Sunday, August 16, 2009

Imagine that.

Next to the ability to concentrate with laser like focus, the ability to imagine, or visualize is, imho, perhaps the most important skill an athlete, or wanna be athlete can have. Like concentration I am not sure this can really be developed,except by the most dedicated, but is so critical to the ability to create real, lasting change in one's performance, body composition or competition skills,especially under pressure, that is worth ten times the time and effort. For everybody that wants to change their body or athletic performance in some way.

This really came back to me last night as I was watching the womens Visa Gymnastics championships on the plane home from New Jersey and I remembered just how crucial this seemingly small skill really is on so many levels and how I came to discover it.

I have been blessed( cursed?) with a very vivid imagination and I remember 'discovering' how to use this skill very early on in my gymnastics training as I memorized each and every position of each months featured routine in the Modern Gymnast magazine .They had the routines broken down frame by frame in 8mm film and I could study-STUDY- each frame in minute detail, looking for any and all secrets to what they were doing right and I was doing wrong as I attempted to learn these incredibly intricate skills.

After analyzing each routine to death and committing each frame to memory I would replay it back in my head over and over, especially right before I attempted to try the new skill in question.

Then I realized the importance of visualizing these skills not only right before I attempted them, but the night, or days before. I could "practice" without practicing. And, very importantly, without falling down and going "boom" which happems with alarming frequency in gymnastics.I then heard about the Russian study that compared three groups of basketball players looking to improve their free throw skills. One group just practiced and did no visualization. One did a mixture of practice and visualization and the last did ONLY visualization. The group that improved the most did the combination but the group that did ONLY visualization improved MORE than the group that did only practice!

It seems that the brain cannot differentiate that which you see in it's nooks and crannies and the real thing. The nerve force is sent to the muscles in exactly the same way as when it is done in real time just with much less force. One can practice without moving the body, and, it turns out, it is a very potent method.

So potent that visualizing bad form is almost as bad as doing it in real life.

Practice doesn't make perfect, PERFECT PRACTICE makes perfect. Big, big difference.

This made total sense to me because there were skills that I could not do correctly in the real time that I also could not "see" in my head correctly . IN fact I would make the same form mistakes and technical miscues in my head that I did on the bars. And I DID NOT fix those real time mistakes UNTIL I could see it in my head right.

This had a HUGE impact on me, my training and my search for better tools for seeing what I was doing wrong and what others were doing right.

Now remember, this is WAY before video tape, much less digital cameras that can record everything in minute detail with endless replay and slow motion capacity.AS well as in frame deliniations so small that one can see EVERYTHING( todays athletes are SO spoiled, and most take so little advantage of what is available to them-crazy).How I only wish I had these tools back then!

So I studied pictures,whatever sequence photos I could find and filled in the blanks in my head. This "filling in the blanks" along with the incredible amount of visual imagery necessary even to TRAIN gymnastics really built up my abilities to 'see' things in real time in slow motion, even as they were happening! This is a skill and like all skills the more you practice the better you get. I practiced a lot.

You can also visualize yourself from different positions and kinethetic/propriceptive angles. For instance you can 'see' yourself as if you were looking at yourself from the audience. You can also 'see' yourself from "inside" your body, as it moves as if you were on stage looking out, as you performed. You can "feel/see" yourself from inside the body and how it would "feel" if you moved, OR LOOKED a certain way ( more about this in a minute).

The possibilities of this are limitless. Limited only by your imagination, willingness to pracitice and concentrate( imagine that).

This is truly where training and meditation meet.

Yet I've found so few who really treat this as the key skill it is.Few except for every Elite athlete I know.It does take a lot of time but hey, so does going to the gym and not making much progress.

This really came into clarity for me when I became a bodybuilder and Arnold spoke and wrote so eloquently how he literally imagined his body into creation. When he looked in the mirror he wasnt seeing what was there as much as what he wanted to be there.Just like a sculptor looking at a hunk of clay and seeing the form inside. Or any artist for that matter.He created it first in his mind, then the body followed suit.
He was adamant about this. He saw it first, then it became real.

I also realized the importance of 'feeling it in the mind' and became quite adept at being able to "feel" the changes I wanted to make in my body before I actually created them.

