The power of imagery and mental practice has long been used by elite athletes to improve their skills and improve motor patterns. It may surprise you to learn that motor learning research has shown that even imagining yourself completing a movement improves your ability to perform that skill and that physically performing the skill as well as completing some mental visualisation of the skill will improve more than just merely physical practice.
It seems a bit farfetched that you can get better at a skill by just imagining yourself doing it right! So why and how does this work? Well there are two main theories. The first states that by visualising a skill, you stimulate neural pathways similar to those involved when performing the skill just at a lower threshold. This was found due to detectable muscle activation in EMG studies. The second theory proposes that imagery enhances the development of the mental aspects required to complete a given skill. Hence, we learn and counter possible mistakes in a controlled imaginary environment well before we conduct the physical movement.
This use of mental practice can not only be used in elite athletes but also correlate to stroke patients who may have damaged connections to their muscular system and hence need to stimulate the connections to the muscles before they can work on strength acquisition.
In sports it can be seen that the higher the difficulty of skill in the performance the greater the role mental practice may have. For example a diver would be more likely (but not always) to have a greater improvement from mental practice than a long distance runner.
So what does this mean for us? Well everyone has heard of the importance of technique not only at the gym but with sitting at work. By incorporating some imagery of perfect technique of a squat for example or perfect sitting posture we will in fact be giving ourselves the best opportunity to improve.
If you want to learn more about how mental practice can help in your sport or hobby of choice book in with one of our Physios at Bend + Mend in Sydney’s CBD today.