Challenge Your Training Routine
Let’s start with a quick test. Think of yourself “running”, as vividly as possible. Now, how did you imagine this action?
(1) You are actually running; first person
(2) You see yourself running; third person
(3) A mixture of both
Your answer reveals what kind of sport imagery you have used:
(1) The image from the perspective of you actually running is called “Muscular Sensory Imagery” (MSI)
(2) The image from the objective point of view is called “Visual Imagery” (VI)
So, what is “Imagery Training”?
It refers to the rehearsal of moving the body ‘in the mind’ without actual physical movement. This training method may enhance performance and deepen tactics’ understanding.
Each of the two above-mentioned ways of imagining movement are associated with a different range of brain activity. MSI and VI both activate motor-related brain areas, but MSI in particular activates brain areas that are more similar to those of actual movement. In other words, the effect of imagery training can be enhanced by vividly depicting the first-person perspective.
Imagery Training and Muscle Response
There is an interesting experiment that verified that imagery training actually has an effect on muscles. The subjects of the study were asked to perform bench press and leg press, with 3 to 5 minutes rest time between sets. The subjects were then divided into two groups: those who did imagery training during the breaks and those who did not.
The group that did imagery training closed their eyes during the rest period and adopted the first-person perspective. The only additional task was to feel the contraction of the muscles.
The subjects performed this training three times a week for four weeks, and their maximum muscle strength and exercise frequency were measured before and afterwards. The results showed that there was a significant increase in leg press performance, confirming that imagery training had indeed an effect on the muscles.
- Strengthens the motor neural pathways between the brain and the muscles, as if exercising in real time, making it easier to exert muscle strength during training, and improving body coordination.
- Slows down the amygdala, the centre of the brain’s fight-or-flight response, reducing the anxiety and fear associated with the activity, by repeatedly recalling a particular image.
- Reduces negative emotions and physical discomfort, while increasing motivation and concentration during performance.
In this day and age when time on the field is more limited than ever, why not take advantage of this training that can be done with just your body and some imagination?
It would be worthwhile to introduce imagery training, even if it’s only for five minutes, in between training sessions or before and after practice, when you can feel the muscles in your body and imagine the movement fresh.
Considering the uniqueness of each human body, it is essential to note that not everyone processes information visually. According to several behavioral science studies, only 50–70% of the population is visually wired and may process information in pictures.
Since the subconscious mind processes information literally, techniques based on visual language only deliver results to athletes who are able to portray images in pictures. Therefore there is a need for adequate support and consideration towards those with different information processing mechanisms.
Lebon, F., Collet, C., and Guillot, A. (n.d.) “Benefits of Motor Imagery Training on Muscle Strength”
Takumasa, A. (n.d.) “Imagery Training Increases the Effectiveness of Muscle Training — Let’s Know the Scientific Basis”
Willis, B. (2009) Imagine Vs. Visualize [online] available from https://winningmindtraining.com/imagine-vs-visualize/