Can Visualization Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals?

The difference between a good workout and a great one may be all in your mind. That's because using visualization techniques can help you reach your fitness goals. 

What is visualization?  Visualization is the practice of using your brainpower and imagination to create specific mental pictures of goals you want to achieve. Then, you work towards those goals with their successful achievement already firmly planted in your mind.

Visualization has become popular lately through self-help literature, but has been common practice in the fitness industry for decades. In fact, sports legends and athletes use visualization all the time and swear it works. Tiger Woods is reported to imagine the ball dropping into the hole before he makes his shot.  Basketball players "see" the ball swooshing through the hoop before it leaves their hands. Runners visualize themselves crossing the finish line before they take their first step.  It's not just a one-time vision, though.  The best athletes visualize their success over and over again.  They practice the shot in their mind, cementing every detail in place, seeing it from every angle until they've created the perfect image. 

Why does visualization work?  Because it trains your mind to expect success.

Our brain is the most powerful organ in our body, in charge of all the muscles, nerves and training techniques we try to master to achieve fitness goals. It only makes sense to train our brain the same way we train the body. Of course, if you visualize failure, your mind will work to meet those expectations too. That's why visualization techniques emphasize positive imagery.

How do you do it? 

1) Determine your fitness goal. Be as specific as you can.  Say, for example, you want to complete your first marathon. 

2) Use props. Cut pictures of runners, marathon winners and finish lines out of magazines. Snap pictures of yourself in your running clothes, the route where you'll complete your marathon and any other images that will help you paint a full picture of you achieving your goal. Place these pictures where you'll see them often.

3) Create your mental picture. Using the imagery above, imagine yourself stepping over the finish line. Add as much detail as you can.  Imagine your happiness and relief, your feet hitting the pavement, the breeze cooling your sweat, and your friends and family cheering you on. 

4) Practice. Before every training session, spend a few minutes visualizing your goal. Close your eyes and let the image you've created play out in your mind.  If you accidentally visualize yourself stumbling, don't kick yourself. Just redirect your mind and imagine getting back up and back on track. Finish each visualization session with the image of crossing the finish line.

5) Create an action plan. Formulate one that helps you achieve your goal. If your dream seems too big, cut it down to size. Create smaller incremental goals and corresponding visualizations. For example, visualize running a mile.  See yourself running lap after lap on the track. Then plan a training schedule to bring you closer to that goal. Once you've mastered that, visualize bigger goals. Keep running toward your dreams until they all come true.