The power of the mind in assisting athletes to become sucesssful in their chosen endeavours, has been known for many decades. The soviets advocated visualisation for athletic success way back in the 1970s, and acheived great results with their athletes partially because of this. They recognised early on the impact of the mind on physical performance.
An achievement such as breaking a world weightlifting clean and jerk record for example, could not be achieved unless the athlete had already visualised accomplishing this prior to actually commencing the lift.
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can acheive”
“A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.
“One cannot actualize his goals until he visualizes them clearly in the minds eye”
Experienced athletes nowadays will all be adept at mentally rehearsing every aspect of their preparation and performance – utilising all of their senses.
They will mentally run through their performance in its entirety employing vivid, internal imagary.
They might also visualise themselves achieving victory, then imagining the accompanying feeling of success. This aspect of visualisation is controversial and many will disagree on this issue as there are studies which show that visualising the victory (for example standing on the podium, the stage etc) can diminish the drive for success because the brain has already experienced the reward on some level.
To optimise the effectiveness of their visualisation practise, athletes would be engaging as many of their five senses as possible during mental preparation – Who they are with? which emotions they were feeling, their attire, the immediate environment, the smells and the sounds etc.
Effects of visualisation for athletic success
Research indicates that mentally rehearsing the actual event in its entirety, results in significant improvement in actual performance, and a competitive edge over those not practicing this discipline.
Originally it was believed that benefits arose primarily because of positive mindset phenomena, such as increased focus and attention and minimisation of distraction, coupled with increased confidence.
Research however indicates this is only part of the story.
Mental visualisation for athletic success is closer to actual physical rehearsal than was formerly thought.
The brain utilises some of the same neural pathways during visualisation as it does during the actual activity.
These neural connections appear in some way to become stronger by repeated visualisation of the event.
New research is suggesting that visualisation can actually strengthen muscles and mental practises are almost as effective as true physical practice. It’s as if the brain is unable to differentiate between a vivid visualisation and the actual experience.
In other words you can to a certain extent think yourself strong.
“When an athlete imagines certain movements, a specific system of neural connections is activated. When the image is repeated over and over, the tenuous system of these nerve connections is strengthened and thus improves the physical execution of the movement. If the individual imagines the correct execution of a particular movement, the correct system of nerve connections will be strengthened.”
Dr. Aladar Kogler, a mentor of Marty Gallacher (coach of Ed Coan and Kirk Karowksi)
Visualisation for athletic success is similar to meditative practices and much like meditation can be enhanced by positive affirmations.
” I am powerful,” “I am courageous, ” ” I am strong” – are examples of affirmations.
Affirmations have also been shown to assist with the eradication of negative thoughts and doubts which can otherwise derail or interupt training preparation.
It is important to realise that utilising visualisation for athletic success is not the same thing as wishing or fantasising. It is more than just believing or imagining yourself accomplishing your goal.
It is, instead, the training of the mind and the will to assist in achieving your desires.
Visualisation is not meant to replace physical training, but serve as an adjunct to optimise training, and performance of the actual event.
It can make a very significant difference to the outcome.
Be aware that the mental game is as important a factor in athletic success as the physical one. Since it controls everything, you need to harness the most powerful lifting muscle in your body – the mind.
Employ visualisation practise regularly. You will be grateful you did, as this will soon have a tangible effect on your training success and performance.
Visualisation: A Practical Guide for Strength Athletes