Sports, meditation practice, and peak performances

Could one become a better athlete by simply sitting on one’s bum, closing one’s eyes and then … doing nothing?

Though it may sound outrageous, it is definitely possible! Here’s what science has to say about mental imaging, meditation practice, and sports performance.

What you imagine will become real

In one experiment, a group of trampolinists alternated physical practice of a specific skill with mental practice of the same sequence of movements. A control group worked on the same move for just as long but replaced the imaginary practice with performance of a non-related mental task.

The athletes in the first group improved their performance significantly more compared to those in the second. So, while your body needs to rest, you can work on perfecting your moves from within!

What’s more, a second research project involving golfers showed that imaginary training sessions for specific skills led to more realistic self-expectation and better adherence to training programs.

Mentally training physical muscles

A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia compared the changes in muscle strength among individuals who were (a) physically training a specific muscle, (b) mentally “training” the same muscle, or (c) doing neither the real nor the imagined workout.

After 12 weeks, the muscle strength of people who had actually broken a sweat had increased by 53%. Those in the third group who had done nothing had gained no additional strength. However, individuals who had merely imagined working out had increased their muscle strength by sheer will-power by 13.5%.

So when you are too tired to work out for real, doing it in your head does indeed provide tangible results.

Faster, higher, stronger while sitting still

A boost to athletic performance can also be accomplished through the rest provided by meditation.

A study of world-class athletes’ brain activity patterns and other mental characteristics revealed that much of the athletes’ success can be attributed to high levels of brain integration, self- and moral development, and the ability to have peak experiences.

Perhaps the high school stereotype of dividing kids up into “jocks” and “nerds” no longer holds. It turns out that the grey matter can give one quite an edge on the sports field!

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