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Tip 459: Use Mental Imagery Before Workouts To Improve Performance

Friday, October 19, 2012 6:13 AM
Use mental imagery before your workouts to improve your performance and get stronger. Imagery or visualization techniques are common in athletics because they can improve performance and help athletes cope with anxiety, while increasing self-confidence. A new study shows that imagery can be used with strength training in order to help you make gains in the weight room and energize your training.

A review in the Strength and Conditioning Journal describes how to use imagery to get better training results. Naturally, imagery can help you improve many aspects of your life, includingathletics, professional work, and social experience. Consider that using imagery can help you live a more excellent life because it allows you to focus your energy and avoid disengaging or mentally giving up so that you make progress every day!

For example, one study had novice weightlifters imagine that they were performing a bicep curl exercise three times a week for eight weeks. The participants did notactually do any bicep curls or any other elbow flexion training during that time. However, they still gained strength in both the elbow flexors and extensors (44 and 32 percent increase in strength, respectively). A second study found that college athletes who performed visualization before strength training had more confidence and lifted more weight in a leg press exercise than they had done before without imagery.

So how can you start to use imagery to get stronger and perform better? First, understand what imagery really means. It is defined as the use of the senses to recreate a physical experience in the mind. For example, you could use all the senses to imagine yourself deadlifting by seeing the gym in your mind’s eye, smelling the chalk or gym odor, feeling the rough texture of the bar on your hands, and even trying to feel the high level of energy you would need in your arms, legs, and hands. If you do this effectively, you’ll probably feel your heart rate increase and your focus narrow on the physical challenge at hand.

The following are some additional strategies you can use to employ visualization for better performance:

•    Use both internal and external imagery. Internal imagery is when you see the lift from the first person as if you were performing it. External imagery is when you see the lift as if you are a coach watching the performance from multiple angles.
•    The authors of the review suggest you perform preparation imagery before you get to the gym to psych yourself up for your workout. Do a pre-lift session in which you “see” themost important lifts in your head.
•    Then, after performing adifficult lift, such as a maximum effort deadlift, re-imagine yourself doing it successfully. If you completed the lift, add weight to the bar in your imagination and see yourself lifting more weight or with better technique than you just did. If you failed at the lift, visualize yourselfcompletingit successfully.
•    Make the image as lifelike as possible and try to perform it in real time. This means if the lift takes less than a second, like with a single power clean, you should imagine the lift taking that less than a second. If you’re doing a 10-rep squat on a 4010 tempo, take the time to imagine at least one rep using 4 seconds to lower and 1 second to come up.
•    Obviously, it’s not practical to visualize an entire workout in real time. Get best results by going over your workout in your head from lift to lift before hitting the gym. Take five or ten additional minutes to imagine your most challenging lifts, such as personal records you plan to attempt, a new exercise, or a hard technical lift like a power snatch.
•    Develop an imagery script to be used when you go for a new maximum lift or if you are learning a new, technical lift. Be sure to include task-related cues such as “chest up” or “elbows under the bar” when squatting. More detail should be used in the script if you are learning something new, whereas less is needed if you are skilled at the task.

Richter, J., Gilbert, J., Baldis, M. Maximizing Strength Training Performance Using Mental Imagery. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2012. 34(5), 65-70.

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