the "placebo effect" is slightly different than "placebo" because it refers to the psychological effect of the placebo itself. Keep in mind this effect can be positive or negative based on the person’s beliefs and expectations.
So let’s look at a fitness example and use a new 10-minute warm-up plan as the intervention and imagine you’re a powerlifter.
If your coach tells you that performing this new warm-up before all your squat sessions will make your squat stronger, you may actually experience a stronger squat regardless of how good the actual warm-up is.
On the other hand, if your coach says that same warm-up will make you a better bench presser, you may actually start seeing the weights on the bench press increase as well.
Keep in mind, most warm-ups for the squat and bench press won’t look much alike for a specialized athlete. But for explanation’s sake, you can understand the psychological benefits because your coach told you it would work. You expect it to work.
Whether or not that warm-up is truly beneficial from a physiological standpoint (causing physical change in your body), doesn’t matter so much in this example. What matters is that there is a positive effect on your performance even if it is straight up psychological.
I would argue that in itself is a benefit.
If you or your athletes believe it and there is a positive outcome, there’s not necessarily any reason to change.
If there’s a negative or opposite effect from the goal, then there’s reason to cease the intervention and find a better alternative.
The mind drives the vehicle so whatever it believes is where all your energy and focus will go. Those beliefs create connections and associations with emotional feelings and that’s when success happens.
Bottomline, the psychological and emotional connections to your beliefs/expectations are so strong that they can and will give you the ability to have success in your fitness journey.
If you're a coach, consider the placebo effect when motivating clients to enhance their progress. Consider their beliefs to drive them closer to their goals even if they’re not adhering to every little thing the research shows.
If you're an athlete, appreciate your beliefs and biases and keep going if something is working for you even if others say it’s not the "optimal way" to do something. That’s because if you don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter how effective that exercise, program, or modality truly is.
There’s no right or wrong way to do something in fitness when it comes to exercise choice, programming, and/or modalities. There’s just an intervention and the outcome.
If it works for you, it works for you!!
Now if you’d like to join an amazing group of athletes and coaches who support your beliefs regardless of whether it’s because of the placebo effect or not, click the link below and join our private Facebook group.
I hope to see you there!
In the meantime, keep crushing your fitness plans, appreciating your beliefs, and having success.
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Element 26 Co-Founder