Mental Imagery

Using mental imagery to improve race results is not new. For decades racers and athletes in a variety of sports have incorporated it into their training. However, most are not benefiting from it. The reason it is not working has nothing to do with the actual technique. If done properly, it can have a huge impact in your training program. Many are not seeing results because they do not include all of the sensory information available.

First, let’s break it down. What exactly is mental imagery? It is a multi-sensory technique that includes using sight, smell, sound, touch and even taste. Motocross racers can use mental imagery to perfect a variety of skills including their starting technique. You basically are using your mind to recreate the exact scenario as if you were actually doing it in real time. Think about the last time you walked up to the gate with your bike. What was the weather like? Was it hot and sunny? Do you recall if sweat was forming on your brow? How did the bike feel when you sat on it? Could you feel the stiffness or softness of your forks, shock or seat foam? When you cranked it, how did it sound? While you were sitting on your bike with the engine running, could you feel the vibration of the engine? Could you smell gas or new google foam? What did you see in front of you? Was your mouth dry? How did the grips feel? You may be thinking to yourself, what does all of this have to do with practicing my starts? The answer is that it has everything to do with properly using mental imagery to perfect your starting technique.

When you utilize mental imagery you MUST recreate every aspect of the environment as if you are really doing that activity. If you do, your brain cannot tell the difference and you will reap all the rewards without having to go out and burn through 25 real gate drops. You can do it all in your head. However, if you only include one or two pieces of environmental information, your brain does not register it as real and you gain nothing. Think about it this way. Remember the old Pac Man video game?  It was fun, but there was nothing real about it. However, if you played Call of Duty, you get a lot more sensory information and at times it feels as if you are really in the game fighting. It is more intense because there is enough information to make your brain believe it. In playing Pac Man, your brain never really is tricked into thinking you are Pac Man.
Below are five mental tips for using mental imagery.
  • Find a quiet place that is not too hot or cold.
  • Regulate your breathing (Coming Soon in an Upcoming Article)
  • Close your eyes and begin to image everything about the situation that you are practicing using as much sensory information as you can. Include what you see, smell, hear, feel and even taste.
  • Use it with starts to begin with. Then run it till you see yourself rounding the first turn in front of the pack. Repeat several times for 3-5 minutes. Then later on use it for one lap and eventually several laps of a race.
  • Practice mental imagery multiple times per day. Use it when you first wake up, during mid-day (prior to your race) and right before you go to bed. Using it at night, prior to bedtime primes your brain to continue it, even while you are asleep.
Do you remember the last scary movie that you watched late at night? Then the next day you recalled a crazy dream of monsters chasing you. It’s the same premise. Your brain sometimes will continue to play automatically what you were thinking about or doing prior to falling asleep. It’s practicing without any effort.
  • The overall benefits of mental imagery include:
  • Perfecting skills
  • Increasing focus
  • Priming your brain for success
  • Decreasing anxiety
  • Increasing confidence
If you never used mental imagery before, give it a shot. If you did in the past without any success, try it again.

Tim Laskis