It's not hippie-dippie, it's science.
Your cerebellum (located in the bottom back of your brain) is able to coordinate movement without getting information back from your muscles and joints. This means when you picture yourself performing a snatch for example, your cerebellum preprograms your body for action.
How does this work?
This process is called motor learning. Neural networks involved in mental imagery and motor execution overlap. Research using neuroimaging is still out on exactly how and to what extent this works but simply...your cerebellum receives information from your senses including your proprioceptors (internally) and your sight, hearing, touch etc (externally). You then send this information to your motor cortex that tells your muscles what to do
Then you physically practice and since your brain is plastic, it changes. Neurons that fire together, wire together. The more you practice the mental imagery and proceed with intentional action, the more you change. Your brain will remember the essential pattern of synapses you need to complete the movement and will forget the non essential synapses. Your functional performance changes (hopefully improving if your practicing the right technique) and the structures of your brain change
There are two methods of mental imagery
1. You can kinesthetically mentally image focusing on your mechanical and tactile sense. This means you pretend FEEL the tensions and movements.
2. You can visually mentally image while focusing on the visual picture of you performing the movement. This method is cool because you can imaging yourself in the first or third person perspective.
I use mental imagery every training session and encourage my clients and students to do the same. Before every kettlebell complex, I picture it and feel it first. Before every set up pull ups I picture each one and pretend how it will feel to pull my body up. Before I deadlift I work hard to feel the weight and the position of my body before touching the bar
Try it out. See it, feel it and report back. I'd love to hear about your experience
1. Burianová, H. et al. Multimodal functional imaging of motor imagery using a novel paradigm. NeuroImage 71, 50-58, doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.01.001 (2013).
2. Kraeutner, S., Gionfriddo, A., Bardouille, T. & Boe, S. Motor imagery-based brain activity parallels that of motor execution: Evidence from magnetic source imaging of cortical oscillations. Brain Research 1588, 81-91, doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2014.09.001 (2014).
3. Hétu, S. et al. The neural network of motor imagery: An ALE meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 37, 930–949, doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.03.017 (2013).