Many of the worlds best athletes visualise themselves being successful, completing a race, making a tackle, hitting a ball or lifting a heavy weight before they actually complete the movement. Visualisation is a technique used to get your body acclimatised and accustomed to the movement you wish to complete, and through this your brain and muscle fires itself ready. It’s almost like a rehearsal, the more you perform a dance move, read a line in your head before a show, or envision a play during a match of some sort, the more it becomes second nature. Visualisation recruits the same thought processes as actually completing the action would, meaning it sends the same neurological impulses around the brain and body.
Research suggests that there may be 5 categories of visualisation (imagery):
1.) Motivational- specific: Seeing yourself winning an event
2.) Motivational general- mastery: Developing your coping mechanism for when you are in a difficult situation, similar to self mastery
3.) Motivational general- arousal: Visualisation to take control of your state of arousal i.e. relaxation, stress relief and arousal for a sporting event. If mastered athletes can get themselves motivated for an event, and even increase heart rate
4.) Cognitive Specific: Involving seeing yourself completing a particular skill e.g. striking a football, completing a bench press or changing into your running trainers from your cycle shoes during the change over point in a triathlon
5.) Cognitive general: Visualising a strategy or a phase of play such as a pass and finish in rugby, or a tennis serve and volley in tennis
(Brianmac Sports Coach, 2013)
Imagery is a skill, and like any other skill it can be trained, so it’s pertinent that athletes regularly acquaint themselves with the 4 elements of visualisation:
1.) Relaxation- Being able to relax your body on demand is key to helping you to visualise and feel movement patterns before performing them
2.) Realism- Visualising so clearly so that it feels like you are actually performing the activity. Research shows that repeatedly thinking of an action releases similar (if not the same) hormonal responses as actually performing it
3.) Regularity- Try to perform imagery daily, the more you do it the better you’ll get at it. Aim to spend 10-15mins a day visualising, spending approx 3-5 minutes per session
4.) Reinforcement- Write it down…this can further embed the sequence of events into your mind, as well as keeping your imagery schedule on track
So when you're next preparing for a match, or even readying yourself to perform your next set on the bench press (for example), think the process through in your head, tune yourself into the action and see the difference it makes it terms of success rate and muscle pump...this said, no matter how many times you visualise a night in with a playboy bunny/Dream boy, i'm afraid visualisation and imagery has its limits!
Hale, B. (1998) Imagery Training. London: National Coaching Foundation
Mackenzie, B. (1997) Developing Imagery skills. Retrieved 06th September, 2013, from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/imagery.htm