Once a week, Coach Whitney will post a blog relevant to our goals, challenges, and objectives at the gym. Some of these blog posts are repeats of past posts and some are new. We'd like to invite our CFE athletes to contribute to our blog in any way you wish. Find some research you thought was interesting? Did you do a little writing of your own that you'd like to share? Send it to Coach Whitney or Big Al (Alysia), and we'll get it up on the site!
Cat Chatter: Visualizing Success
By Whitney Dean
I once had a cat who would sit in the windowsill of the house and chatter at the birds and squirrels moving freely about the lawn. It was a weird vocalization, the rapid clicking of her teeth, as she played out her phantom killing. I used to think it was amusing, the way the world outside excited her. I didn’t consider the reflexive imagining of predation, the juddering of her jaw that could break a bird’s neck.
So, when I hear professional athletes talk about the power of visualization in sports, I get it. I’m not suggesting I do it successfully, but I understand that a cat chattering on a windowsill is mentally preparing for what evolution and genetics designed her to do. The more accurately she envisions the attack, the more likely she is to execute the plan effectively in real time.
And when I walk up to a loaded barbell, aren’t I, in many ways, doing exactly what my body is designed to do? These bones and joints, this sinew and musculature, is designed to lift things and grow stronger. Anything that happens to the contrary is a mechanical malfunction or deterioration.
My central nervous system is an electrical grid of nerves that send signals from my brain to my body, from my body to my brain. Sensory nerves interpret stimuli from the environment around me and shoot that information to the spinal cord where it’s delivered to my brain for interpretation and response. Motor neurons then carry out the decisions made by my brain. In support of visualization, scientific studies show that imagery fires the same physiological responses as the senses. Imagining the heat of fire elicits the same response in the body as feeling the heat of fire.
Studies of athletes practicing visualization reveal that the more detailed the imagining, the more accurately the athlete performs. I’ve tried visualizing a successful lift before, but the effort was brief, superficial, and fleeting. I’ve imagined coming up out of the bottom of a heavy snatch--approximately five seconds before the lift with no account for the details of the imagined experience. And doesn’t my mind need the same attention I give my body before physical exertion? I spend twenty to thirty minutes (ideally) warming up for a workout and only a few seconds visualizing an elite performance from myself. That’s not a fair chance.
I’ve also tried using mantras in the past, but they came from a hard, unforgiving place. I’d tell myself, in less kind ways, not to fail, which isn’t the most encouraging approach to self-affirmation. When beating myself into excellence hasn’t worked, I’ve tried mantras of aggression--”*%&# it up!”--which works for the first few repetitions, but my conviction quickly succumbs to pain and exhaustion.
And there can be psychological consequences to visualization. Try watching a televised fight with me and you’ll see cat-chatter take on its most human form. My central nervous system can’t differentiate the loser in the fight from my own face, as I startle and shriek from every blow delivered in the ring. While observing my chatter during an MMA prize fight, someone pointed out that I clearly visualize the reality of the loser, not the winner. My phantom fight puts me on the wrong side of fate. The electrical signals in my body fire, as if I was the one suffering defeat on the mat.
So what if I imagined the winner’s experience? What if I imagined the knurling of a barbell in my hands, the brush of weight against my body, the drive under, and the punch out? What if I imagined recovery when my body is trashed, breath when I have none? Like the cat, the more accurately I envision the attack, the more likely I am to execute the plan effectively in real time.
I can’t know what a cat imagines when her jaw judders at the sight of a bird--we don’t speak the same language--but I bet it’s pretty gritty to induce such autonomic phonetics as chatter. I’ve held birds and can imagine how their small, warm bodies might feel in my mouth. I know the taste of blood and the ease with which a twig breaks. I can imagine what makes a cat chatter.
10 single arm strict press R arm
10 single arm bent over row R arm
15 PVC pass through
10 single arm strict press L arm
10 single arm bent over row L arm
20 PVC good mornings
Rest 30s (then start back at the beginning for one more round
Burgener Warm up
Find a 1 RM snatch in 15 min
1000 meter row
Thruster 45 lbs (50 reps)
Pull-ups (30 reps)
find 5 RM Push press in 15 min