How to improve your performance with visualisation

We take a look at how visualisation can improve your performance when it comes to training.


One trip to your local gym and you will probably spot a lycra-clad fit-girl standing at her barbell in deadlift position – but without actually lifting the bar. Chances are she’s not absentmindedly staring into space but instead using cognitive strategies to psych herself up pre-lift, resulting in bigger and better PBs.

The science

Psyching yourself up has been shown to improve performance while training, and involves using all of your senses to create a mental picture of the task you are about to perform. This is backed by a recent literature review published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine which concluded that mental imagery was effective in improving tasks that required strength.

The thought

“There are many mental cues you can use to assist with getting into a positive mindset to perform a task. Psyching yourself up can be done through guided imagery, words of positivity, images, phrases, visualisation and more,” says exercise sport scientist, nutritionist and coach Alice Round.

“If the correct mental imagery is employed it helps to clear the mind and to have a better understanding of the task, which will help to focus on the task at hand and improve confidence. The key is to ensure the mental imagery supports the goal and outcome in a positive and realistic way.”

Using such strategies might not work in every scenario but can be adapted to suit your individual situation and the training you are employing. For example, Round recommends utilising mental imagery if you are going for a new one rep max (1RM) or rep PB at the gym. This might involve focusing on the outcomes and thinking about the positive emotions that come with success.

If you’re a sprinter, the mental imagery might be a little different. “I’d advise the athlete to mentally run through the perfect race in their mind before stepping onto the track; imagine the perfect explosive start, complete power, then charging through the finish line in first place,” says Round.

That said, as the great Jim Carey once told Oprah, you can’t just visualise and then go and eat a sandwich – obviously there’s hard work still to be done.