Skip to main content

‘Psyching-Up’ and Muscular Force Production


Psyching-up refers to self-directed cognitive strategies used immediately prior to or during skill execution that are designed to enhance performance. This review focuses on research that has investigated the effect of psyching-up on force production; specifically, strength, muscular endurance and power. Although firm conclusions are not possible, the research tentatively suggests that psyching-up may enhance performance during dynamic tasks requiring strength and/or muscular endurance. However, more research is required. Power has received scant empirical attention and there are not enough data to support any conclusions. Preparatory arousal appears to be the most effective strategy although other strategies like imagery, self-talk and attentional focus also have empirical support. The range of tasks that have been used to measure force production have been limited tomovements such as handgrip, leg extension, bench press, sit-ups, pressups, pull-ups, and the standing broad jump. Additionally, most studies have used undergraduate and/or untrained samples. Only a very small number of studies have examined well-trained individuals. Currently, no explanation for why psyching-up may influence force production has any substantive support. Although a small number of studies have examined moderating and mediating variables, few consistent patterns have emerged and knowledge in this area is somewhat restricted. Given the importance that many athletes place on their mental preparation just prior to performance this is an area that warrants further examination. Research needs to examine a range of complex sport-specific tasks and use well-trained samples. Additionally, research needs to further examine why psyching-up may enhance force production.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    The study by Pierce et al.[17] does not strictly count as an examination of psyching-up because the interventions were not self-directed. The arousal intervention consisted of exposure to a video containing aggressive football footage while the relaxation intervention consisted of instructor-led progressive muscular relaxation. However, the study does provide evidence that undertaking relaxation prior to skill execution leads to reduced performance.


  1. 1.

    Shelton TO, Mahoney MJ. The content and effect of “psyching up” strategies in weight lifters. Cognit Ther Res 1978; 2: 275–84

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Brody EB, Hatfield BD, Spalding TW, et al. The effect of a psyching strategy on neuromuscular activation and force production in strength-trained men. Res Q Exerc Sport 2000; 71: 162–70

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Hardy L, Jones G, Gould D. Understanding psychological preparation for sport: theory and practice of elite performers. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1996

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Harman E, Garhammer J, Pandorf C. Administration, scoring, and interpretation of selected tests. In: Baechle TR, Earle RW, editors. Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 2000: 287–317

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Kraemer WJ, Fry AC. Strength training: development and evaluation of methodology. In: Maud PJ, Foster C, editors. Physiological assessment of human fitness. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1995: 115–38

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Abernethy P, Wilson G, Logan P. Strength and power assessment: issues, controversies and challenges. Sports Med 1995; 19: 401–17

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Elko K, Ostrow AC. The effects of three mental preparation strategies on strength performance of young and older adults. J Sport Behav 1992; 15: 34–41

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Gould D, Weinberg RS, Jackson A. Mental preparation strategies, cognitions and strength performance. J Sport Psychol 1980; 2: 329–39

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Theodorakis Y, Weinberg R, Natsis P, et al. The effects of motivational versus instructional self-talk on improving motor performance. Sport Psychol 2000; 14: 253–72

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Tynes LL, McFatter RM. The efficacy of “psyching” strategies on a weight-lifting task. Cognit Ther Res 1987; 11: 327–36

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Weinberg RS, Gould D, Jackson A. Cognition and motor performance: effect of psyching-up strategies on three motor tasks. Cognit Ther Res 1980; 4: 239–45

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Weinberg RS, Gould D, Jackson A. Relationship between the duration of the psych-up interval and strength performance. J Sport Psychol 1981; 3: 166–70

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Whelan JP, Epkins CC, Meyers AW. Arousal interventions for athletic performance: influence of mental preparation and competitive experience. Anxiety Res 1990; 2: 293–307

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Wilkes RL, Summers JJ. Cognitions, mediating variables, and strength performance. J Sport Psychol 1984; 6: 351–9

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Tod D, Iredale F, McGuigan M, et al. Psyching-up increases force production in the bench press exercise [abstract]. Sports Science Conference, Annual Conference, Sport Science New Zealand; 2002 Oct 31-Nov 2; Wellington, 109

  16. 16.

