The body of knowledge
Research shows that if you imagine yourself performing any sports skill, this causes electromyographical (emg) activity in the musculature resembling that which would occur during the physical execution of the skill(3). For example, if you were to imagine yourself flexing your left arm from the elbow joint, it would be possible to monitor activity in the biceps muscles even though no physical movement occurs(4). However, the pattern of activation during imagery does not match precisely the pattern of EMG recorded during actual movement.
Despite differences in the pattern of activation, imagery has the effect of priming muscles for subsequent physical action, and this clearly has potential benefits for the performance of many sports skills. It is also evident that the neural impulses passed from the brain to the muscular system during imagery may be retained in memory almost as if the movement had actually occurred(2). The implication of this is that physical skills may be improved even during periods of injury when physical practice is not possible. Moreover, there is growing evidence to suggest that a combination of imagery and relaxation can accelerate the rehabilitation process following injury or surgery(5).
It has been suggested that visual-internal imagery (the ‘headcam perspective’) comes naturally to us because it represents how we normally experience the world. This means that external imagery often has the potential to add something new. For example, researchers have shown that a visual-external kinaesthetic perspective (ie seeing yourself from a distance and feeling movement) is superior for learning and retention of new sports skills, especially those that are technically complex such as throwing events in athletics, ice dance routines or gymnastics sequences(6).
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that visual-internal imagery tends to aid the kinaesthetic sensations to a greater degree than visual-external imagery(7). Given that it can elicit greater bodily activation, the implication is that an internal perspective is superior when you wish to psych up or prime yourself for competition. Both internal and external perspectives have their merits and you should aim to combine all of the senses for maximum effect.
An experiment we conducted at Brunel using task-relevant imagery prior to an isometric muscular endurance task showed that imagery combined with motivational music was more effective than using imagery only, music only, or a no-imagery/music control condition (8). Carefully selected music complements imagery via the extra-musical associations it creates or through evoking positive memories that facilitate performance(9).
Imagery establishes a mental blueprint for sports skills and tactical ploys(10). Indeed, a popular acronym used by sport psychologists is ‘Wysiwyg’(11) which stands for What You See Is What You Get. Research has shown repeatedly that task-relevant imagery (eg mental practice) combined with physical practice is more effective than physical practice alone(2). Moreover, mental practice conducted in a hypnotic trance is far more lifelike and intense than conventional mental practice(12).
Imagery techniques for you and your athletes
Learning skills – one of the best uses of imagery comes during the learning or honing of a sports skill. The more images that can be used to replace verbal explanation or reasoning in learning, the more simply and effectively techniques will be mastered, and the faster learning will progress. Whether you are in the position of teacher or learner, imagery has a significant part to play in communicating and understanding skills. If you can capture the heart of a skill in a simple image, practice is made far less arduous.
This is great stuff. Do those numbers correspond to references? Id love to read more
ive been doing more research but here are some references from books mostly J Psychophysiology 2004; 18:190-198
2. Advances in Sport Psychology (2nd ed), Champaign IL: Human Kinetics, 2002:405-439
3. Motor Control and Learning, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999
4. J Sport Exerc Psych 2002; 24:151-167
5. Rehabilitation Psych 46:28-43
6. Brit J Psych 86: 169-180
7. Percept Mot Skills 1984;59:899-906
8. Proceedings of the 2001 World Congress on Sport Psychology, Skiathos, Greece 2001; 4:37-39
9. Aus J Psych; in press
10. J Applied Psych 1994;79:481-492
11. Ultra-fit 6:30-33.
12. Sport Hypnosis, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000
I am a proponent of guided imagery and hypnosis for health and wellneing so I'm glad to see it being applied to sport as well. I would note however that imagery is not hypnosis per se. Are there studies comparing hypnosis to relaxation or waking imagery? This is the big question we've been struggling with in clinical psych too. Is hypnosis necessary or do nonhypnotic uses of imagination work just as well? The studies are coming out now for pain depression and problems like that. I love your explanation of the ideomotor effect. Glad to find a fellow student of mental discipline here on the forums.
How about this? Let me see a study (video or otherwise) of someone having a major surgery done with only hypnosis instead of anesthesia. If I can see this in a controlled environment, I'd be likely to believe you, but when it comes down to it, the human body naturally reacts to blood loss and damage. While pain might be relative to the person, damage and blood loss are the same across a wide spectrum.
The level of pain someone "reports" to feel is relative, once again, so a study based on this is dubious at best. It's like chiropractors claiming that true believers in their art can recover from most illness and injury through their art, while the only true impact chiropractic medicine has had has been run of the mill physical therapy.
Regardless of the "evidence" you've suggested, I've yet to see proof of this phenomenom, just a lot of "this might be the case" studies.
If you see my earlier post there are randomized controlled trials showing the efficacy of hypnosis for pain. Pain is measured differently in different studies. There are well-documented cases of surgeries and dental work using hypnosis as a sole anesthesia. The question is more about what actually is causing the effect (e.g. concentration distraction relaxation trance-state)