Those who participate in the sport involving swimming, bicycling and running routinely push their bodies beyond the limits most people can endure, the researchers said, but little has been understood about what gives them their exceptional abilities.
TAU researchers Ruth Defrin and Nirit Geva report they've found triathletes feel less pain than casual exercisers.
"In our study, triathletes rated pain lower in intensity, tolerated it longer, and inhibited it better than individuals in a control group," Defrin said. "We think both physiological and psychological factors underlie these differences and help explain how triathletes are able to perform at such a high level."
In experiments, triathletes identified pain as well as non-athletes did, but they perceived it as less intense and were able to withstand it longer, the researchers found.
Detecting pain is a relatively straightforward sensory experience, they said, whereas evaluating pain and being willing and able to endure it involves attitude, motivation, and life experience.
"It is very difficult to separate physiology and psychology," Defrin said. "But in general, experience is the sum of these factors."