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Is Visualization the Key to Greater Gains?

Can you use your mind to trick your body into thinking it has exercised?

Research has found that there is a powerful mind-body connection that you can use to your advantage to achieve your ideal body. Using a technique called "visualization," you can use your mind to tell your body how to increase muscle mass.

Gaining muscle mass while losing fat can be difficult for many people. However, gaining muscle is possible if you “put your mind to it," so to speak. Visualization has become increasingly popular over the past few decades, and even world-famous, successful, professional athletes such as Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus use visualization. Muhammad Ali has said he used various mental exercises, including visualization, affirmation, mental rehearsal, and self-confirmation.

This method of mental practice can be described as using meticulous, sharp images from your memory, often of entire exercise drills, to perform a mental practice session, going through entire workouts in your mind. This meditative technique used by celebrities, professional athletes, and the average Joe, can help with relaxation, heightened performance, and the ability to reach specific goals.

But does that work? Can you really trick your body into thinking it has worked out?

Some research says yes, you can.

New studies suggest that psychological practices may be nearly as efficient as actual physical exercises. One study, conducted by exercise psychologist Guang Yue at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, compared people who exercise to participants who only did mental training. The group of individuals who participated in actual physical exercise saw a 30% increase in muscle mass, and the individuals who performed exercises only in their minds showed a 13.5% increase in muscle mass and this increase was still seen three months after the mental training. Researchers that have performed these studies concluded that the mental training the participants used enhanced the cortical output signal, which fired up the muscles to a greater activation level and boosted strength.

Studies of the human brain have revealed how visualization works and why it is effective. These studies have discovered that your thoughts yield equivalent cognitive directions as your actions do, meaning mental visualization influences a plethora of cognitive mechanisms in your noggin, such as attention, perception, planning, motor control, and memory. Visualization is your brain prepping your body for what it is about to do.

Research has found that these mental practices can boost your motivation and confidence, enhance your proficiency, and increase your motor skills and performance. The mind-body connection has been long-studied and proven to help cultivate promising results in many aspects of life, not just in regards to physical activity.

How can you use visualization to reach your fitness and wellness goals? Here are some ways to use the connection between your thinking and your body’s behavior.

In the evening or early morning (right before you nod off or just after you wake up), in a quiet, well-lit room, sit on the floor with your spine straight and eyes closed and think of your ideal body with a detailed mental snapshot. Really think of a distinct, vivid picture of every detail. Picture not only your ideal physique but your surroundings and emotions as well. Engage all of your senses. For example, imagine what you might hear, smell, or feel and cast away any doubtful thoughts that might get in the way of you achieving your ideal body. Repeat a mantra, such as “I will create my ideal physique." Conjure up images of the fat melting off of your body and turning into usable energy. Imagine how your muscles would feel if you touched them. Picture things you’ll want to do in the future with your new, healthier body. Imagine you’re pulling that ideal image towards yourself with a magnet. Imagine that the image of your future ideal self is you in the present moment.

Personal success stories tout visualization’s ability to reduce cravings for sugar and “junk food”, reduce appetite overall, increase energy levels, improve quality and duration of sleep, and change entire relationships with food.

[Image via Getty]

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