Cueing: To Associate or Dissociate?

In this article, Dr. Perlus explains when associative versus dissociative cueing is more appropriate to help guide your students to either focus on what they are doing and feeling, or to take their minds away from it. There is a time and a place for both methods, based on many years of research. Any sport or physical activity requires a great deal of mental toughness to make it possible to sustain motivation, confidence, intensity, focus, and emotional control.

We think with our entire body. What we say (to ourselves or to someone else) affects how we feel. How we feel affects how we behave. How we behave affects what we achieve. Thus, we must learn to effectively communicate with our bodies so that we have greater control over our performance.

In sport psychology, we use the terms “association” and “dissociation” to describe two ways we can control our inner dialogue in order to produce the best results from our training.

These techniques can be used specifically in indoor cycling to preserve and apportion energy as needed. I’m not just talking about maintaining a certain level of physical intensity. I am also referring to the unnecessary bouts of energy we exert when we struggle psychologically.

Maybe someone in class is mentally tired one day and finds it difficult to get “psyched” for class. Maybe someone has had a stressful day and all they want to do is ride as hard as they can, even though the class is an endurance ride. Maybe someone simply needs to know how to calm their mind enough to actually hear the class instructions being delivered to them.

For every distraction a fitness enthusiast may experience, and for every goal he or she may want to achieve during the class, association and dissociation can be utilized effectively to increase their chances of getting results. Let’s examine the definition of each of these in the context of teaching indoor cycling classes. 



  1. “Since mental fatigue is more powerful than physical fatigue, you must quickly apply your mental energy to focus on bodily functions and technique so that your body can keep pushing onward.” yes!

    I had no idea there was a term for this. I happen to do this when I train hard. I’ll work on the dissociation aspect now & integrate it in class. Thanks!

  2. I do a lot of speaking about hand grip and breathing. I think I want to work on moving my students to use this themselves. I am moving to just mention taking a look at themselves, breathing, hand grip, posture. I like the dissociate aspect and will try to work on that more. For the most part I always say “go to that happy place” when we are exerting max. effort in a climb or a sprint.

  3. When I teach intervals, it’s for the for the conventional reasons. When I teach a hybrid but more endurance/strength based workout (i.e. “Building Blocks”), I tend to cue less on the first three parts of each segment, and more so on the final 30 seconds of high intensive effort. I think this fits your “associative/dissociative” model. Any thoughts ?

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