JUST thinking about your muscles can make them stronger, according to research out today.
The way athletes think could boost muscle strength and help recovery after injury, a conference in Cardiff will be told.
The research by a team at Hull University monitored 30 people performing bicep curls, using a weights machine that measured how much their biceps were working.
They tried to produce as much possible force under three conditions - thinking only about their muscles and how they were working, thinking about the weight they were lifting, and thinking about whatever they wanted.
The study found "much more" muscle activity when people thought about their arm muscles and how they moved compared with when they just thought about the weight they were lifting.
However, studies have shown that thinking about muscles when performing skills such as throwing a ball makes activities more difficult.
Therefore what people are thinking about should vary according to what they want to achieve.
The research will be unveiled at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Cardiff today.
"Sports coaches and trainers would benefit from tailoring their instructions depending on what they want performers to achieve," said Dr David Marchant, who led the research.
"When they want people to improve their performance, thinking about outcomes such as targets or goals is best.
"However, when they want athletes to exercise their muscles or recover from injury, thinking about the movement of their muscles during exercise is helpful."
Dr Marchant said the technique may help injured athletes recover more quickly.
"If you injure a muscle and the physiotherapist is trying to stimulate that muscle, trying to get the patient to stimulate a muscle, if you get the patient to think about the movement you could get the patient to stimulate the muscle."
He added, "What we are trying to stress is that exercisers need to be aware they can use mental techniques to produce different effects of lifting weights.
"If they are thinking about their muscles while they are lifting weights they will get a different effect than if they think about just lifting the weight."
Dr Marchant explained that when the brain thinks about what each muscle is doing it makes them work less efficiently because the brain has more than one thing to think about.
And this is what makes the muscles work harder and become stronger rather than the movement being more of a reflex action.
"Thinking about the weight you are lifting should produce a more efficient movement. The nervous system should move the muscle more efficiently.
"If you are thinking about the movement you are putting quite a bit of effort into the co-ordination of all the different components in your movement.
"That awareness of what all the muscles are doing is increasing the activity in all the muscles and is a less efficient activation of muscular activity. But when a weightlifter is lifting weights, they want that so eventually they will get stronger."
Dr Marchant will look at researching the field further to see whether there are other thought processes that can be used to improve muscular strength during workouts.
Page 2 - What the psychologists say