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Should I use mental imagery and visualization for bodybuilding?

ironmanmagazine.comQ: What’s your opinion of mental imagery and visualization for bodybuilding? Some athletes use those methods to help with sports performance, but what about for building muscle?

A: Those are two different things. Visualization is basically a form of escapism; for example, simply visualizing larger quads and a smaller waist doesn’t do anything to change the fact that someone has chicken legs and a beer gut. If you want to learn more about why you should not waste your time learning about the power of visualization and a lot of other self-help nonsense, check out 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute by Richard Wiseman, Ph.D. (New York: Vintage, 2010, paperback)

In contrast, mental imagery is a practical tool that can help you lift heavier weights and therefore build more muscle. Imagery is the use of the senses to recreate a physical experience in the mind. One study found that college athletes who performed mental imagery before strength training handled more weight in a leg press exercise than they had done before without imagery.

Obviously, it’s not practical to visualize every exercise in real time. Go over your workout in your mind from lift to lift before hitting the gym. Take a few extra minutes to imagine your most challenging lifts or the personal records you plan to break—and use task-related cues such as “knees out” or “chest up” when squatting.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit Also, see his ad on the opposite page .   IM

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