T Nation

Bodybuilding Without Ever Getting Off the Couch!

I’m reading this book called the brain that changes itself… It’s basically a book about brain plasticity and how the theories of brain plasticity evolved and helped people. Either way in one chapter they sited a study that I thought was very interesting.

A study was done on the power of imagination and practicing physical activities in your mind to improve the brains motor neurons.

2 groups of people were used, one was required to do strength training exercises for 4 weeks, and another group was required ONLY to imagine they were exercising and imagine someone was yelling “harder! harder!” as they imaginary worked out.

The group that actually did the physical activity had a strength increase of 30%, the group that only imagined the physical activity had a strength increase of 22%.

Here is a quote from the book:
"During these imaginary contractions, the neurons responsible for stringing together sequences of instructions for movements are activated and strengthened, resulting in increased strength when muscles are contracted.

This got me thinking, if while resting we began to imagine lifting weights and exercised the motor neurons responsible for recruiting muscle activation we could become stronger, therefor increasing our capacity to lift heavier and make gains faster and inducing more hypertrophy.

Here is a link that discusses the study! Curious to hear your thoughts on the matter. I for one have started imagining I’m lifting while driving and watching tv, it requires a lot of focus but definitely interested in seeing what results I get.

http://jn.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/67/5/1114

Edit: I’m also curious what would happen if trained athletes were asked to do these mental exercises, if they would have the same improvements, greater, or less because they already have strong neurons which are already extremely efficient?

More skilled individuals get better results from mental practice than less skilled individuals do.

Mental practice is not as effective as physical practice.

Some popular brain books overstate the effects of visualization and mental practice: “Your brain cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined!” Oh yes it can. SOME neural circuits fire similarly in mental practice as in the physical movement, but it’s a huge overgeneralized leap of faulty logic to assume ALL neural circuits fire the same. They don’t.

Also notice that this study strengthens the muscles of the finger in simple movement pattern. Fingers and hand have their own brain areas that are MUCH larger in proportion to their small size than other body parts and muscles have. (Google Image search “homunculus.”) Each finger has its own little area of motor cortex. A complicated motor pattern of many large and small muscles, like the squat, is unlikely to be strengthened as much by mental practice, because it does not have its own little dedicated brain area already built in.

Tom Platz used hypnosis to build pain tolerance.

[quote]andersons wrote:
More skilled individuals get better results from mental practice than less skilled individuals do.
[/quote]
Skilled at what? Visualization or the task at hand??

[quote]
Mental practice is not as effective as physical practice.[/quote]

Oh no doubt, and this book nor I was eluding to the fact that it was, but if you supplement physical practice with mental practice you may be able to see gains more quickly.

[quote]

Some popular brain books overstate the effects of visualization and mental practice: “Your brain cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined!” Oh yes it can. SOME neural circuits fire similarly in mental practice as in the physical movement, but it’s a huge overgeneralized leap of faulty logic to assume ALL neural circuits fire the same. They don’t.[/quote]
This book was not trying to prove that you brain can’t tell the difference between what is imagined and what is real, it was merely stating the fact that you can strengthen neural connection using imagination. It was not trying to prove that imagination can activate ALL the neural connections that physical activity can.

[quote]
Also notice that this study strengthens the muscles of the finger in simple movement pattern. Fingers and hand have their own brain areas that are MUCH larger in proportion to their small size than other body parts and muscles have. (Google Image search “homunculus.”) Each finger has its own little area of motor cortex. A complicated motor pattern of many large and small muscles, like the squat, is unlikely to be strengthened as much by mental practice, because it does not have its own little dedicated brain area already built in.[/quote]

I did take this into account when I was debating on whether or not this theory can be applied to other muscle groups or groups of muscles. As you said fingers have a larger mental maps then do other muscle groups, but on the flip side we use our fingers ALL the time. Therefor the neural connections for motor activation in the fingers are far more efficient than most other muscle groups. So because the finger neurons are already efficient I think imagining a physical activity involving clenching your fingers would not drastically improve the efficiency of the neurons, because they are already efficient, but despite the efficiency of the neurons for the fingers these studies still showed a drastic improvement. I bet you could get a greater improvement from doing mental practice with larger muscle groups whose neurons are not as efficient as our fingers. I would love to see a study where they study the effects of this type of experiment with larger muscle groups with fewer neural connections.

i feel that at least imagining what your doing can’t not be beneficial. the greatest athletes are always the ones who a) do the most work and b) are completely obsessed with their sport. Arnold with his constant posing, his mental approach to lifting was always to believe he was the pinnacle of growth. people who “just go through the motions” fail because they ignore the power of focus and imagination.

think about squatting night and day. imagine your perfect squat, and don’t limit yourself to the numbers on the bar, machine, whatever. focus on yourself running over an intruder, being powerful, and you will probably become that

great athletes also excel mentally, but trying to change actual work with just thinking about it it’s plain stupid.

[quote]kaisermetal wrote:
great athletes also excel mentally, but trying to change actual work with just thinking about it it’s plain stupid.[/quote]

Not just thinking about it, VISUALIZING it. Visualization is a strong tool, not only in improving the efficiency of the neural connection but also by building your own self confidence in the task at hand.

To what Kanada said - - most people start to go through the motions at the gym…over time it happens with a lot of people. Think about it…if you’ve ever played a sport and went to a new gym for it…the first few weeks you are SO focused and you make your best gains cause mentally you are much more amped and EXPECT to improve…after a while it’s the same ol shit at the gym and you start to go through the motions. That’s why people who have meets/goals make better gains cause their mind is constantly on the aim of improving somehow…it’s also the same reason why I have a hard time lifting just to lift…I have to DO something with it.

