Practice might make perfect, but not all practice needs to be physically exhausting... or even physical at all. Research suggests that just imagining achieving an exercise goal— like powering through a run or performing that last rep— can help set the stage for success .
Mind Games — The Takeaway
Illustration by Elaine Liu
Visualization, often called motor imagery or motor rehearsal, is the process of picturing a successful physical outcome, like a lifter hoisting the bar or a gymnast sticking the landing . Research has linked mentally rehearsing athletic movements to enhanced strength, stamina, and precision when actually performing the tasks  . Imagining an exercise or skill, researchers suggest, can help prime the muscles for more efficient movements and even boost an athlete's confidence in their ability to complete a goal .
Visualization strategies are popular at all levels of coaching— for pee-wee athletes all the way through the professional ranks— suggesting the practice is beneficial to both learning new skills and refining old ones . Exercise imagery has also been shown to benefit patients in clinical rehabilitation by helping the body more quickly relearn basic movement patterns  .
The carryover from mental rehearsal to physical activity will likely vary from individual to individual, and it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much it can benefit a specific person in a specific situation. That said, the confidence boost and motivation gained from visualization could be its biggest benefit . So whether it's squeezing out an additional pull-up or going a little further on the treadmill, visualizing a goal might create the extra motivation needed to push beyond normal barriers. And though there’s no guarantee visualizing winning the lotto will work, it probably can’t hurt one’s chances.
[expert expert_id="JessicaRedmond" align="left"]"Visualization is key for those of us who embark on new athletic endeavors (or return to them after a hiatus). When you are visualizing yourself in an activity, think about past positive experiences (in that same activity or a similar one) and recall how you felt as you completed it successfully. Recall the sensations your body experienced as well as how you felt mentally during the activity. You can even use visualization during a workout! Whether you are training for an event or rehabbing from an injury, as you perform your exercise, take a moment and close your eyes, envisioning what it will feel like on race day or when you are fully healed. Think about how your body will feel but also how confident you will feel about your abilities."
[expert expert_id="ZackMurphy" align="left"]"I don't visualize much, but I would suspect it won’t actually increase a person’s max strength or force, frankly. But, if the movement is more precise, nuanced, or highly skilled (pole vault, triple jump, horseshoes), then I'll bet visualization is massive. I remember this with baseball. I was whatever athlete I was, no matter what. But I was a much better skilled performer when my mind was focused. Hitting a baseball, landing a 1-leg box jump, or doing a back tuck. Those movements are also max attempts, but not like weightlifting, where it's more plain and less complicated."
Visualize success to prime the body and mind to achieve exercise goals.