Improve Performance With Imagery

Imagery is an excellent mental strategy for shaping future athletic successes.

Imagery is an excellent mental strategy for shaping future athletic successes.

Think to yourself, “My stride feels effortless, my legs are on fire but it’s a good burn, I’m working hard but am capable of hanging on. My breathing is loud but is nothing compared to the screaming crowds urging me on to the finish line. There it is, 10 feet away, my PR. I cross the line with a yell, my hands in the air in victory.”

Imagery is an excellent mental strategy for shaping future athletic successes. Many athletes find imagery helpful in evaluating performance, practicing new skills and finding areas for improvement. Imagery can even simulate the conditions of your “A” race of the season. You can imagine the course, weather, crowds and competitors, allowing you to mentally practice competing against a specific opponent—be it a person or Heartbreak Hill—while physically rehearsing your nutrition strategy and refining your weaker skills such as sloppy arms when fatigue hits.

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Neuromuscular theory proposes that visualizations can affect your nervous system in similar ways as the actual experience. The brain interprets the movements you imagine, exciting the same muscle patterns used as if you were actually performing a skill or competing, but without the fatigue.

The key to using imagery is to make your image as vivid as possible. Create an experience by writing down as much as you can remember, using as many of your senses as possible to envision the weather or terrain, for example.

Recall bits and pieces of these experiences throughout your day whenever you have a moment, especially in times when you are thinking about your training or competition with anxiety or negativity.

Fix the positive image in your mind just prior to going to sleep. This will keep it fresh in your mind and, possibly allow it to absorb into your subconscious as you dream.

Imagery is a valuable yet often overlooked tool for any athlete, and because you can use it anywhere at any time, the possibilities are endless.


1. Builds confidence: Visualize success in your training or racing and you can subconsciously improve your belief in your abilities.

2. Controls emotions: If anxiety begins to creep in, imagine yourself being calm and confident. If you’re feeling fatigued, see yourself as powerful and courageous to pump yourself up.

3. Improves skill: Practice form and sports skills without physical impact and your brain will trigger the same muscle patterns as if you were actually performing the skill.

4. Helps cope with injury: Studies show imagining the healing of an injured area can speed recovery. Also using imagery to practice workouts can help prevent skills from deteriorating during injury.

5. Resolves plateaus: When your performance is lagging or you have hit a plateau, imagery can help you compare a current failure to a more successful past performance to find out what went awry.

About The Author:

Meghan Kennihan is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She lives just outside of Chicago.