    Murphy SM, Woolfolk RL, Budney AJ. The effects of emotive imagery on strength performance. J Sport Exerc Psychol 1988; 10: 334–45

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Pierce EF, McGowan RW, Eastman NW, et al. Effects of progressive relaxation on maximal muscle strength and power. J Strength Cond Res 1993; 7: 216–8

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Tenenbaum G, Bar-Eli M, Hoffman JR, et al. The effects of cognitive and somatic psyching-up techniques on isokinetic leg strength performance. J Strength Cond Res 1995; 9: 3–7

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Blazevich A, Newton R, Gill N. Reliability and validity of two isometric squat tests. J Strength Cond Res 2002; 16: 298–304

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Murphy AJ, Wilson GJ. Poor correlations between isometric tests and dynamic performance: relationship to muscle activation. Eur J Appl Physiol 1996; 73: 353–7

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Wilson GJ, Murphy AJ. The use of isometric tests of muscular function in athletic assessment. Sports Med 1996; 22: 19–37

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Schmidt RA, Wrisberg CA. Motor learning and performance. 2nd ed. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 2000

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Caudill D, Weinberg RS. The effects of varying the length of the pysch-up interval on motor performance. J Sport Behav 1983; 6: 86–91

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Lee C. Psyching up for a muscular endurance task: effects of image content on performance and mood state. J Sport Exerc Psychol 1990; 12: 66–73

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Weinberg RS, Jackson A, Seaboune T. The effects of specific vs nonspecific mental preparation strategies on strength and endurance performance. J Sport Behav 1985; 8: 175–80

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Biddle SJH. Mental preparation, mental practice and strength tasks: a need for clarification. J Sports Sci 1985; 3: 67–74

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Nisbett RE, Wilson TD. Telling more than we can know: verbal reports on mental processes. Psychol Rev 1977; 84: 231–59

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Perkins D, Wilson GV, Kerr JH. The effects of elevated arousal and mood on maximal strength performance in athletes. J Appl Sport Psychol 2001; 13: 239–59

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Berntson GG, Cacioppo JT, Quigley KS. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia: autonomic organs, physiological mechanisms, and psychophysiological implications. Psychophysiology 1993; 30: 183–96

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Bigland-Ritichie R. EMG/force relations and fatigue of human voluntary contractions. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1981; 9: 75–117

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Carroll TJ, Riek S, Carson RG. Neural adaptations to resistance training. Sports Med 2001; 31: 829–40

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Green HJ. What do tests measure? In: MacDougall JD, Wenger HA, Green HJ, editors. Physiological testing of the high-performance athlete. 2nd ed. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1991: 7–20

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Enoka RM. Neuromechanical basis of kinesiology. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1994

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Geiger PC, Cody MJ, Sieck GC. Force-calcium relationship depends on myosin heavy chain and troponin isoforms in rat diaphragm muscle fibers. J Appl Physiol 1999; 87: 1894–900

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Luttgens K, Hamilton N. Kinesiology: scientific basis of human motion. 9th ed. Boston (MA): WCB McGraw-Hill, 1997

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Bray JJ, Cragg PA, MacKnight ADC, et al. Lecture notes on human physiology. 3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1994

    Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Atha J. Strengthening muscle. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1981; 9: 1–73

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Thomas JR, Nelson JK. Research methods in physical activity. 3rd ed. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1996

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Murphy SM, Woolfolk RL. The effects of cognitive interventions on competitive anxiety and performance on a fine motor skill accuracy task. Int J Sport Psychol 1987; 18: 152–66

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank Dr Michael McGuigan from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Mr Graeme Thomas from the Waikato Institute of Technology and the two independent reviewers for their helpful comments. The authors received funding from the Waikato Institute of Technology to assist in the preparation of this manuscript. The authors have no conflicts of interest directly relevant to the content of this review.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Tod.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tod, D., Iredale, F. & Gill, N. ‘Psyching-Up’ and Muscular Force Production. Sports Med 33, 47–58 (2003).

Download citation


  • Force Production
  • Handgrip Strength
  • Bench Press
  • Rugby Union
  • Training History