The Psychology of a Max Effort Attempt

Posted February 10, 2011 in Exercise Technique, Motivation, Research 5 Comments »

The technique of using visualization in sports training has become increasingly popular in recent years. While some people may question its effectiveness, research has found visualization can be quite successful.

A study conducted by Guang Yue, a psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation, found that non-professional people gained 13.5 percent muscle strength just by carrying out mental exercises. Luckily, you don’t have to earn a psychology degree to understand or practice visualization; read on to learn how you can use this technique to psych yourself up to hit the gym and set a new personal record.

How to Use Imagery and Visualization

Over the years, many professional sportsmen have made use of visualization to achieve great success. For example, world champion golfer Jack Nicklaus, states that he never fires a shot, even while in practice, until he visualizes it clearly in his head. Muhammad Ali is also known to have used varying mental exercises to help improve his performance.

The use of self-confirmation, visualization and mental rehearsal manufacture the same mental directives as actual actions. This means mental images have the same bearing on the cognitive (thinking, motor control or perception) processes of the brain as carrying out the activity physically.

Visualization in History

Imagery has long been an integral part of many of the world’s cultures and religions. Navajo Indians made use of imagery in which people were instructed to “see” themselves as healthy. Aristotle and Hippocrates believed that a powerful image of illness was sufficient to cause symptoms of that particular disease.

Followers of the Buddhist religion believe in using imagery to lead healthy lives. Even Steven Covey, the author of “Seven Habits of the Most Effective People,” hints that people are capable of using the right hemisphere of the brain to view things positively and become more harmonious with their inner selves.

Why Visualization Works

Dr. David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, claims visualization works because the technique is about “a naturally occurring state of concentration.” Thus, when athletes use visualization techniques, they feel more in control of their minds and bodies, which in turn helps them clear their heads of external pressures or negative thoughts like “I can’t do it.” Besides providing athletes with more control, mental training and visualization also allow them to release stress and nervousness.

How You Can Practice Visualization

Practicing visualization is a very simple process. To do so, just sit in a comfortable spot and relax while allowing the imagination to make a sharp image, or idea or goal. Try using as many senses as possible.

For example, if you want to psych yourself up to hitting a new personal record at the gym, envision sweating while exercising. Think of how you will feel when you achieve your goal – happy, excited, etc. The clearer your visualization is, the greater chance you have at achieving your goal.

Continue to practice visualizing your goal on a daily basis, twice a day for about ten minutes. Another visualization technique is to have a clear image of your goal for about 17 seconds, three times a day. The 17 second undisturbed image is equal to hours of physical labor.

Finally, it is important to be as positive as possible when practicing visualization, as you will be far more effective with a good attitude.

Ultimately, visualization can be used in any aspect of one’s life. Success in personal relationships, financial wealth, the perfect job, freedom from disease or the perfect body can all be achieved through visualization. Therefore, if you need a little extra inspiration when attempting to achieve your news years resolutions, simply visualize your goals, and the rest will happen naturally.

Remember, the more your practice this technique the better you will get at it, you may even end up setting a new personal record the next time you go to the gym.

About the Author

Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. Wandering the weird world of internet marketing by day, in her spare time she strives to put her understanding of the mind to use in the pursuit of total health.

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5 Responses to “The Psychology of a Max Effort Attempt”

  1. I do think people visualize negative scenarios more; it’s more powerful but also more difficult to visualize positive scenarios.

  2. Do people visualize failure scenarios more? I find that to be a common problem around me & my friends, guess a more positive mindset is needed to make the most out of this technique. 🙂

  3. Visualization is something I have been teaching my clients for a long time. So many people don’t realize the power the mind has over the body during physical activity. Great post, Allison.

  4. Visualization is a great tool. I don’t use it nearly enough, but when I do, there is a serious improvement in whatever I’m doing. Visualizing that deadlift, squat, or benchpress is a sure way to push the boundaries.

  5. Very intriguing. I visualize mentally how I am going to practice my form before engaging on the exercise. Never thought it would improve results.

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