How self hypnosis could help improve your running

Using self hypnosis to help you become a better runner

When people think of hypnosis they often picture a cloaked figure swinging a watch on stage, or Derren Brown making some unsuspecting punter bark like a dog – but on a day-to-day basis it's very different. ‘Hypnotherapy is not about losing control, it’s about giving the person more control, specifically over their subconscious,’ says hypnotherapist Chloe Brotheridge (

‘It works by damping down the conscious mind and bringing the subconscious to the fore, accessing the part of your brain that will implant ideas in there on a more permanent basis.

‘The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between a vividly imagined situation and a real one. Therefore by imagining situations going really well during hypnosis, you can mentally rehearse, so that when that situation arises, you are ready for things to go exactly as you imagined.’

Numerous studies have shown that mental training can actually improve ‘muscle memory’ in a variety of sports. One study from 1967* assessed two groups of basketballers. Those who physically practised shooting hoops improved by 24 per cent, while those who repeatedly visualised the same skill improved by almost the same rate – 23 per cent. 

‘Elite performers develop powerful mental images of the behaviour that will lead to the desired results,’ says Charles Garfield, a sports psychologist and auther of Peak Performance. ‘They see in their mind's eye the result they want, and the actions leading to it.’

As you know from your long Sunday runs, running is about controlling your mind as much as your body, so knowing how to bend your thoughts to your will is a crucial tool.

Here is Brotheridge’s guide on how to hypnotise yourself to be a better runner:


Reaching a state of hypnosis

1. Give yourself around half an hour to relax, in a place you won't be disturbed, and do this sitting or lying down.

2. Slowly relax all the muscles in your body, starting with your toes and feet and leading up your legs, stomach, back, arms, hands, neck, head and face.

3. Next, drift into a deeper state of relaxation. Imagine yourself descending a staircase, and going deeper with each step. Or picture a lift, with a comfortable seat inside it for you to sit on and sink deeper and deeper into as the lift goes down.

4. Now take yourself to a real or imagined favourite place. A popular one is to imagine yourself on a beach, with the sun warming your skin and the breeze in your hair. Imagine the sand under your feet, the sounds of the waves and of birds. Remember to use all your senses to enrich this experience.

5. By this point, around ten minutes in, you should feel like you’re in a daydream - you are relaxed, but focused.


Creating suggestions

1. Your subconscious is now open for business, ready to respond much more effectively to positive suggestions. For example ‘I am a faster and more confident runner’ is much better than ‘I am feeling less worried about my ability’.

2. Suggestions starting with 'I am' are often effective. Tell yourself what you would like to happen, how you would like to be, think, feel and behave. For example, if you lack the motivation to train, imagine yourself excitedly lacing up your shoes on a sunny day. Tell yourself ‘I am happier when I run’. Imagine the desired outcome: picture yourself fitter, faster and leaner.

3. When imagining situations going well, create a really rich image. Notice everything you will see, hear, smell, taste, feel, think, say and do. Don't worry if this image isn't really clear, or if you can't 'visualise' well, whatever you sense or imagine is fine.

4. Repeat the message. The mind needs repetition to remember things, so keep delivering the message to yourself in different ways. For example: ‘I am feeling motivated to run’, ‘I feel excited and driven about the prospect of going for a run’, ‘I am good at running’ and so on.

5. Count back very slowly from 10-1 so that your senses are not shocked by returning suddenly to alertness. Continue to give yourself suggestions on the way up. For example 'Every day, I am getting fitter and fitter'. Open your eyes – you’re done. Repeat this routine three times a week as part of your training regime.



*Alan Richardson (1967) American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation