By: Dr. Michael Brandon, DC
What if I told you that you could increase your muscle strength, speed, coordination, and more from just laying in bed for 20 minutes every day? Well I'm telling you that you can, though there is still some noticeable effort required.
Kinesthetic imagery (KI), also known as motor imagery or simply visualization, is when you fully imagine yourself doing something like a bicep curl to the point where you can almost feel, smell, and figuratively taste the dumbbell, making it as realistic as possible. If you ever had a coach tell you to picture how the game is going to turn out, pretend adapting to certain situations on the moment's notice, they were educating you on KI, and this is heavily used by professional athletes across the sports spectrum.
The impressive part is that doing this has been proven to make you stronger. If you spent time everyday laying in bed imagining doing biceps curls, over weeks you will notice an increase in strength without ever going to the gym; however, results will be noticeably greater by physically going to the gym and exercising then KI alone.
The way this works is far from simple, but in short, by repetitively practicing KI your body begins to almost believe that it is exercising on a very small level. Muscle is just a slab of meat until a nerve, which all connect to your central nervous system (your spine and brain), tell it to move. There's a region in your brain called the motor cortex (MC) which is mainly involved with telling your muscles to move. When you attempt to jump, your MC activates in the “leg region” and sends signals to your leg musculature to make the jump occur.
When you think about jumping, another region in your brain called the premotor cortex (PMC) is very active. This region fires signals when you are planning movement, such as when performing KI. However, the MC, again which controls movement, is also active during the thinking of movement, but to a lesser degree then when actually performing it. So even though the MC controls movement, it is still sending some information to the muscles, stimulating them at a small amount, while simply pretending to make the movement.
This practice can also help people who have had a stroke and/or loss the ability to move an arm, or to help lower the muscle wasting that occurs with injuries like a broken wrist that is immobile due to being in a cast. If I broke my wrist but spend time everyday imagining that I am moving it, it will stay stronger then if I just let it sit in the cast for 8 weeks without ever using the muscle. Multiple studies have proven this works!
KI is a great literal example of mind over matter and it shows the power of “playing pretend” like we were all taught as a kid, but with some cool science involved. So I encourage you to use your imagination and visualize yourself to a stronger, happier, and healthier you.
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