Did you know that you could practice a skill less and still improve?
What if you could actually get better at something without ever doing it?
Last year, researchers, Dr. Rathore and Lom from Davidson College in North Carolina, published a systematic review on the power of mental imagery. Rathore and Lom presented the various benefits of using daily visualization. The information from their review can help you have productive days and overall a better life.
But first, an awesome study to demonstrates the power of visualization.
If I told you that you could get better at skill without actually doing it you’d probably look at me like I was crazy, right? But it’s true.
The power of visualization was studied in the early 1950’s by Dr. Biasiotto from the University of Chicago. He took 90 college students with no previous basketball experience and divided them into three subgroups.
Each group was told to shoot free throws and the results were recorded.
For the next month, those in group one shot free throws every day. The second group was instructed to only visualize shooting free-throws each day, but didn’t actually shoot a basketball. Lastly, the third group was instructed to do nothing.
A month passed and they were tested again. The first group averaged a 20% increase in their free throw shooting percentage. The third group, as guessed, still sucked. Amazingly, the second group improved by 19% without ever shooting a free-throw.
The Main Take-Away
This study demonstrated that visualization was almost as effective as practicing. This is perhaps because the mind and the body respond to a mental picture just as it responds to a real picture.
Imagine you want to improve your deadlift 1-RM. You can still perform the usual procedures and still see strength gains. Furthermore, you can add mental imagery to your arsenal and see up to a 65% increase in force production (Tod et al., 2015).
- Practice the deadlift once or twice week
- Get stronger on the accessory movements that emphasize back strength (click here to read a recent post on how to do this)
- Eat consistent meals
- Sleep 7-9 hours a night
- Mental imagery 5-10 minutes each day
What are the Kinds of Mental Imagery?
Mental imagery can be performed from two basic perspectives
- The internal perspective involves imaging from within the body and experiencing the motor act without overt movement. For example, that would be like me taking myself through my entire deadlift set-up, visualizing myself performing the act, contracting my muscles and really trying to recreate the sensation of lifting.
- The external perspective, on the other hand, involves imagining the action as if it is outside the body. For example, that would be me visualizing myself performing the act as if I was looking from an outsider’s perspective, perhaps in the crowd.
Which one is better to use?
It depends. Rathore and Low, found that internal imagery was 60% more beneficial for closed skills (strength training, powerlifting, typically self-paced) than external imagery. Furthermore, external imagery was found to be more beneficial when it came to open skills such as (basketball, football, soccer, sports where the environment is unpredictable).
The Beauty of Visualization
The cool thing about visualization is that you can work on things over and over again without wear and tear on your body. It allows you to slow down, implement each of your senses and visualize yourself being successful. When it comes to the big moment you won’t feel as nervous or anxious because you have rehearsed this moment over 40 times in your head. Start implementing visualization in your daily life to help you reach your toughest goals.
Haefner, J. (n.d.). Mental rehearsal & visualization: The secret to improving your game without touching a basketball! Retrieved January 15, 2018, 2014, from https://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/mental/visualization.html
Rathore, A., Lom, B (2017). The effects of chronic and acute physical activity on working memory performance in healthy participants: a systematic review with meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Systematic Reviews 30;6(1):124. doi: 10.1186/s13643-017-0514-7.
Tod, D, Edwards, C., McGuigan, M, Lovell, G. (2015) A systematic review of the effect of cognitive strategies on strength performance. Sports Medicine. 45: 1589-1602.