Some athletes use visualization to help them win, but you can also use it to help you learn. If you can visualize a movement, the same parts of the brain get activated just by thinking about performing an exercise. This may work for people who are already experts and can visualize how to execute a movement correctly, but what if you’re not an expert? Well, a new study suggests there is another technique that might work for you.
Instead of imagining the motion yourself, you can watch it performed by someone who is already good at it. This method of skill acquisition, which is also known as action observation, isn’t anything new, but with the rise of technology it makes sense to focus on it. With so many free online videos of the best athletes in the world performing their skills and demonstrating their strength, action observation is an exciting way for people to gain skill, even if they don’t have access to that level of coaching. However, the effectiveness of this technique hasn’t been well examined. This is what researchers aimed to accomplish in a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
In this study, the researchers used athletes who were new to the power clean exercise. Over three sessions a week for four weeks, the athletes practiced three sets of five reps of the power clean. The athletes were split up into two groups. One group received normal coaching on technique. The second group received the same coaching, but also watched a video of someone skilled in the clean before every set.
To quantify the results, the researchers measured the skill of the movement, which they broke down into the segments of the body moving at the correct times and degrees to maximize the movement. They also measured power output.
The researchers found watching the video improved the athletes’ skill by a small but significant amount. Interestingly, this improvement plateaued after the initial two weeks, allowing the traditionally trained group to catch up by the end of the four weeks. Bear in mind, however, that skill acquisition in resistance exercise is partially dependent on the weight being used. In this study the athletes used the same weight throughout the four-week period. It’s possible the plateau would not have happened had the resistance been adjusted over time.
So as you can see, video is indeed a useful tool for novice athletes who want to learn movements quickly and effectively. Action observation may work even better when we allow the resistance to increase along with skill and power.
1. Alex Sakadjian, et. al., “Kinematic and Kinetic Improvements Associated with Action Observation Facilitated Learning of the Power Clean in Australian Footballers,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000290
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