Think and Grow Buff?

From Jonathan Fields:
Can your brain make you buff? Imaginary workouts can build strength and fuel weight loss

"Building muscle, it turns out, is not nearly as mechanical as we thought. And, in fact, a recent study by Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing at Bishop’s University reveals you may be able to make nearly identical gains in strength and fitness without lifting a finger!"

At the end of the article, Jonathan asks:
"If I created an mp3 with a 30-minute, full-body visualized workout to test this research, would you be willing to commit to listening to it 3 times a week for a month and then reporting back your results? If so, let me know in the comments below and if there is enough interest, we’ll run our own study."
This is the kind of experiment that I will gladly be a lab rat in! You can, too. Go leave a comment at Jonathan's post. He needs another couple dozen people to get a quorum. How about you? C'mon, it'll be fun! And when it works, you'll have plenty of conversation fodder for those holiday parties coming up. In fact, by being on this program, you'll be able to keep yourself in better shape during party season...

posted by Mike at 5:16 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has got to be too good to be true. (It sounds almost like something from the 1970s...)

12:15 AM  
Blogger Dan tdaxp said...

(This comment has been cross-posted at tdaxp and spooky action. A modified version has been emailed to the study's authors.)

I read the article. The full reference is "Mind over matter:Mental training increases physical strength" in the North American Journal of Psychology (2007; 9(1); 189-200). The article refers to similar studies, including those that found a similar result (Yue & Cole, 1992; Yue, Wilson, Cole, & Darling, 1996; Ranganathan, et al, 2004) and one that did not (Herbert, Dean & Gandevia, 1998).

I wonder if there is a relationship between the expertise of participants and the benefits of imagination v, physical exersize. The results remind me of the "imagination effect," which is part of the cognitive load program of research by John Sweller and others. The "imagination effect," where better results are achieved when participants are asked to imagine a solution rather than think about a problem, occurs among experts but not among novices. Sweller and others hypothesize this is because experts already have internal mental structures which are useful for solving the problem, but that novices do not have these mental structures. Without mental structures more conscious thnking is required, but with mental structures implicit cognition can be enough to solve the problem.

Applied to this study, one might expect that expert athletes have the internal mental structures necessary to visualize excersize, but that more novice athletes would not hae these mental structures available, and would have physically perform the excersizes to get the effect. One could then imagine a sliding scale of expertise, with better athletes benefiting more from the visualization activities than novice atheletes.

Citations, from the article:

Herbert, R. D., Dean, C., & Gandevia, S. C. (1998). Effects of real and imagined training on voluntary muscle activation during maximal isometrics contractions. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 163, 361-368.

Ranganathan, V. K., Siemionow, V., Liu, J. Z., Sahgal, V., & Yue, G. (2004). From mental power to muscular strength - gaining strength by using the mind. Neuropsychologia, 42, 944-956.

Yue, G., & Cole, K. J. (1992). Strength increases from the motor program: Comparison of training with maximal voluntary and imagined muscle contractions. Journal of Neurophysiology, 67, 1114-1123.

Yue, G. H., Wilson, S. L., Cole, K. J., & Darling, W. G. (1996). Imagined muscle contraction training increases voluntary neural drive to muscle. Journal of Psychophysiology, 10, 198-208.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Mike said...


Thanks for the citations and the comment.

I wondered the same thing myself. My guess is that without "muscle memory" of the activity involved, the visualization wouldn't complete enough to activate the subconscious processes that make this work.

The interesting question is whether this technique, along with an equal amount of actual exercise, would allow someone to get twice the benefit? Or if you could run a boot camp to ingrain the experience and then gradually move to nearly 100% visualization and retain the effect.

Rick Cockrum had an interesting post on the Placebo effect that I think is directly related. And he makes a good point that this is an area worthy of further study.


9:55 AM  
Blogger Mike said...


I will admit that this does fall into the "if it seems to good to be true, it probably is" category.

But personal experience with visualization - and the items discussed in Rick's post - lead me to believe that there's more to be learned in this area.

After all, the name of this blog IS Spooky Action - after the derisive name Einstein gave to particle entanglement that broke the speed of light!

Thanks for stopping by!


7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting reading. Sound something from my dad's years. It this really true?

11:32 AM  

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