• Imagery: What it is and how it can help you in your next race

    Your next personal challenge may be your very first triathlon, a World Championship triathlon event or perhaps your first Iron distance event.  Whatever your triathlon challenge maybe, preparation is essential.   Imagery can play an important role in that preparation.

    A lot of you will have heard the term “imagery” or “visualization” but may not know enough about it to use it to your advantage. In my experience in working with athletes from recreational level to Olympic/professional levels, it is one of the most useful and beneficial skills you can develop and use to help your performance. Imagery is a skill therefore you can develop it and get better at using it over time, just like any other skill.

    What is imagery?

    It is the skill of mentally picturing a situation, event, image, with as much realism as possible, using all the senses (visual, auditory, olfactory, etc). Visualization is the same skill with the exception that you are only using one sense, the visual.

    Mentally rehearsing a desired behaviour or performance enhances the opportunity of that behaviour or performance occurring. You are preparing your brain for you want to happen and therefore what does happen. We all know that if you imagine something negative happening in your performance more often than not it actually happens, so why not use the same skill to get you performing how you want to!

    There are two different perspectives you can use with imagery:

    • The internal perspective uses a picture as seen through your own eyes.
    • The external perspective uses a picture as though you are an external observer, as if seeing yourself on TV.

    You can switch between the two (elite athletes commonly use both) and you may find that you predominantly use one perspective over the other.

    The 4 R’s

    To develop the skill of imagery it is important that you work on the four R’s, Relaxation, Realism, Regular, Reinforcement.

    Relaxation – Make sure that when you use imagery you are relaxed, you will then associate the behaviours you want with being relaxed.

    Realism – Focus on clarity, appropriate levels of emotion, vividness, control of your images and positive outcomes. The images need to be what you want to happen.

    Regular – The more you use imagery the better you will get at it and the more it will benefit you in all areas of your life.

    Reinforcement – Positive images will help to reinforce what you want to achieve and increase your belief in achieving them, which will again increase the opportunity of enhancing your performance.

    What is it used for?

    Imagery can be used to;

    • Build confidence by picturing successful past and future performances
    • Maintain motivation by picturing successful past and future performances, training sessions, etc
    • Increase concentration by focusing on key factors
    • Increase speed and appropriateness of key decision making processes, i.e. tactics by picturing these beforehand
    • Increase progress in skill acquisition by imagining the new skill executed perfectly repeatedly
    • Control emotional responses – imagining how you would deal with these in competition
    • Increasing the ability to cope with pain and injury by picturing your coping strategies before the competition

    There are many reasons why imagery is beneficial to performance so that the sooner you start to use it the better!  Give it a try for your next race!