Ain’t just imagination! Effects of motor imagery training on strength and power performance of athletes during detraining: motor imagery and detraining

Antonio Dello Iacono, Kurtis Ashcroft, Damir Zubac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose
To investigate the effects of motor imagery (MI) training on strength and power performances of professional athletes during a period of detraining caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Methods
Thirty male professional basketball players (age = 26.1 ± 6.2 years) were randomly assigned to three counterbalanced groups: two MI training groups, who completed imagery training by mentally rehearsing upper and lower limbs resistance training exercises loaded with either 85% of one maximum repetition (85%1RM) or optimum power loads (OPL), or a control group. For six consecutive weeks, while all groups completed two weekly sessions of high-intensity running, only the MI groups performed three additional MI sessions a week. Maximal strength and power outpus were measured through 1RM and OPL assessments in the back squat and bench press exercises with a linear positioning transducer. Vertical jump and throwing capabilities were assessed with the countermovement jump and the seated medicine ball throw tests, respectively. Kinesthetic and visual imagery questionnaires, chronometry and rating of perceived effort scores were collected to evaluate MI vividness, MI ability, and perceived effort.

Results
Physical performances improved significantly following both MI protocols (range: ~2% to ~9%), but were reduced in the control group, compared to pre-intervention (P ≤ 0.016). Moreover, interactions (time × protocol) were identified between the two MI groups (P ≤ 0.001). While the 85%1RM led to greater effects on maximal strength measures than the OPL, the latter induced superior responses on measures of lower limbs power. These findings were mirrored by corresponding cognitive and psychophysiological responses.

Conclusion
During periods of forced detraining, MI practice seems to be a viable tool to maintain and increase physical performance capacity among professional athletes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
Early online date24 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 May 2021

Keywords

  • cognitive intervention
  • covid-19
  • elite athletes
  • neural excitability
  • neuromuscular performance

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