Proper training and nutrition are absolute essentials for achieving your fitness goal of a svelte, strong body. But you can reach your goal much more quickly by adding a mental component known as “sports imagery.” Depending on the goal, sports imagery asks the athlete to be aware of as many of her senses as necessary, while mentally rehearsing an intricate script that may include a broad number of variables. It is considered a “sensorimotor” experience — you connect to your awareness of the conditions around you, to your emotions and your psychological self, to the motion of the muscles as they move through a situation or task and to your goals, present and future. Imagery scripts can be complex or relatively basic; it depends on your needs.
The results of image scripts can be improved performance, speedier growth and change, and improved confidence in your abilities. Sport consultant Jim Taylor, Ph.D., an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco and an expert in the psychology of performance who has worked with the Japanese and U.S. ski teams, U.S. Tennis Association and USA Triathlon, explains, “For athletes, the main benefit is skill development and preparing to give your best effort. With an Oxygen reader, the script can motivate you to give your best effort when you begin a set. It can also help prepare you for creating good technique for completing a complex exercise. The greater the effort and best form result in greater gains, which generate further incentive to achieve your fitness goals.” Sounds like a vicious cycle worth the effort.
However, there is a big caveat. Says Taylor, “The benefits of imagery come from commitment and consistency.” He stresses that you need motivation and incentive. A growing number of athletes are using sports imagery in part because, he says, they “may have more tangible incentives” than everyday folks. Ultimately, you need to generate the drive to maintain sports-imagery practice, creating your own “tangible incentive.” One way, suggests Taylor, is to “see the kind of body you want,” your finished physique, whether you’re wearing your training outfit, your little black dress, your swimsuit or whatever inspires you.
Bottom line, in the words of Nike’s earliest advertising slogan: Just do it … to which we add “regularly.” Always give your best effort — when you rehearse your image script and when you hit a workout.
How to Create a Training Imagery Script
• Choose the skill, for example, completing 10 reps of a squat. Before you begin the scripting process, consider, “What do I want to accomplish here? What do I need to do to accomplish that?”
• Take several deep breaths to relax.
• Engage in the skill, the exercise. Be aware of what’s taking place. A gym can be very distracting. You may feel very self-conscious.
• In your script, block out all of the gym’s distractions. Focus on a specific technical goal such as doing a squat for 10 reps. Concentrate on proper form: moving your hips rearward at the start of a rep, keeping the hips under the torso, knees behind the toes. Or imagine what it might feel like when you reach the seventh rep and your quads start hurting. Imagine yourself reaching this point and telling yourself, “Come on, bring it on” for the last three reps. It’s always those last three reps that make a difference. And of course, you can combine both the technical and motivational aspects into your script. (You can use this technique during your actual training as well.)
• Use this basic approach and practice it to build assorted scripts that will aid your development. Says Taylor, “The more you practice, the more that imagery allows you to connect your effort with your goal, and only by putting in a great effort can you achieve the goal, whether a new level of strength or a change in your physique. Remember, challenging yourself to reach the goal — say, those 10 reps of the squat — will produce affirmation and inspiration, which will motivate you to continue to work hard toward your fitness goals.”
Created exclusively for Oxygen by Jim Taylor, Ph.D.