Fascinating new research published in the Journal of Neurophysiology has found that muscle and strength can be maintained simply by visualizing the muscle strain that occurs during exercise.
Many people spend countless hours each week in the gym working out to achieve a desired level of physical fitness and body shape. We all know physical training works, and now we have evidence that our hard-earned ‘gains’ achieved in the gym can be maintained using our imaginations.
The study, which was conducted at Ohio University, was performed to test the hypothesis that the nervous system is a critical factor in the development and maintenance of muscle and strength. Researchers divided volunteers into two groups and immobilized their wrists in casts for four weeks. One of the groups performed visualization exercises in which they imagined “strong muscle contractions” 5 days a week and the other did not. As the scientists discovered, the group that mentally trained using the guided mental workouts retained 50% more strength than the group who did not imagine the strong muscle contractions. Restated, those who performed the mental workouts lost 50% less strength than the groups that did not.
While the group that wore the casts without the mental training had to go through the regular process of strengthening the muscles, tendons and ligaments of that hand wrist and forearm after the cast was removed, the rehabilitation process for those who participated in the mental workouts was significantly less.
The practical implications of this research apply to athletes as well as anybody who breaks a bone and is forced to immobilize a body part for a period of time, and include a new method to decrease the recovery time from an injury.