Strategies for Strength: What’s Your Mantra?

Mantras have long been used by athletes to help them get through the most challenging moments of their competitions. But they aren’t just for athletes; they can help anyone get through a physical or personal challenge by utilizing psychology. Mantras are optimistic self-talk that help to control and calm the mind. In Sanskrit, mantra translates to “instrument of thought.”

Columnist Gigi Douban wrote for Runner’s World: “Mantras—those short power bytes you play over and over in your head—can help you stay focused and centered. They can be your inner motivation when you need it most. Finding a mantra isn’t hard: It can pop into your head as you’re listening to your iPod, chatting with training partners, or flipping through a running magazine. But having one that suits you…is the key to making it work.”

In her article she quotes Sean Lloyd, a 30-year-old computer analyst and marathoner from Round Hill, Virginia. He has about a dozen mantras he keeps in rotation, and settles on one at the start of a run based on how he feels that day. Lloyd says he tried a number of motivational sayings before finding a few that worked for him, including “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.” He’ll experiment with them during a tough stretch of a training run. “When I can’t keep focused on a mantra, I know it’s not right,” he says.

There are many goals of a mantra. It can help create a positive transformation within the person, and it helps take the mind off the pain of the workout and focus on the moment at hand. Mantras help you stay focused and committed, and can transcend physical sensations. The sheer act of repeating the word or words prevents the mind from focusing on the negative aspect of what you are doing (the discomfort) and channels your energy into greater good. This repetition is what makes it so powerful in sports performance. It’s very helpful to tie the repetition of your mantra to your breath, which is usually connected to your stride in running or your pedal stroke in cycling. When I repeat a mantra to myself, it’s usually every two or four pedal strokes, depending on how long it is.

In my first Strategies of Strength, I spoke about counting the pedal stroke, alternating seated with standing positions on long, epic climbs. Counting is essentially a mantra itself. While riding my bike around Europe and New Zealand many years ago, and on some of the longer climbs here in the Rocky Mountains, in addition to counting my pedal stroke, I developed a personal mantra that I still use to this day when I feel especially challenged. It helps me when I have feelings of doubt. My mantra is:

I Can. I Will. I Am. I Did.

These four inspirational statements move me from possibility (I can!), to commitment (I will!), to the present moment of performing the task (I am!), and finally to completion (I did!). I first used this in a session at the 2007 CanFitPro conference entitled “Strategies of Strength.” (Yes, it was the inspiration for this series on ICA, but not as in-depth as we are going here). I’ve used this mantra while leading indoor cycling fund-raisers. I’ve had it inscribed on my Road-ID, which is attached to my bike shoes. I’ve written it on my hand. I relied on it extensively in 2013 while climbing Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez while cycling in France during the Tour de France.

Indoor cycling application: How to inspire your riders to find their own mantra

Have you used mantras? Have you seen a transformation in your students when you do? Do you have one you would like to share? Please list them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out our other strategies:

Strategies for Strength: Counting Pedal Strokes

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 1

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 2

Strategies for Strength: A Sprinter’s Take on Climbing Strategies

Strategies for Strength: Climbing at Tempo

Strategies for Strength: The Cheek to Cheek Technique

Strategies for Strength: The Wisdom of Yoda

Strategies for Strength: Activate Those Hip Flexors

Strategies for Strength: Projection into the Future

Strategies for Strength: Synchronized Breathing




  1. From Dory…’Just keep swimming’. I know it’s weird but it works for me.

  2. Here are a few I use:
    -Unleash the champion within you
    -Smooth, fluid pedal strokes – no beginning, no ending
    -Erupt into the sprint
    -There is no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort
    -Retrain the way you think and rethink the way you train
    -Concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing, the rhythm of your heart beat and the rhythm of your cadence –
    -Find that sweet spot
    -Feel the road underneath you and make it real
    -Cycle at your true ability, whatever that is today
    -Start it out the way you want to end it up – strong, controlled and in the moment
    -Laser Focus
    -Blinders on like a race horse
    -The mind and body are inextricably linked–wherever the mind goes the body follows, so be and remain in the moment

    Thank you for your ideas–I love receiving cues and mantras–have a great day!

    1. Author

      These are great, thanks!

      I especially like the idea of “Retrain the way you think and rethink the way you train.”

  3. Good thoughts, Jennifer. There is a lot of material here to create classes based on mindful intention. I frequently ask students to think of themselves as an unstoppable freight train.

    1. Author

      How perfect this image is with the 12-minute song Last Train to Lhasa by Banco de Gaia!

  4. always looking for new and fresh motivating words! thanks!

  5. LOVE IT . Thanks Jennifer =) Siempre aprendiendo

  6. Love this idea! I will throw in one of my own, which speaks to any trekkers out there (especially those who have a little Klingon in them): “Today IS a good day to climb!”

  7. Thank you Jennifer for another terrific article. I also use the phrases that Kelly uses. I particularly like Just keep swimming (as I pass others on the hills).

  8. Fantastic, another amazing article, uplifting words, thank you so much.

  9. My visualization, which I always share with my class while encouraging them to find their own, is being an eagle eye in the sky, looking down on myself as a perfect, in control rider. “The discomfort is there, but you are above it.”

  10. My favorites are: “Just legs, lungs and heart” and “I love to climb. Climbing takes me to beautiful places”

  11. The one that has stuck in my head since the 1994 Paraolympics is “If you think you can, You can”

  12. Ha! “This doesn’t suck” is a great one! I bet my students will like that.

    The simplest one I use is: Yes. I tell them, when this is starting to hurt and you notice the negative thoughts entering your brain or the excuses that are enticing you to quit…banish them with one word. Yes. For me, that wipes out the negativity in the moment.

    Now, for a longer effort, I agree that a longer mantra is probably better. But for that quick mental reset? YES.

  13. I know it sounds weird but my favourite, especially for climbing, is ‘Float like a butterfly.’ It gives me an image of butterflies soaring on thermals. I like the image of the hill supporting me, not fighting me and it helps me relax and concentrate on my pedal stroke. Of course there is also the unspoken ‘sting like a bee’ ending which reminds me to be tough.

  14. Author

    generally it is suggested to frame mantras in the positive, in fact, an “affirmation” is always in the positive. However, it may be for a mantra, it comes down to whatever works for the individual. I was very surprised how many “negative” ones I saw in forums as I was researching this article. I only used one of those, the “Don’t give up” simply because I saw it so often. I guess if it keeps someone from giving up, then it’s doing its job! If you google “mantras for athletes” or “mantras for running” (because it seems a large number of runners use them and discuss them on running forums) you will be surprised too at how many are framed in the negative.

    One that I thought was kind of funny was “This doesn’t suck!” The person who wrote it said, “I know it sounds opposite of what I should be saying but it gets me up the hill!”

    This may be a good question to ask Dr. Haley Perlus!

  15. I love Jens, so I quite often use “Shut up Legs” on my climbs. I will definitely be pulling that one out for my climb up Mt. Greylock next week. But I am also adding a new one, not necessarily for climbing but just to get me through next week on my 6 day, 550 mile ride…”Just keep swimming!” – courtesy of Dory from Finding Nemo 🙂

  16. Love these. Two of my favorites on long sustained efforts are, “I am a machine” and “I am a diesel”.

  17. Great article Jennifer ! I think this is very good inspiration to create a new special ride.
    Side note: for me mantras with negative proposition(eg. “don’t”) do not work.

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