Visualization: More than just “visual”

Many of you have probably heard about the experiment with the basketball players shooting free throws. One group of shooters physically practiced while the 2nd group only mentally practiced (visualized.)  The mental group had almost the same amount of improvement as the physical group without ever actually shooting a ball throughout the experiment.

What about this one:

“In my meetings with the Soviet researchers in Milan, they discussed government funded athletic programs that integrate sophisticated mental training and rigorous physical training. One study evaluating these intensive programs suggests their potential. Four matched groups of world-class Soviet athletes diligently trained for many hours each week. The training regimens were as follows:

Group I – 100% physical training

Group II – 75% physical training, 25% mental training

Group III – 50% physical training, 50% mental training

Group IV – 25% physical training, 75% mental training

When the four groups were compared shortly before the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, Group IV had shown significantly greater improvement than Group III, with Groups II and I following, in that order.”


There is strong evidence that visualizing can have huge impact on physical execution on a sport or skill.

Visualizing refers to “visuals.” However, the proper mental training includes more than just vision. To make your mental game tougher, consider using all of the senses to make the impact more powerful. Practice vision, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and kinesthetic (using your sense of touch to feel tactile sensations and proprioceptives of the movement.)

Here is some practice, courtesy of Logan Christopher:

A Simple Visualization Drill: Barbell Snatch

  1. Pick an exercise to perform in your mind and close your eyes.
  2. See the barbell in front of you. Notice the gym setting around you. Do you see other people in the gym? How bright is the image? How big is it? Is it a series of still images or do you have a movie playing? Are you seeing yourself in the picture or are you there now as it if were really happening?
  3. What sounds do you hear? Is music playing? Is there the clanking of weights around you? People talking or grunting? Are you talking to yourself?
  4. What is your emotional state as you look at the barbell? How does chalk feel in your hands? Go ahead and grasp the bar and get into a ready position. Then pull and notice how it feels as you get the bar overhead and stand up with it.
  5. Did you notice any smells or tastes as you went through this process? (These aren’t necessary but can be powerful if you include them.)

Consider practicing “mental rehearsal” nearly as often as you practice a physical skill. It will get easier with repetition, just like a physical movement.



Christopher, Logan. “The History, Science and How-to of Visualization.” Breaking Muscle. <>

Leave a Reply