In the quest for optimal athletic performance, coaches and fitness professionals are constantly seeking innovative ways to help clients reach their peak potential. One such avenue is through the use of priming techniques. These psychological strategies hold the power to significantly impact a client’s mindset and readiness, ultimately translating into improved performance. In this article we peer into the world of priming techniques, shedding light on their effectiveness and providing practical examples for you to integrate into training programmes.

Understanding Priming Techniques

Priming techniques involve the strategic use of psychological cues to influence an individual’s mindset and emotional state before engaging in a performance or training session. The goal is to create a mental and emotional environment that is conducive to achieving optimal results. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (Collins 2023), titled “A Survey Into the Use of Priming Techniques Implemented by Athletes and Coaches to Improve Athletic Performance” examined the prevalence and modes of priming techniques among athletes of varying performance levels. This study found that a substantial 79% of athletes implemented priming strategies on their own, while 10% incorporated these techniques with the guidance of their coaches.

Effective Priming Strategies

  1. Music Selection: According to the study, music emerged as a preferred priming method among athletes, with 27% of participants utilising it to get in the right frame of mind. We can leverage this by allowing clients to choose music that resonates with their emotions and objectives. Upbeat and motivating tunes can help energise clients and athletes and set the tone for a successful workout or competition.
  2. Self-Talk: Instructional self-talk and motivational self-talk were also prominent priming techniques among athletes, at 24% and 23% respectively. Here, we can encourage clients to develop positive and empowering self-talk scripts that align with their goals. For instance, before a challenging lift, a client might repeat phrases like “I am strong and capable” to boost confidence and focus.
  3. Physical Actions: The study highlighted that 20% of participants used physical actions as a form of priming. These actions might involve specific movements, stretches, or rituals that help athletes transition into a performance mindset. We can use this technique by incorporating dynamic warm-up routines that combine physical actions with mental focus, helping clients prepare holistically for the task ahead.
  4. Visual Stimuli: Watching video clips was another cited priming technique, utilised by 6.3% of athletes. We can create a library of motivational videos for our clients, showcasing successful performances of athletes overcoming challenges. These videos can be watched before training sessions to inspire and instil a sense of determination.

In addition to the aforementioned study, several other research findings bolster the case for priming techniques in enhancing athletic performance. A book written by Hall et al. (2019) demonstrated that positive priming through self-affirmation exercises improved athletes’ self-efficacy and subsequent performance outcomes.

Enhancing Athletic Performance through Priming Techniques

In an article published Health Psychology Review (Esther 2016), the authors propose that nonintentional influences on health behaviour, like habits, impulses, and nonconscious goals, operate through cognitive structures activated in specific situations. To address this, they suggest a framework for “situated interventions” that either alter critical cognitive structures (training interventions) or change which cognitive structures are activated (cueing interventions). They suggest “goal priming” as a cueing intervention tool to activate health goals and promote healthier behaviour, especially in tempting situations that trigger short-term hedonic goals. The authors present five principles for effectively using health goal primes:

  1. target individuals who value the primed goals
  2. activate their specific motivation
  3. employ effective cues
  4. capture attention at the right time
  5. ensure that the desired behaviour is known and accessible to the individual.

By understanding the concept of nonconscious influences on behaviour and the role of situational interventions, we can tailor our coaching strategies to address clients’ needs and challenges. Here’s how:

  1. Recognise the Role of Nonconscious Influences: Educate clients about the impact of nonconscious influences on their health behaviours. Help them understand that habits, impulses, and unconscious goals can often dictate actions without conscious intention. This awareness can motivate clients to explore strategies that target these influences.
  2. Customised Goal Setting: Utilise the concept of goal priming to help clients set health and fitness goals that align with their values and motivations. Work with clients to identify specific health goals they genuinely care about and create a personalised roadmap to achieve them. This process will increase the likelihood of successful behaviour change.
  3. Situational Interventions: Incorporate situational interventions into clients’ fitness plans. Help clients identify trigger situations that may lead to unhealthy choices and collaborate with them to develop strategies for handling such situations. This could involve using cues or strategies to activate health goals in tempting scenarios, ultimately promoting better decision making.
  4. Effective Cueing: Assist clients in recognising and using effective cues that prompt them to make healthier choices. This might involve establishing pre-defined cues that signal them to think about their health goals before engaging in behaviours. For example, they could use a specific mantra or image to trigger thoughts of their long-term goals when facing tempting foods.
  5. Timing and Attention: Emphasise the importance of timing and attention in behaviour change. Help clients identify the most suitable moments to activate their health goals and focus on them. Guide them on how to effectively divert attention from short-term hedonic desires toward their long-term health objectives.
  6. Behaviour Accessibility: Ensure that the desired behaviours are accessible and feasible for clients to adopt. Provide practical guidance on how to integrate healthier choices into their daily routines. Encourage gradual and sustainable changes that are easier to implement and maintain.
  7. Monitoring and Feedback: Regularly monitor clients’ progress and provide constructive feedback. Celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and offer support when they face setbacks. This ongoing engagement keeps clients motivated and accountable, reinforcing their commitment to their health goals.
  8. Evidence-Based Approaches: Share relevant research findings and empirical evidence that support the effectiveness of goal priming and situational interventions. This will provide clients with a deeper understanding of the strategies and enhance their willingness to implement them.

By integrating these strategies, we can go beyond traditional approaches and offer clients a more holistic and effective path to achieving their health and fitness objectives. By acknowledging the role of nonconscious influences, utilising goal priming, and providing personalised guidance, we can empower clients to make lasting behaviour changes and lead healthier lives.

Priming techniques offer a potent tool for us to elevate the performance of our clients. The insights from the study on the use of priming techniques underscore the widespread adoption and efficacy of these strategies. By incorporating methods like music selection, self-talk, physical actions, and visual stimuli, we can empower clients to work out with a confident and focused mindset. Coupled with research findings that support the effectiveness of priming, these strategies have the potential to make a significant difference in optimising performance.


  1. Collins, James; Bishop, Chris; Hills, Frank; Spiegelhalter, Abbie; Cohen, Rhonda; Turner, Anthony. A Survey Into the Use of Priming Techniques Implemented by Athletes and Coaches to Improve Athletic Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 37(1):p 107-113, January 2023. | DOI: Click here to review the full research article
  2. Hall N. C., Goetz T. (2019). Emotional and motivational self-regulation. Handbook of Self-Regulation, 2, 246-283. Click here to view this book on Amazon
  3. Esther K. Papies (2016) Health goal priming as a situated intervention tool: how to benefit from nonconscious motivational routes to health behaviour, Health Psychology Review, 10:4, 408-424, DOI: Click here to review the full research article

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