Mental rehearsal, like visualisation and imagery, are common terms in elite sport. What do they mean? Are they worthwhile? And should you include them in your day-to-day practice?
Rehearsal is imagining an event or moment. Picture yourself performing well. But don’t make your performance perfect. Make the re-creation accurate. If you’re squatting heavy, feel the bar’s pressure. Settle the butterflies in your tummy.
Mental rehearsal helps to:
- Build confidence
- Reduce anxiety
- Improve the efficiency of motor patterns
It works because the brain can’t tell the difference between something you’re doing or something you’re imagining.
It can be used to practice gym lifts or public speaking. The application of mental rehearsal is limited only by your imagination.
Increased training time
Quality practice leads to success. The more practice the better. Mental rehearsal bypasses the hurdles that limit how much you can practice. Things like:
- Commitments, such as family, friends and work
- The need to rest and recover
- Lack of appropriate equipment
- Poor training conditions, like bad weather
Nerves sharpen the senses but too much anxiety can hinder performance. Mental imagery helps build comfort through familiarity. When it’s time to do the ‘real thing’ you’ve already done it a hundred times. It’ll be like brushing your teeth.
Your goal is to squat 200kg. Your training program calls for squatting four times a week. In addition, you mentally rehearse the lift each morning and evening (fourteen sessions). Therefore you train the squat, in some form, eighteen times a week instead of only four.
What does it look like?
Create a mental image of the squat rack and the bar loaded up to 200kg. Picture the entire process taking place as vividly as possible – the set-up, unracking the bar and squatting.
Keep it realistic. When executing the movement, in your head, re-create the struggle and effort. Try starting from the warm-up and feel the session become harder.
Beginning mental imagery can be a frustrating process. How do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you know if it’s having any effect?
It’s difficult to evaluate the success of mental imagery. Changes to performance and your confidence are good indicators. Be patient. Don’t give up after a few attempts. Also, the practice shouldn’t take hours out of your week. A few minutes a day will suffice.
You must commit long-term to see the benefits of mental imagery. Start with a three-month block. This gives you enough time to improve your imagination skills. Also, it allows for the brain to develop more effective motor pathways for your chosen task.
What are your thoughts on mental rehearsal? Have you used it? Did you find it effective? Leave a comment below.