In my boxing…I guess I could say I use mental techniques everyday…anywhere I go if I have a moment I think of my boxing…what I need to do to improve, what I did wrong…in sparring I think of the mistakes I made and how to fix them, how to counter, where to move after landing something…the list goes on.

Before I go to bed while I’m trying to fall asleep I always put my mind in a lot of focus on boxing and I just think about it…sometimes my body (shoulders, arms) they jerk as I’m falling asleep and it wakes me up lol…I feel like this helps me a lot and lets my mind recognize what’s going on before I step in the ring to begin the next sparring. It’s like I’m a step ahead already and I can see whatever mistake I may make come faster and in turn I don’t make it cause I’ve drilled it in my mind many times already.

[quote]rasturai wrote:
To what Kanada said - - most people start to go through the motions at the gym…over time it happens with a lot of people. Think about it…if you’ve ever played a sport and went to a new gym for it…the first few weeks you are SO focused and you make your best gains cause mentally you are much more amped and EXPECT to improve…after a while it’s the same ol shit at the gym and you start to go through the motions. That’s why people who have meets/goals make better gains cause their mind is constantly on the aim of improving somehow…it’s also the same reason why I have a hard time lifting just to lift…I have to DO something with it.

In my boxing…I guess I could say I use mental techniques everyday…anywhere I go if I have a moment I think of my boxing…what I need to do to improve, what I did wrong…in sparring I think of the mistakes I made and how to fix them, how to counter, where to move after landing something…the list goes on.

Before I go to bed while I’m trying to fall asleep I always put my mind in a lot of focus on boxing and I just think about it…sometimes my body (shoulders, arms) they jerk as I’m falling asleep and it wakes me up lol…I feel like this helps me a lot and lets my mind recognize what’s going on before I step in the ring to begin the next sparring. It’s like I’m a step ahead already and I can see whatever mistake I may make come faster and in turn I don’t make it cause I’ve drilled it in my mind many times already.[/quote]

The way you visualise your boxing is exactly the way many athletes do, and can definately help you improve. The more experience you have with a tast the more you will get from visualiseation techniques because you know specifically what to imagine.

I think that because bodybuilding is less technical (the exercises are quite simple repetative and predictable) the benefits of mental rehersal outside of the gym are not as great.
I am however a big beleiver in mental rehersal before a set and even within 1/2 an hour before your workout.

Before I do a heavy set of squats I will visualise the entire movement and imagine the weight on my shouders and the effort I needed to lift it as well as any improvments in form I am trying to make (eg pushing knees out). I find sometimes if I dont do this I am surprised at how heavy the bar feels and that can put me off or I give up on a lift which I should have made.
Before a workout if I start thinking about it and going through the exercises in my mind I sometimes get a noticable increase in HR and a general energetic feeling.
I remember reading something Arnie wrote (or at least atributed to Arnie) in which he claimed to be able to get a slight pump just from concentrating on a muscle (I think this is bullshit but I guess it may be possible).

I guess another aspect is that if you think about bodybuilding 24/7 and wake up thinking about it, you are much more likely to be compliant with a diet which is apropriate for your goal.

[quote]rasturai wrote:
To what Kanada said - - most people start to go through the motions at the gym…over time it happens with a lot of people. Think about it…if you’ve ever played a sport and went to a new gym for it…the first few weeks you are SO focused and you make your best gains cause mentally you are much more amped and EXPECT to improve…after a while it’s the same ol shit at the gym and you start to go through the motions. That’s why people who have meets/goals make better gains cause their mind is constantly on the aim of improving somehow…it’s also the same reason why I have a hard time lifting just to lift…I have to DO something with it.

In my boxing…I guess I could say I use mental techniques everyday…anywhere I go if I have a moment I think of my boxing…what I need to do to improve, what I did wrong…in sparring I think of the mistakes I made and how to fix them, how to counter, where to move after landing something…the list goes on.

Before I go to bed while I’m trying to fall asleep I always put my mind in a lot of focus on boxing and I just think about it…sometimes my body (shoulders, arms) they jerk as I’m falling asleep and it wakes me up lol…I feel like this helps me a lot and lets my mind recognize what’s going on before I step in the ring to begin the next sparring. It’s like I’m a step ahead already and I can see whatever mistake I may make come faster and in turn I don’t make it cause I’ve drilled it in my mind many times already.[/quote]

A bit off topic, but if you really want to take your boxing to the next level start recording yourself. Record your sparring matches, your heavy bag work, your mitt work, record as much as you can. Then watch it and look for patterns, if you see patterns in the way you fight, so will opponents and they will take advantage of those patterns. Also every session you record watch it and see if you are leaving it all out there int he ring. If you don’t feel like you’re giving it your all in those videos, make that a goal for the next training session. These 2 tips took my boxing to another level.

I tried visualization for a few weeks to exercise my brain. Then I got a headache and determined I overtrained, so I took a month off, drank beer and watched reruns of The Jeffersons. JK. But, for real…I did read a book I found to be very helpful in regards to the mental aspects of athletic performance, THE INNER GAME OF TENNIS.

Its about improving your tennis game (I do not play) but it can be applied to any athletic event.

Norman Doidge, right? That book was incredible. The human brain is the most incomprehensible and awesome piece of machinery in the world.

So worth a read, especially for those who like to break supposed boundaries.

Visualization is certainly worthwhile, and can make enormous difference in skill and feats of strength. No idea what kind of effect it would have on bodybuilding and the actual activity of muscular reconstruction. I’m more skeptical of that, but wouldn’t discount it.

^ Thats right… And yes it was incredible, one of the most interesting books I think I’ve ever read. It’s definitely one of those books as soon as you’re done reading you want everyone around you to read it.