Can you build muscle without touching a weight?
Imagine the possibility of using your mind to reshape your body size and strength!

Strange? Indeed.

I recently remembered reading about a study a few years ago in Men’s Health in which the subjects increased the size and strength of selected muscle groups by simply ‘thinking‘ about working them out.
They simply visualized the process and their bodies responded in the same manner as if they’d actually hit the iron!

It’s well known by a lot of people in psychology and exercise physiology that the brain cannot distinguish the difference between a ‘real’ event i.e. one that is observed objectively, and a vividly imagined one i.e. one that is created subjectively. The implications of this could be quite exciting for bodybuilders.

The Study

Although I am unable to track down the original study that I spoke of earlier, I have found another one that is very similar in its findings.

A recent study by Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing at Bishop’s University has found that subjects who simply imagined working out made almost exactly the same strength gains as volunteers who actually worked up a sweat!

The study split people into 3 groups

  • A control group (no exercise whether real or imagined)
  • A work-out group focusing on one muscle for 2 weeks training 3 times a week
  • A group that simply visualized the same workout routine as the above group. They were given audio tracks to walk them through the visualization process

The Startling Results!

  • As expected group one made no increases in muscle strength.
  • Also as expected the group working out made strength increases of 28.3%
  • Amazingly, though, the visualization group made comparable strength increases of 23.7%

What does this mean? Well, assuming that the results of the study are indeed accurate and that no cheating could have taken place, building muscle might not simply be the mechanical process that we once thought it was. We don’t know the extent to which the mind can influence strength gains but since there is a very good possibility that it even works at all, I suggest you use it to your advantage.

The study didn’t mention a change in muscle ‘size’, just strength. However, it’s not too much of a leap to believe that growth can occur if increased strength can.

I definitely do not suggest that anyone set aside their weights and take up visualization as their only means of exercise but you could use it alongside your current routine. One method might be to spend a little time every day seeing your body exactly as you’d like it to be. For example, if you’ve just finished a shoulder workout, imagine your shoulders growing into the shape and size you’d like them to. Isn’t it worth the 5 or 10 minutes to try?

Another method, and an enjoyable one, might be to simply watch videos on youtube of your favorite bodybuilder working out. Instead of having to visualize yourself, you can probably reap the same benefits by watching others pound away in the gym.

For further reading on the subject I found the following 2 blogs:

Mark McManus

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