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August 4, 2010

Can Visualization Make You Stronger?

Can Visualization Make You Stronger?


Ever notice anyone in the gym doing a pre-lift ritual with their eyes closed – kind of like Olympic athletes do before an event?

Most likely not.

And the reason is that most people, outside of high performance athletics, have yet to realize the power of the mind on their ability to workout more effectively and muster more strength.

That trend might be changing, however. And for good reason.


Well, a brand new study out of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that indeed, mental imagery (aka. visualization) can make you stronger.


Aside from the promising “performance” benefits of using visualization, this study actually begins to explain how mental imagery might work at a neurological level!

And that’s pretty cool.

Here’s what the study looked like…

Twenty-two sports students (average age of about 20), participated in the 6-week long experiment. Prior to the study, none of them had done mental imagery before.

The students were divided into a control group and a mental rehearsal group.

The aim of the study was to see if mental imagery could increase bench press and leg press strength.

Each participant was given very specific instructions on how to perform the visualization. Essentially, between sets, they were “taught” to vividly imagine the exercise movement and the muscle contractions generated from each rep.

The study found that after 12 workout sessions, the mental imagery group had significantly increased their strength more than the control group, especially on the leg press.


As a result, the researchers concluded:

“The results provided evidence that mental imagery did contribute to improve strength of the leg muscles without any macroscopic structural change”

In plain English, what this means is that because there was no “physical” change in muscle size (or other physiological measures), the strength improvements were mentally induced.

Now just so you know…

You can get stronger without seeing a concurrent increase in muscle size. This is due to neuromuscular adaptations, which essentially means that your nervous system is “learning” how to generate more strength.

For instance, you can become stronger as a function of having more motor units (the nerve and muscle fibers it supplies) become active during contraction. This is like hiring more workers to lift a given load. Imagine how much easier it would be to have 10 people lifting a car instead of just 3 or 4.

Make sense?

And that’s one of the areas where mental imagery can come into play. By visualizing a specific lift or movement you can teach your body to recruit more muscle and generate more force, all in the comfort of your own mind.

This has been known for a long time in high performance athletics where top-level athletes have mastered the art (and science) of seeing themselves execute their event with perfection even before doing anything physically! Think of Olympic divers, ski jumpers, and many others.

Scientists have even shown similar EMG activity (aka. the electrical activity produced by muscles) between visualizing an event and actually doing it physically! That’s because the brain cannot tell the difference between something it vividly imagines and something it actually experiences.


So if you want to get more out of your workouts, then try taking a moment or two before each set and see yourself performing each repetition (or movement) with ease and perfection! You’ll be amazed at how much stronger you feel.

Want more “mindset” tricks used by the world fittest people?

CLICK HERE to discover their secrets!

Reference :

Benefits of Motor Imagery Training on Muscle Strength, Lebon F, et al, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24:6, 1680-1687, 2010

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