To make fitness gains, you have to challenge your body physically through strength-training and aerobic exercise – but what role does your mind play? In sports, most coaches say that a winning attitude is critical to success. That’s why coaches give athletes a motivational talk before a competition. But what about fitness training? Could motivation visualization and a positive mindset be important here too? If you visualize getting stronger, firmer or more conditioned, will you get greater results?
Using Visualization to Achieve Your Fitness Goals
Visualization and mental imaging combined with physical training may give better results than physical training alone. Russian scientists compared Olympic athletes who had undergone physical and mental training to ones who trained only physically. They discovered that athletes who had “exercised” their minds and their bodies performed better than those who only worked out physically.
The power of visualization may be just as effective for building strength. When a researcher at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation compared the strength gains of people who weight trained at the gym to those who visualized working their muscles in their head, they came to a surprising conclusion. Those who worked out physically increased their muscle strength by about 30%. The big surprise was the “mental weightlifters” boosted their strength by 13.5% without lifting a single weight.
Golfers use mental imagery all the time to improve their game with good results. Can it work for you? Visualizing getting stronger and leaner as you train boosts motivation. This helps you eke out that last rep – the one that could mean the difference in gaining more definition or not. It appears that visualization improves motor performance by giving muscles the cognitive training they need to work more efficiently.
How Does It Work?
The theory behind visualization is when you visualize doing a physical act like lifting a heavy weight – it builds neural pathways between brain and muscle that makes it easier to carry out the exercise when you finally do it.
How You Can Use Visualization to Boost Your Fitness Gains
If you’re just going through the motions of working out, but your brain is staying on autopilot, you’re not maximizing your fitness gains. First, it’s important to set goals and know what you’re trying to achieve. Your goals should be clear. Do you want to get stronger, gain muscle definition or get that elusive six-pack?
Once you’ve established your goals, spend some time before each workout visualizing the results you’re trying to achieve. See yourself with that six-pack on the beach or looking more defined in a tank top. Keep that image ingrained in your mind.
When training your muscles, focus on the muscles you’re working instead of zoning out and thinking about what you’re going to do after your workout or what you’re having for dinner. Focus on the sensation of the muscle contracting and picture it getting stronger and more defined. This will slow down the speed of your reps so you use less momentum. You’ll get more out of each exercise.
The Bottom Line?
When you visualize, have positive expectations and take your workout off of autopilot, you’ll get more satisfaction out of working out and better results too. How hard you work physically is important, but don’t underestimate the role the mind plays in reaching your fitness goals.
Psychology Today. “Seeing is Believing: The Power of Visualization”
Neuropsychologia 42 (2004) 944–956.