Far and away the number one thing I would recommend as a tool to enhance anyone’s training, in practically any area of life, is to visualize. Within this one, simple, and totally safe training method, there exists near endless possibility in regards to practice, and improvement!!
So what is visualization? At a base level, visualization is seeing an outcome you wish to attain prior to performing any action. For example, when I was in college, I used to visualize myself taking the test the night before an exam. I would see myself in the exact seat I was going to sit the next day, reading through questions calmly, making sure to take in each word before answering, and then I would imagine my response coming to me in a clear, concise, and accurate way. Since I had no idea what the questions would be on the test (man would that have made life easier though) I could only visualize myself being calm, cool, collected, and above all, prepared. I would do this right before bed, it took at most five minutes, and then I’d drift off to sleep. While this strategy couldn’t supply me with any answers to exam questions, it did build a sense of comfort and confidence, as if I was taking the exam for a second time. It was as if I was familiar with how I wanted to behave, and could therefore reach that level of performance more easily. The good news, the same can be done for physical practice as well!
By visualizing your success you prime your body for goal attainment. In other words, you set yourself up to succeed when you imagine yourself succeeding. Kind of awesome, right? There is a lot to be said for getting in, “mental reps.” In a training setting, these reps can help make a movement feel more familiar, stronger, or more efficient, and in life they can help organize a busy mind and create a clearer plan of action!
In fact, there is some science behind visualization actually helping to activate the muscles and brain centers involved in whatever movement or action you are imagining!! This is hugely important, as you can’t necessarily take 100 extra reps of your squat, bench press, or kettlebell swing - your body just can’t handle all that volume…but your brain can! The same goes for non-physical tasks as well. It’s not exactly realistic to have a hard conversation or give a live presentation over and over again. However, mentally you can simulate that scenario, and exactly how you wish to perform during it, as many times as you’d like. That way, once it comes time, you’ve already been in the exact same scenario many times over, and know precisely how to achieve success.
Here’s one way to do it: In your next training session, try taking a big, full, relaxing deep breath before each set of a movement. After your big deep breath, imagine three things about the move you are about to perform.
First, imagine what it feels like. How a movement feels can include what muscles are working, where your body is aligned, and how fluidly you move through your range of motion.
Second, imagine how you desire the movement to be performed from the first person point of view. This will give you a sense of how the move will go as you are actually doing it.
And third, imagine the movement being performed from the third person point of view. This vantage point will allow you to put everything together, from how the movement feels, to how it looks and flows.
When all is said and done, your deep breath and visualization will take about 30 seconds maximum, but the transfer to your practice and the success you’ll feel will be tremendous!
A few disclaimers here: visualization is not a magic pill that will add 50lbs to your 1-rep max squat. I wish that was the case, but unfortunately it just isn’t so. However, it will help improve your form IF you are visualizing a correct movement. This is where it becomes crucial to utilize coaching feedback, as well as visuals, to give you a good platform from which to base your visual practice. Additionally, visualization is not a, “one shot and done,” trick. Visualization takes mindful practice to incorporate and utilize for improved performance. The good news is it can be done anywhere, and at any time. Lastly, PLEASE don’t do this while driving or chopping vegetables with a sharp knife…drive while driving, and chop while chopping. It’s safer that way.
So next time you’re on a bus, waiting in line to order your coffee, about to drift off for sleep or warming up before a training session, visualize one successful performance you wish to accomplish in the next 24-hours. It can be an immediate performance or one that is a little farther away, but begin seeing your successes and watch your performances improve to new levels! :)
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