How would it "feel" if I was as lean as I wanted to be? How what it "feel" if my legs, arms pecs( fill in the blank) were the way I wanted them to be?

This was "trying it on for size". How would I walk if my legs were as developed as I wanted? How heavy would they be? How would my clothes fit, etc. The more detailed I got the better things worked.

Things got to the next level when I got into powerlifting and new exactly what weights I wanted ,needed to do each workout. I began to see the lifts, in excrutiating details from every possible angle and "see/feel" it in every possible way, down to the exact weight on the bar and the way my knees were wrapped.One began to connect how something 'felt" with how you knew it 'looked. This is great feedback.

As the great Ed Coan said( another incredible user of visualization) after you've done it in your head, doing it in real time is a forgone conclusion- you KNOW you can do it, because you ALREADY HAVE!And every time you do it in your head it's another perfect weight in the bank. You can practice ALL you want and workout all the bugs with no risk of injury or overtraining.You just have to develop the mind as much as the body, and therein lies the rub.People are freaking lazy and don't really want to go to the gym much less go to a virtual gym in their head the night or days before! Hell, it's like having to train ten times as much! Exactly!

I love these types of people, they are so easy to beat.

Remember that the brain doesn't care if you visualize it right or wrong. It's real to the body either way and has it's own memory of the event.Seeing is believing,even if you just see it in your head.

Imagine that.
Training addendum
Since Tracy and I were out of town Friday and Saturday I missed my Saturday snatch workout. I decided to NOT skip it as was my desire after spending more time seated traveling than standing or walking this weekend and I also decided to do swings instead of snatches today.
I have been doing virtually NO swings the last few months( too many) as I was doing more yoga training than kbs( just two sessions/week).
Since my goals were focused on snatches I decided to maximize that movement and let go of swings for awhile. Time's up.
I started off VERY easy today for numerous reasons but decided to do some swing strength work focusing on creating max force( can someone say Hardstyle) and not caring about reps or volume. I have forgotten just how heavy the Two Pood can be, even for low rep swings.It was sad how low my max force has gotten. Time to put these back in the rotation even if it means alternating snatch saturdays with swing saturdays.
Snatch Vo2 has to stay in weekly.
One arm swings
16kgx5/5/5( transfers),20 kg x same, 24 kg x same, then
24 kg x5/5
32 kgx5/5 x 4 rounds
120 reps
about 30 seconds between sets but not timed. I went when I felt ready, and, as usual it started off slowly and got much faster as I warmed up.wanted to do five sets but was amazed at how tight my legs hips and back were getting so I decided to not be so OCD and stop at 4 sets.Wore my OL shoes for these for the first time. We'll see,these might be better flat foot, time will tell.
Two Hand Clubbell Arm Casts
25 lber x 10/10 x 4 sets
this felt good, very strong.I like the two hand work after all my one arm kb work. feels like the right balance.
Two Hand Sheild casts
5 sets of 5/5
these always open my shoulders up so well and I feel provide so much needed dynamic strength in all those weird shoulder vectors.with not a lot of torque on the joint itself.
Z drills, Rifga over ball stretches and some Bikram Half moon work to try to open up my lower spine.
Real yoga tomorrow.


Tracy Reifkind said...

My Sweet,


"It does take a lot of time but hey, so does going to the gym and NOT making much progress."

This is one of my favorite parts!


Mark Reifkind said...

thank you my love.
that's one of the things that makes your students so lucky, as they get to SEE you train with them and see exactly how it SHOULD be done! They have the example of perfect form right in front of them.
they should study more.

MKSchinabeck said...

Great post. I find it interesting that you have written a post about this topic as I have just begun visualizing my GS snatch sets in hopes of starting to work out some of the kinks. Great minds think a like......


Mark Reifkind said...

tnanks Matt

it's such a great tool,I am suprised more don't use it more consistently and in greatly detail.
great luck with your meet.

fawn said...

Thank you for turning me on to visualization. Very helpful.

Mark Reifkind said...

Hey fawn

it's a great tool I know it will really help your powerlifting and every thing else you point it at.
can't wait to see you guys, say hi to aaron for me.

Boris T. said...

Well put, the ability to visualize is paramount!