Maximizing Strength Training with Visualization

Visualization is the process of creating pictures in your mind of yourself performing the way you want to perform. You create a mental image of yourself successfully executing the task you are attempting (Mack, 2001). With over 30 weightlifting competitions under my belt, including 6 at the international olympic level, I've come to rely heavily on visualization as a cornerstone of my training. In the world of weightlifting, visualization takes on myriad forms: from the focused self-talk to the raw aggression expressed through primal screams or physical gestures, and even the tactile imitation of crucial phases of a lift. It's intriguing how we all seem to gravitate towards similar techniques with slight personal variations. But what makes visualization so indispensable to athletes?

Repetition Reigns Supreme

In the journal article Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise, McGowan delves into visualization techniques such as cue words, attentional focus, and preparatory arousal, also known as "psyching-up" (McGowan, 2001). These techniques serve to sharpen an athlete's focus and bolster their self-confidence. But how does this translate to the everyday gym-goer?

Imagine a scenario: you, a powerlifter, gearing up for a pivotal test week or meet after enduring a grueling training block. In the buildup to the event, integrating visualization into your routine becomes paramount. Picture yourself executing your top set of Squat, Bench, or Deadlift: from the meticulous chalk-up routine to the precise execution of each lift at the desired RPE. This mental rehearsal instills a sense of deliberate execution, laying the groundwork for mastery. Mastery, in this context, entails visualizing and executing a movement so seamlessly that it appears effortless.

Athletes and Visualization

Dr. Biasatto from the University of Chicago conducted a basketball experiment where players were split into three groups: one practiced shooting daily, another visualized the practice, and the third did neither (Engelbrecht, 2022). After 30 days, Group 1 improved by 24%, Group 2 by 23%, and Group 3 showed no improvement. Remarkably, the group that visualized the practice nearly matched the improvement of the daily practice group (Engelbrecht, 2022). Engelbrecht further mentions how athletes such as Michael Phelps, Alex Honnold, Anthony Joshua, and Olympic world record holder David Hemery have all used visualization in various sports. “You will notice that all these visualizations focus on the process and not necessarily the outcome. The athletes were much more focussed on putting their thoughts and energies into what was fully within their own control and did not overemphasize the final result,” Engelbrecht states  (Engelbrecht, 2022).

Real-World Application

Reflecting on my recent participation in the IWF Thailand Cup in Phuket, I incorporated a fusion of visualization techniques to enhance my performance. Self-visualization involved mentally rehearsing every minute aspect of my body's movements, ensuring each body part was primed and ready for action, as Bali suggested (Bali, 2015). Preparatory arousal, marked by a deliberate-forced exhale, enabled me to maintain focus and intensity. Lastly, self-talk served as a final mental checklist, reinforcing key cues moments before each lift.

See the recap here for context.

Navigating the Challenges of Visualization

Despite meticulous mental preparation, it's essential to acknowledge that visualization doesn't guarantee success. Just as in life, setbacks and failures are inevitable in sports. However, it's through these trials that the true value of visualization is unveiled. The journey to mastering the perfect rep is both exhilarating and lifelong, irrespective of one's aspirations in the sport. The beauty of visualization lies in its versatility; it extends beyond the confines of sports, enriching various aspects of life and fostering personal growth and resilience.

In Conclusion: Embrace the Power of Visualization

Visualization isn't a magic bullet for success; rather, it's a potent tool that, when wielded purposefully, can unlock boundless potential and propel you to new heights. Whether you're vying for Olympic glory or simply seeking personal improvement, integrating visualization into your training regimen can yield profound benefits. The ability to visualize traverses both sport and day-day life. So, I encourage you to embrace the dedication required, witness the transformative effects it can have on your performance, and experience the positive ripple effects in all facets of your life. 

About the Author:

Vuyani Mashego is a Strength Coach at Desert Barbell Strength Gym specializing in Weightlifting. Hailing from South Africa, he has spent the past decade competing in all forms of weightlifting, Crossfit, Functional Training, and Physique modeling. He teaches entry-level, intermediate, as well as competitive weightlifting. His keen eye for improving technique and his background in Psychology make him an empowering sounding board.

Back to blog