Boost Your Workout Results with Visualization & Mental Imagery

Posted On Wednesday, 22 June 2016
Boost Your Workout Results with Visualization & Mental Imagery

It's the most overlooked technique in the gym for building muscle and gaining strength.

Used by sports psychologists and Olympic athletes routinely, it's also of benefit and value for everyday athletes.

In fact, it's the simplest, easiest and one of the most effective techniques out there to experience gains in the gym.

What’s this magic technique?

Visualization and mental imagery.

Far from some mystic crystal-healing, new-age practice, visualization for performance enhancement is backed up conclusively by scientific research.

"Using imagery increases the likelihood of performance success," concluded a 2012 report in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. But, researchers of the study also found that "imagery use has not been fully maximized in strength training.”

Clearly, many gym goers are not incorporating mind-muscle techniques into their workouts, and therefore are missing out on a critical component of their lifting routine.

Functional MRI studies have shown that the primary motor cortex in the brain’s frontal lobe region, which is responsible for movement, is also activated when you mentally rehearse the movement. Which means that your brain is firing neurons that trigger movement, even when you’re only visualizing that movement.

This was confirmed in a 2001 study conducted at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. In the study, researchers asked middle-aged volunteers to imagine intensely flexing one of their biceps five times a week during which their electrical brain activity was recorded. After several weeks, the strength of the volunteers’ muscles increased by 13.5 percent, while no improvement was seen in a control group. The results were maintained for three months after the training stopped. This is proof that the “mind-muscle connection” really does exist.

So, how do can you incorporate visualization into your own workout?

Here are five easy things to do:

1. When warming up, focus not just on the physiological preparation for training, but the psychological prep too. Close your eyes and visualize the muscles you will work out. This helps to put you in the “zone” and blocks all the distractions, anxieties and general mental overload that clog your brain during the day.

2. Then, while you’re working out, for any given exercise visualize the muscle being trained. Imagine it getting firmer, tighter, and stronger. Squeeze that muscle at its peak contraction. This not only provides a physiological benefit that allows more nutrients to be pumped to your muscles, but it reinforces the mind-muscle connection

3. Slow down the movement. The more time your muscle is under tension, the harder the muscle is working physiologically and the better your results. Slowing down the movement also gives you more time to mentally connect with it, also reinforcing the mind-muscle connection.

4. Close your eyes when doing your reps. This eliminates all the environmental distractions around you and promotes better concentration and visualization, all while also challenging your balance and coordination.

5. And, perhaps most importantly of all: PUT DOWN THAT CELL PHONE. There is nothing that will break your concentration and visualization more than constantly checking for messages that can wait till after your train.

Follow these five steps and you’ll come to realize that this deeper mental connection you have to your workouts will lead to a better quality workout and ultimately better results.

Isn’t that why you work out in the first place?

Mental Gymnastics Increase Bicep Strength. (2001, November 21). Retrieved from

Porro, Carlo A. (1996). Primary Motor and Sensory Cortex Activation during Motor Performance and Motor Imagery: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. The Journal of Neuroscience 16 (23), 7688-698

Richter, J., Gilbert, J., Baldis, M. (2012) Maximizing Strength Training Performance Using Mental Imagery. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 34 (5), 65-69

Lorne David Opler, MEd, CSCS

Lorne Opler has been a Certified Personal Trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 1997 and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has a Master's degree in Health Education from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently an instructor in the Fitness and Health Promotion program at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario, where he teaches up-and-coming personal trainers.

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