Imagination and Visualization Can Prevent Muscles from Weakening

Rob Wipond

In what they described as compelling evidence of “the power of the mind” over the limitations of the body, researchers from the Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute at Ohio University found that people with immobilized, deteriorating muscles could significantly help maintain their muscle strength over time simply by doing visualization exercises.

Published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, the study involved 29 healthy participants whose wrists were forcibly immobilized for four weeks, and 15 controls. Fourteen of the people who had their wrists immobilized were then trained to visualize their wrist muscles contracting and exercising, and were assigned regular daily “work-outs” of this kind.

“At the end of the four-week experiment, both groups who wore casts had lost strength in their immobilized limbs when compared to the control group,” stated a press release about the study. “But the group that performed mental imagery exercises lost 50% less strength than the non-imaginative group (24 percent vs. 45 percent, respectively). The nervous system’s ability to fully activate the muscle (called “voluntary activation” or VA) also rebounded more quickly in the imagery group compared to the non-imagery group.”

Mind over matter: Can you think your way to strength? (American Physiological Society press release on ScienceDaily, December 31, 2014)

(Full text) The power of the mind: the cortex as a critical determinant of muscle strength/weakness. (Clark, B.C. et al. Journal of Neurophysiology. December 15, 2014. DOI: 10.1152/jn.00386.2014