Internal vs. External vs. Kinesthetic Imagery
When it comes to imagery, there are three different approaches. Internal visualization can be thought of as being done in first person; here the athlete runs through the race in their mind as they would see it from their own perspective. External visualization would be picturing yourself as an outside observer watching you run the race, so in third person.
Kinesthetic visualization is unique in that it will integrate bodily movements and muscle sensations with the mental pictures. “Stand up and get into a good athletic position, [athletes] take their bodies lightly through the motions, not full engagement but firing those muscles to go left, go right, relaxing your shoulders,” explains Dr. Bauman. This style has been proven to be of the greatest benefit to athletes if they are able to fully tap into the experience. Other tips to employ kinesthetic visualization are to simultaneously picture as many nuances of the event as possible in your mind and then veer in the same directions that you’ll turn, shake out your arms if you need a reminder to drop your shoulders, even contract your quads as you imagine climbing a hill.
There is a learning curve and Dr. Bauman notes, “It’s almost like a bell shaped curve…people are going to have different skill levels and experience.” To build on that skill level takes practice and “it’s really helpful to have someone help them through that for awhile…someone who knows what they’re doing help them through that…and then start to hand them the baton, ‘okay, now YOU do that’.”
Your first guided tours through visualization should allow you to relax, close your eyes, follow along to what is being said and really focus on the pictures being described. Have as many details included as possible; how your body will feel smooth and relaxed, who is around you, what the race course will look at certain checkpoints (Is there is a hill at mile 3 that you will charge up?), even some of the smells…integrate as many senses as possible. Dr. Bauman has his athletes visit a particular race course in advance, run the route mentally recording as many details as possible to later include in their imagery experiences.
Your visualization routine for practices and hard workouts will be similar, and as you become more skilled can even be done during your warmup or stretches. Dr. Bauman suggests you ask yourself, “What do I want this to look like today? Think of what you want to accomplish, what point is challenging and that is where [you] want to dig in a little big more…go through the practice before it actually happens and think of what you’d like to have happen.”
Each athlete will respond differently to the various approaches and may even prefer to cycle through all three depending on the point of the season or the particular workout. Experiment with them all and find which fits best with you and allows you to become fully immersed in the exercise.