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Associative vs Dissociative Coping In Exercise

So you are 900m into a 2km row time trial.  Its a tough spot. We all know it.

Are you thinking about your shins being perpendicular to the ground at the front of your stroke?  Not leaning back to early?

Or are you thinking about whats for dinner? A beach in the Caribbean and the warmth of the sun on your face?

What I'm describing here is associative and dissociative coping mechanisms in exercise.

Chances are you use one or the other.  Maybe both but at different times.  Perhaps a blend of them both. 

In golf, it is widely held that you save the associative thinking for practice and when you are playing you swing free (save for one thought maybe).

In long distance running, where most this research lies, it is widely held that associative coping works best for elite performance.  Dissociative coping is more common amongst recreational runners.

Does this mean associative coping is better? Well it depends on the person, the task, the goal... the list goes on.

For some of you I would love to see more associative attention when moving with a barbell or the rower etc.  For others I would love to see you think less and move more freely.

One commonality is that focusing on relaxing is highly correlated to high performance.  Concentrating on relaxing is considered associative coping.

Below are several articles that you can read to further research this subject:

Thinking on the Run: Association vs Dissociation

Attentional Focus and Muscle Activity

Attentional Association and Dissociation

Associative and Dissociative Cognitive Strategies in Exercise and Running: 20 Years Later, What Do We Know?

My goal in writing this for you is to bring your attention to how you cope with different exercises.  Hopefully this will help you develop a greater understanding of your inner athlete and make you better.