How to Use Visualization and Biofeedback to Enhance Cycling Performance
As co-author of Sport Psychology for Cyclists, I know how powerful visualization is as a tool to enhance training for high-level athletic performance. It’s been proven that the mental exercise stimulates our neuromuscular pathways and gives us the learning effect of having done the activity without the physical taxation. When we do strength and stretching exercises, however, we tend to count reps, listen to music, or watch ourselves in a mirror. While those are fine mental spaces, what if we enhanced our efforts by visualizing how we want our bodies to move and perform? I don’t mean just picturing yourself lifting a goal weight, but mentally practicing the form you want: how to hold your body, what parts move together, how the bones, ligaments, and muscles interact and how they will feel as you make the effort. With that awareness we could be attentive to how it feels, learn good form quicker and establish the correct moves in our neuromuscular pathways while we practice the skill of visualization to boot.
A great recent article by Coach Steve Ehasz focuses on correcting “cyclists’ posture” to facilitate weight training through eight exercises to do over five weeks. If you add visualization to those exercises, you’ll lock in those postural changes in a fraction of the time. As you are learning the exercises, holding the counts and doing the reps he suggests, visualize how you want your skeletal system to move. Then visualize again before doing each exercise. You’ll get the double benefit of improving both physical and psychological skills while you create new habits.
As you add visualization, you’ll tune into those moving body parts. Adjusting your moves to what you are feeling is called biofeedback. You might notice tightness in a muscle and hold a stretch longer to release it. Or, you feel an imbalance in strength or range of motion between your right leg and left and do more reps on the weak side. Even emotions like fear can tell you to not lift heavier weight, or it might say “not with that injured shoulder!” To become alert to your biofeedback, try these two tests:
Visualization Exercise 1
Place a tennis ball in each armpit. Picture your shoulder weight resting on the balls. Once you have the image in mind, you may find it difficult to keep the ball there until you let your shoulders go. Now rotate your shoulders a few times forwards, then backwards. When you remove the balls, do you shoulders feel more relaxed? You used visualization to hold the balls under your armpits. You used biofeedback to learn how much pressure was needed to keep the balls under your armpits as you rotated your shoulders. Both enhanced the exercise by engaging your mind.
Visualization Exercise 2
Use a stretchy band or cut an old inner tube to make one long, wide piece. Drape the band over your shoulders like a shawl and hold an end in each hand. Hold your arms as if in cycling position, holding handlebars. Now imagine your are on your bike, holding the handlebars, and want to relax your shoulders. By having the band over each arm, shoulder, and across your back you’ll feel the connection of all those upper body parts. Now rotate your shoulders forwards and backwards and feel the band stimulating all the parts it touches: fist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulders, shoulder blades, back of neck. They are all working together, aren’t they? What are they telling you? Do you hold one shoulder higher than the other, one fist tighter? Now visualize a warm current starting at your head, flowing down each side, warming and relaxing. Add a color to that current – orange for warmth, try blue for cooling. Are you feeling the warmth touch all those connected body parts and relax them? Now you are using visualization and biofeedback to affect your body.
These exercises are modified from the Franklin Method of Movement, the innovation of Swiss Movement Educator Eric Franklin. While there are many systems of physical exercises, the Franklin Method is special in that it includes elements to retrain your brain to remember the improved movement patterns.
I also like how empowering the Franklin Method is – I feel like I’m inventing moves as my body and brain interact. A correction I’ve made for myself since being introduced to the Franklin Method is in how far I push a stretch. I tended to “over stretch,” pushing stretches beyond where my muscles could relax and release (striving to reach as I could when I was a younger, elite athlete). Now my stretches are more effective as I adjust to my tightness day by day, listening to my muscles telling me where the endpoints are instead of pushing and risking damage to reach a predetermined goal. The Franklin Method is gentle enough to use with new or old injuries since it is guided by practical neuroplasticity. Your brain attends to biofeedback as you create new physical avenues. You are aware of possible danger so you can avoid hurting yourself.
You might want to check out more if you:
- are returning from injury and need more gentle exercises
- want to understand how your skeletal system works
- are interested in incorporating visualization in your strength and stretching routines
- are looking for exercises that recruit connected body parts and utilize biofeedback
- want more benefit from the time you spend doing strength and stretching work
- enjoy being creative in your workouts
You can use the franklinmethod.com website to view videos and search for an instructor in your area. I can organize workshops and bring in facilitators in the Pacific Northwest. Regardless, add visualization and biofeedback to your stretching and strengthening routine to make lasting progress Faster!
Associate Coach Peg Maass Labiuk has been advising international champions for over 20 years, and still loves riding her bike. She is the author of Sports Psychology for Cyclists, a guide for cyclists and other endurance athletes to up their mental game. Learn more about working with Peg >>>>>
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