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Mental Imagery and Running

Mind-body techniques help “nonrunners” complete ultra-marathons

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Coach using mental imagery for motivation

In a validation of the mind-body connection and its potential power, a new mental imagery technique, “functional imagery training,” is showing promise in helping self-described “nonrunners” complete their first ultra-marathon.

University of Plymouth researchers in England developed the method—which uses imagery as a motivational tool—and have successfully applied it in a weight loss trial. For this small study, subjects who were assigned to the imagery technique group were five times more likely to complete the ultra-event than those who received only motivational interviewing.

“An ultra-marathon requires a huge amount of mental, as well as physical, strength—even from people who run regularly,” said lead study author Jonathan Rhodes, PhD student and associate lecturer at University of Plymouth. “Trialing functional imagery training on historically self-professed nonrunners was a real test of its efficacy, and to see that it made a difference was a promising finding.

“It shows that multisensory imagery is the key difference between those who reach the starting line and then go on to finish, and those who do not—showing it is critical to maintaining changes and pushing the boundaries of physical and mental performance.”

The study is published in the Journal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity (2021; doi:10.1515/jirspa-2021-0011).

See also: Motivational Interviewing: Talking Their Way to Health

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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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