Think Yourself Stronger
Competitive athletes often use a technique called visualization to help give them an edge over their opponents.
By imagining every aspect of a race or performance, from start to finish, they bring themselves one step closer to making it a reality. New research suggests this same technique may apply to strengthening muscles as well.
''Just thinking about exercise can help maintain muscle strength,'' says Dr. Vinoth Ranganathan, who, with a team of researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, investigated the strength benefits of imagining exercising a muscle.
Thirty healthy young adults were divided into three groups. For 15 minutes a day, five days per week for 12 weeks, the first group imagined exercising their little finger muscle, the second group imagined exercising their biceps muscle and the third group served as a control by not doing any imaginary exercise.
''We asked the subjects to think as strongly as they could about moving the muscle being tested, to make the imaginary movement as real as they could,'' explains Ranganathan.
Muscle strength was measured before, during and after the training sessions.
The finger exercisers increased their strength 35 percent, while the biceps group increased 13.4 percent. Measurements of the participants' brain activity during their mental exercises suggest that these strength gains were due to improvements in the brain's ability to signal muscle.
Researchers hope these results will assist in the therapy of stroke and spinal cord injury patients, and follow-up studies are planned for healthy older adults as well.
''We believe that anyone who has difficulty doing physical exercises can use our mental training method to improve the muscle strength they have lost or maintain the muscle strength they have,'' researchers wrote.
Of course, actual strength-training exercises — as opposed to imaginary ones – are still the most effective means of building strong, healthy muscles.
Source: Annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, November 11, 2001, San Diego, Calif.
This appeared in ACE FitnessMatters, ACE's official magazine.
Click here to order your subscription today.
for ACE's FREE e-newsletter for fitness enthusiasts.