Whether you are an experienced fitness athlete or a regular person that is starting his fitness path, it is normal to wonder how to improve your strength, technique, and performance without physical exercise. Here is when we find the term visualization and its importance in the fitness industry.
Visualization and the Fitness Industry
If you haven’t heard about the term “Visualization” (also known as KMI) before, it is an age-old training technique that has been mostly utilized by the athletics industry but can be applied to any activity if you understand how it works. To understand it, let’s first define visualization—the active practice of interpreting thoughts, actions, or processes as mental visual images. It seems like an easy enough task to handle, but many struggles with envisioning themselves performing, and some of those that are able to have only scratched the surface potential of visualization.
Enabling your mind to reimagine yourself is the first half of the battle, but then you have to learn how to focus on the subtle details of the auction process. For example, I don’t want to just visualize myself doing a squat, but rather break it down and visualize myself bending at the knees, hinging at the hips, and bracing the core. Although we can still see some benefits from less specific visualization; most benefits will be seen from both depicting and breaking down each movement mentally.
What are the benefits?
We can also think about visualization as mental preparation for an exercise. It’s no secret that to fully prepare for something requires a warm-up both mentally and physically.
Most times the mental preparation is simply: “I’m ready to work out”. Then you do a physical warm-up like push-ups, jogging, etc… but actively thinking about the entirety of the workout and the breakdown of movements actually builds neural connections in your brain that better coordinates your body and reduces the risk of injury when you go to exercise. Practicing visualization can also be a helpful tool for breaking out of a training plateau.
We know that technique and proper muscle activation are key for increasing the load on any exercise, and visualization will improve both. It may just give you that extra 5 lbs you were looking for on your bench or deadlift. You can even do this mental preparation the day before your next workout and you will still see benefits.
If you can’t find 5 minutes before your workout, try visualizing right before you go to bed or right after you wake up. It is a very focused practice so I wouldn’t recommend trying it while driving or walking; but rather when you can be calm and undisturbed for just a few minutes.
How does it work?
Now let’s dig into how visualization actually works. As mentioned before, the first step is going to be imagining yourself performing a movement. Let’s take a look at deadlifts. As you visualize yourself deadlifting, be conscious of the perspective you are in.
Are you watching yourself do the movement or are you actually feeling yourself do the movement?
Both perspectives are great for visualizing; but it can be helpful to utilize both so that you can mentally see what you should look like and what it should feel like as you perform the movement.
Once you have no problem visualizing yourself, the next step will be focusing on the breakdown of movements. You may have to do some research on proper technique and muscle activation for each movement you visualize; but once you understand the movement try to replicate it in your head.
Run through your list of cues and focus on seeing yourself and feeling yourself perform those cues.
My personal cues for a deadlift would be a slight knee bend with pressure on the outside of the knee, bracing the core to feel the low back and hips aligned with the rest of the spine, and squeezing the glutes/pushing through the hips to stand up. Practice perfecting each aspect of the movement several times in your head so that when it comes to physically deadlifting; all of the mental cues feel like second nature.
Wrapping it up
Say you try this visualization training technique and you feel that it’s not all that beneficial or it’s not worth the time to continue practicing. No harm done. Research has shown that any type of visualization can be beneficial and effective without any adverse health consequences. You are strengthening your mind just the same way you strengthen your body, even if the visualization is negative. Visualizing things going wrong does actually prepare you in a similar manner to visualizing things going right because you can focus on what to avoid during your training.
With that being said, I don’t like to emphasize negative visualization techniques because I believe that positive mindsets are more valuable than negative ones. But go and experiment with what may work for you! This is just another tool that you can explore to help you guys reach your goals!