By: Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
Ever wonder what world-class, elite level athletes do before they get on the field? They do the same thing that well-informed fitness enthusiasts, celebrity trainers and leading coaches do. They use relaxation and visualization techniques to boost their performance.
While there are many studies that document the value of visualization and imagery in enhancing muscular-related sports and fitness performance, one is worth noting. Russian scientists discovered that when a group of Olympic athletes spent 25% of their time in physical training and 75% of their time in mental training, their performance rose to their best level of performance.
The famed Cleveland Clinic Foundation explored the effects of visualization on muscle strength and reported increases to muscle strength through visualization.
Visualization helps build concentration, confidence, control and commitment—the four main mental qualities related to elite levels of performance in most athletic related activities.
Do you? Here’s the low-down and just how to dream a bit before you pump it up!
With these five simple steps, you can develop stronger neural pathways in your brain (clusters of neurons in your brain that help form memory and learned behaviors) to fortify positive, energizing thoughts/images and turbo-charge your workout. It is as if when you mentally “see” yourself doing an exercise, that imagery transmits impulses from your brain to those muscles involved in what you visualize. This, in turn, leaves your body feeling as if it actually performed the exercise you imagined. It’s as if the workout becomes easier and more likely to be accomplished because “you’ve already done it.”
1. Find a quiet, calming and peaceful place where you can relax.
2. Visualize, mentally rehearse, as vividly and plainly as you feasibly can, engaging in a vigorous, healthy and invigorating workout.
3. Imagine in your mind doing your workout in the present tense (“I am…” not “I will…”), without rushing. This is not a “hurry up and get going” experience, but a “savor the imagery” preparation for a successful workout or training session. See and feel as many details of the perfect workout you are vividly imagining, and note how much more muscular, faster, stronger, and athletic you feel.
4. Mentally rehearse how good you feel completing the workout, achieving the goals you (and your trainer) set for yourself, imagining that you are leaving the gym feeling terrific about yourself.
5. Rid your mind of any negative, inaccurate, irrational thoughts that could undermine the value for yourself, of this training and fitness performance tool so many athletes worldwide find helpful. When you hear yourself filling up with “It won’t work for me,” or “Ah, it’s a waste of time,” or “I can’t do this right,” challenge, dispute and debate those thoughts. “How do I know it won’t work for me?” “Just because I think it is a waste of time, doesn’t mean it IS—maybe that’s just a negative thought.” “Am I expecting myself to do this perfectly the first time?”
It’ll take self-discipline to do this because of the tendency to want to get into your workout as quickly as possible. Think of it as part of your disciplined dynamic stretch warm-up routine. As Lou Holtz once said, “Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.”