Athlete Centered Skating

In part 01 of this series we explained that motor imagery leverages sensory predictions that take place prior to actual movements.  In part 02, we explain several types of motor imagery athletes can learn to improve performance.

Two different types of imagery pertain to motor learning and execution: visual-motor imagery and kinaesthetic imagery (Neuper and Pfurtscheller 2010).  Both types activate overlapping and distinct neural pathways and mechanisms. Visual-motor imagery refers to imaging skill performance from a third-person or first-person perspective and results in a visual representation of the skill’s movement.  It is as if the athlete is watching a “mental video (Neuper and Pfurtscheller 2010)” or “personal highlight reel (Mack and Casstevens 2001)” of their performance.  Though both can be effective, some report that visualizing from the first-person perspective more effectively triggers associated sensory information of the skill because this perspective is more embodied than the third person perspective (Lorey, Bischoff et al. 2009).  The second type of imagery, kinaesthetic imagery, focuses on sensory consequences rather than visual consequences of movement (Stinear 2010).  Kinaesthetic imagery involves proprioceptive information such as feelings of stretch, balance, or muscle contraction.  The athlete can also visualize exteroceptive cues such as the sounds of jump takeoffs and landings or tactile information such as partnering holds in pair skating (Decety 1996).

In the motor imagery session above David (left) engages 1st person imagery, Katelyn (center back) images her skills in 3rd person) and Ieva (center front) images the feelings and sensations of performance (kinesthetic imagery) (photo artwork by Niko Cohen @hikikonekkon).

Research shows that both types of motor imagery are effective, especially if used in combination with one another and with actual practice (2010).  However, kinaesthetic imagery, while more difficult to learn, can lead to more vivid image representations which excite greater central and autonomous nervous system activity, and exactness on the ordering and timing of the actual skill (Collet and Guillot 2010, Stinear 2010, Guillot, Hoyek et al. 2012).

That’s Exactly How I Feel

When an individual engages motor imagery, electrical activity amplitude increases and decreases as a function of the perceived workload of the image.  If one were to visualize lifting heavy weights, the corresponding electrical activity amplitude would be higher than if the individual visualized lifting light weights (Lotze and Zentgraf 2010).  In fact, the prediction can be so vivid that short-term and long-term adaptations mobilize in response (2010).  For example, as a short-term response to vivid motor imagery, heart rate and respiration increase (Oishi, Kasai et al. 2000, Oishi and Maeshima 2004, 2010).  As a long-term response from ongoing motor imagery practice, the nerve cell clusters and networks involved with the actual movement grow, reorganize, strengthen, and stabilize (McKenzie and Eichenbaum 2011, Trempe and Proteau 2012).

This is the Time to Shine

Since motor imagery has such influence on motor activity, to be effective, athletes should always visualize their performances in real-time [the motor imagery should match the actual timing of the intended motor skill (2010, Guillot, Hoyek et al. 2012)].  This point appears to be particularly relevant to highly automated tasks that have been trained for many hours (Guillot, Louis et al. 2010).  Imaging movements in an alternate timing organization could very well induce inaccurate timing parameters when the skill is subsequently performed (Guillot, Hoyek et al. 2012).  In other words, if an athlete slows down a motor image in their mind, then they at risk of slowing down the subsequent performance.  This point also has implications for the ‘slow motion’ walk-throughs skaters tend to do by the boards before they attempt a jump.  They do this to think deeply about all the movements about to take place.  Unfortunately, this trains the motor system to slow down as well.

In part 03 we will discuss motor imagery in practice.  To follow this motor imagery series, expect an extensive six part series on external focus of attention that builds from motor imagery research.  External focus of attention is a vital component of the ACSkating curriculum.


(2010). The Neurophysiological Foundations of Mental and Motor Imagery. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.

Collet, C. and A. Guillot (2010). Autonomic nervous system activities during imagined movements. The Neurophysiological Foundations of Mental and Motor Imagery. A. Guillot and C. Collet. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.

Decety, J. (1996). “The neurophysiological basis of motor imagery.” Behavioral Brain Research77(1-2): 45-52.

Guillot, A., N. Hoyek, M. Louis and C. Collet (2012). “Understanding the timing of motor imagery: recent findings and future directions.” International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology5(1): 3-22.

Guillot, A., M. Louis and C. Collet (2010). Neurophysiological substrates of motor imagery ability. The Neurophysiological Foundations of Mental and Motor Imagery. A. Guillot and C. Collet. Oxford Oxford University Press.

Lorey, B., M. Bischoff, S. Pilgramm, R. Stark, J. Munzert and K. Zentgraf (2009). “The embodied nature of motor imagery: the influence of posture and perspective.” Experimental Brain Research194(2): 233-243.

Lotze, M. and K. Zentgraf (2010). Contribution of the primary motor cortex to motor imagery. The Neurophysiological Foundations of Mental and Motor Imagery. A. Guillot and C. Collet. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Mack, G. and D. Casstevens (2001). Mind Gym, Contemporary Books.

McKenzie, S. and H. Eichenbaum (2011). “Consolidation and reconsolidation: two lives of memories?” Neuron71(2): 224-233.

Neuper, C. and G. Pfurtscheller (2010). Electroencephalographic characteristics during motor imagery. The Neurophysiological Foundations of Mental and Motor Imagery. A. Guillot and C. Collet. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Oishi, K., T. Kasai and T. Maeshima (2000). “Autonomic response specificity during motor imagery.” Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science19(6): 255-261.

Oishi, K. and T. Maeshima (2004). “Autonomic nervous system activities during motor imagery in elite athletes.” Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology21(3): 170-179.

Stinear, C. M. (2010). Corticospinal facilitation during motor imagery. The Neurophysiological Foundations of Mental and Motor Imagery. A. Guillot and C. Collet. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Trempe, M. and L. Proteau (2012). “11 Motor skill consolidation.” Skill acquisition in sport: Research, theory and practice: 192.