“The man who has no imagination has no wings.” ~ Muhammad Ali
You’ve heard the stories of champions who attribute their success to visualization. Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali and the list goes on. The testimonials are inspiring. Before you close your eyes and imagine yourself with super big muscles, let’s take a real look at the science of visualization and how mind workout can help your fitness routine.
What is visualization anyway?
To put it simply, visualization is a mental rehearsal.
To make it more complex, visualization uses the senses and mental imagery to create or recreate an experience in the mind.
For fitness and athletics, visualization is the practice of using your mind to imagine and create a blueprint of what you would like to see in your performance to improve it and reach new levels of achievement.
When you visualize something in your mind in clear detail, from particular viewpoints, your mind will react as if it were real. Imagine for a second that you are looking at your left arm and lifting your left arm up over your head. The same parts of your brain are firing up and sending signals to the muscles in your left arm. Kinda cool, right?
Mind Strength and Body Strength
As study done by Bishop University found that people who visualized working out were able to gain almost as much strength as a group who actually worked out. Wow!
They had three groups work on developing their strength. One group was allowed to workout in the gym. A second group was only allowed to perform a mental workout and carry out their normal day’s business. A third group was not allowed to work out mentally or physically. They could just go about their daily business.
The results showed that the first group increased strength by 28%. Surprisingly the second group increased strength by 24%! That’s pretty close for just visualizing a workout.
Mental Practice for Actual Performance
There is also the study done by Alan Richardson in Australia. He used the same three group method to test performance improvement in shooting a basketball. I could find a specific research document for this. Nevertheless, this examples is used in many posts and articles online.
We see examples of these things all the time.
Even top ranked tennis star Novak Djokovic talked about it as a key tool in reaching peak performance, “One of the ways is to kind of meditate but not meditate with the intention of going away from those problems, but visualize.”
Djokovic knows what he is doing to prepare himself, but makes an interesting comment about mediation.
How is it different than meditation, mindfulness, guided imagery, hypnosis and all that other baloney?
Visualization is used in all of these practices, but these practices in themselves do not equate to visualization only. Some have more things involved. Some have less.
Meditation is a form of focusing inward to quiet the mind and aim for total presence. One tries to empty thoughts and simply observe what is going on inward and outward.
Mindfulness is the act of being aware of your surroundings and your own place in the universe.
Guided Imagery is probably the closest thing to visualization because it takes you step-by-step through a series of scenes and settings to relax or motivate you.
Hypnosis uses imagery and visualization to get the body to relax and the conscious mind to lower its barriers. Through relaxation and acceptance a hypnotist is able to make suggestions with a higher likelihood of acceptance by the conscious mind.
There is a little something else you should know
Visualization works really well when you are a visual person. About 65% of the population has a preference for visual images. That is what makes it so popular. However, there are some who prefer auditory or kinesthetic imagery. This is important for you to know before taking on your visualization practice.
How do I know if I am visual, auditory or a kinesthetic type?
A simple way to test yourself is to tell a friend about a vacation you took in the last few years. Imagine you are at the vacation spot and talk about what is around you.
If the language you use is mostly about what you see, you’re probably more visual.
If you describe the sound and the atmosphere, chances are you are more on the auditory side.
If you describe the textures and feelings of things, you are kinesthetic.
Another way is to use the free test on business balls
How and the heck do I visualize?
Visualization is like creating a movie in your mind. You need a director, a cameraman and an audio guy.
The director (aka prefrontal cortex) assess and manages the entire thing.
The cameraman is your mind’s imagination. You are able to see and feel. You can zoom in and out. You can focus and unfocused certain parts. You can change also change the viewpoint like you will read about below.
The audio engineer adds that dolby surround sound experience for your visualization. This really hypes up the neural networks and sends the dopamine pouring throughout your system.
There are five steps to follow through a visualization exercise.
1. Relax – getting your body and mind to be calm and present.
2. Third person view – creating a mental image where you are watching yourself performance the action.
3. First person view – creating a mental image as if you have a camera on your forehead and you are performance the actions.
4. Supercharge with emotion – injecting some emotional language and feeling into your imagery to enhance the neural connections made.
5. Imagine the Outcome – seeing the final result as if it has already happened (or better as if it is happing now.
For fitness, first person view is the most powerful. When you can imagine yourself, as yourself, going through the motions you are reinforcing the patterns in your brain that create the muscle memory blueprint.
Let’s imagine that you are a crossfit athlete about to do clean and press. Before you go into the actual movement you decide to use your massively developed visualization skills, not your muscles.
Here is how it goes down
Step 1. You relax your body using your breath and refocusing your mind on the present.
Step 2. You take a first person view in your mind to imagine completing the clean and press.
Step 3. You supercharge your visualizations by imagining the sensations you feel: the air, the heartbeat, the people watching, the feeling of the weight, the ground, etc.
Step 4. You use your words to reinforce those feelings and describe what your sensations are.
Step 5. Picture the point where you are finished the full exercise. How do you feel? What are the sensations in your body? Is anyone around cheering you on? Make it detailed.
What is happening secretly
As you start to imagine the scenario, your brain is sending signals down to the same parts of your brain responsible for the movement. Cool right. Of course, you’re not going to jerk your leg and shoulder while you are imagining. It’s all internal.
Perfect practice makes perfect. I suggest that you go through your movements with a trainer first to make sure you are getting it right. Then go over the moves and techniques in your mind before and after your workouts. This is probably the best method for implementing visualization into your workout routine.
Visualization for fitness activity is just the beginning. You are ahead of the game if you can combine your mental fitness with physical fitness. The next stage is in taking your game to outside world. Can you visualize your work, finances, relationships and so forth. Give it a try and you might surprise yourself how much can be achieved with a little mental rehearsal.
Visualize to Materialize
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