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Mental Warmups: Visualizing Workouts and Tasks

Soldiers in the Master Fitness Trainer Course step across Prichard Field June 5 as part of a warmup before physical readiness training. (Photo: Ms. Marie Berberea (TRADOC))
Soldiers in the Master Fitness Trainer Course step across Prichard Field June 5 as part of a warmup before physical readiness training. (Photo: Ms. Marie Berberea (TRADOC))

As stated in a previous article, many of us skip a warmup prior to a workout, or shorten it due to lack of time. But, it can be easily accomplished if you give yourself an extra 5-10 minutes. Another great benefit to the warmup is that you actually can also warm up the mind as well. This is important especially if what you are doing requires skilled techniques that you have practiced many times to perfect or you know what you are going to be doing will be challenging and require mental toughness. Getting the mind ready for these type of events is critical.

Few athletes give much thought to the idea of getting mentally ready before their work out. But getting mentally focused during your physical warmup is a great use of time. It gives you a chance to start thinking about what you are going to do and how you are going to do it - time to strategize.

Scientific studies prove that the “mental warmup” actually does work. In the sports world, they are actually called visualization techniques and they are taught by team sports psychologists. In the military, these visualizations are detailed in mission planning, dry runs, or what we called “dirt dives." These are moments where you go through all the details in your head concerning every phase of the mission.

The Strength of Visualization Training

Another favorite study involves basketball free throws with three randomly selected groups:

1. Mental Practice — This group only imagined shooting free throws before shooting them.

2. Physical Practice — This group practiced free throws.

3. Control — This group did nothing before shooting them.

The results demonstrate the power of the mind. The group that just thought about free throws were 23% better at shooting free throws. The group that practiced had a 24% improvement in shooting free throws. And the group that did nothing obviously saw no improvement.

If you need more proof of the power of the brain eliciting a physiological response, try imagining someone bursting into your home and placing a loved one at gunpoint. The brain can quickly cause a chemical reaction and tell the adrenal glands to dispense adrenaline to cause our heart to beat faster and put us in a fight-or-flight response. This can be done just by thinking about it. This same thinking process can get your mind and body ready for whatever task it has in front of it.

Ways to Add Visualization

Prior to your workout, perhaps during your drive over to the gym or during the actual warmup, think about the lifts, the runs, the swims, you are going to do. Any little technique issue that you know you have to get right in order to not hurt yourself, or perform better, is what you should go over several times in your head. These technique-thinking drills can be even effective if you add in as many senses as you can. Think about the smell, sounds, feeling, even the taste of what you are going to do.

For instance, if you are preparing for a max set of pullups to pass a fitness test, you may want to think about the taste of the sip of water you had right before you jump on the bar. Feel the floor against your feet and hear the sound it makes pushing off the floor. Then imagine jumping and grabbing the bar. Think about how the bar and tape feels while you are hanging from the bar. Listen to the plates of the weight room clanging together and people talking, music in the background. Start doing pullups in your head. Feel your biceps and lats flexing as you pull your chin over the bar. Feel your shoulders and arms stretching as you go into the down position. Notice your breathing increasing as you count 18, 19, 20 pullups. See yourself hitting your goal number of pullups for the test. Finally, in your head, shake it off and high-five your buddy. Remember how achieving your goal feels. This is now your performance state. You are ready to test! Get after it! Call up a performance cue and now go do it.

Highly successful athletes do this and many professional teams have full time sports psychologists on their payroll for this very reason — teaching athletes how to think, mission plan, dirt dive — whatever you want to call it — before an important event.

Related Study on Increasing Strength by 35% with Visualization Only

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