This is a phenomena we all experience, yet we don’t really talk about; it’s almost become taboo to discuss. I’ve searched the internet and can find no signs of scientific studies conducted into why this happens to us. With that in mind, I’m claiming this and naming it Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome - maybe we can abbreviate it…
Covered in this blog
- How endurance training affects mental fitness longer term
- What ‘fluid intelligence’ is
- How endurance training affects mental fitness during and immediately after training
- What Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome is
- Why we experience Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome
- How can we cope with Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome
- Tips and tricks to avoiding issues
How endurance training affects mental fitness longer term
I’m not even going to try to find science to back this up; we all know that endurance training helps mental fitness, sharpness and has a positive effect on our ‘intelligence’ - so no, in this context, endurance training does not make us stupid.
When we talk about ‘intelligence’ we usually think about the ability to store knowledge. Realistically, there are two types of intelligence, ‘Crystallized Intelligence’ is basically knowledge based, whereas ‘Fluid Intelligence’ refers to our ability to reason and think flexibly. In the context of this blog, we don’t need to worry too much about knowledge based intelligence, instead let’s focus on the other.
What is ‘Fluid Intelligence’?
Psychologist Raymond Cattell first proposed the concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence. Cattell defined fluid intelligence as "the ability to perceive relationships independent of previous specific practice or instruction concerning those relationships."
Aerobic endurance has been shown to have many positive effects on fluid intelligence, simple examples of which might be solving puzzles and problem solving. More complex examples might include your ability to think freely about a topic, despite having previous knowledge on that. You might now be thinking about a time where you’ve had conversational bias.
How endurance training affects mental fitness during and immediately after training
This is where it gets interesting and where I’m going to call on you to think of a time you’ve trained really hard. Maybe this was a particularly challenging interval session, maybe a long endurance ride, maybe the weekly chaingang, who knows, but try to remember what your thought process was like when it was hard; both during and then after. You’re probably remembering that it was challenging to think clearly. This is the period of Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome, where you’re not thinking clearly and are prone to making poor decisions.
What Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome is
Like I wrote in the introduction, I couldn’t find any science to back up my claims, but I’m presuming that our bodies focus is totally on completing the training; everything is functioning at a lesser capacity in order to get through the physical exertion. Everything including fluid intelligence and decision making.
Simply put, the training has made you stupid, albeit only temporarily (for most of us…).
Unfortunately, this is where we might misunderstand someone, misinterpret a situation or make a critical error of judgement. Maybe you’re now thinking of a time when you made a silly judgement call that cost you something, maybe valuable seconds in a time trial or the sprint finish in a race.
How can we cope with Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome
Like most challenges we face, simply being mindful about it happening will give you a huge head start. Expecting your brain to be tired will give you foresight and allow you to develop your own plan to cope with Performance Induced Stupidity Syndrome.
In much the same way as I tell my athletes when getting ready for a race or key event, I suggest you focus just on you in the aftermath, just until you’re feeling a little more grounded. Of course, you are probably safe to talk to other competitors or riders, they are probably going through the same challenge anyway, but perhaps give yourself some time to relax before talking with race officials, marshalls or even family members, especially if something didn’t quite go your way.
While there are pretty much an infinite amount of situations we might need to prepare for during bike riding, we can narrow some of the biggest ones down for you now, and you can consult with one of our coaches (for free!) on something more specific to you. Here’s some of my top tips to prepare for the onsetting stupidity:
- Ensure you have all your needed data, on your cyclo-computer, on one screen; so you don’t have to flip between screens towards the end
- Ensure you know the course inside out; ideally having watched a video of the last few km; this applies to any events, not just races
- Learn your competitors; get to know them, how they like to race; do they sprint early or late, and so on. This will help you develop a sense of when to go
- Set a timer to go off to remind you to fuel or drink before the end; it’s very easy to forget when the pace starts to pick up
- Apologise in advance to your support team for any profanities you might scream post-ride
- Have a Race Director (could be friend, riding buddy, family member) make your decisions and keep you from making mistakes
Make of this article what you will, but I base this on my experiences as both an athlete and a coach. If you’re unsure if this really applies to you, maybe consider how disheartened you’d be if you blew your ride in the final minutes making a bad decision or how upset your partner might be if you get upset with them over nothing; especially as they’ve probably donated time to you.
Ultimately, don’t be a victim of PISS, and remember who coined this term first...