G.H. Yue and K.J. Cole took eight volunteers and asked them to exercise the muscle that controls the little finger of the left hand for four weeks, five sessions a week. They asked eight other volunteers to do the same but now only in their mind, so by imagining that they were training the muscle. A control group of eight volunteers had to do nothing. In the first group the average force of the muscle increased with 30%, in the second group with 22% and in the control group with a trivial 3.7%. The results were substantiated by other research, also for other muscles. The upshot is that we can train muscles by imagining the training in our mind.
Physical exercise is important for many people, also for me. I like to run in the wood behind my house or to go for a bike ride. But I like also a lot of other things and, actually, sometimes working out takes me too much time. For it does not only involve the exercise itself, but there are also many things around it that belong to it. I have to put my training clothes on; I have to take extra showers; I have to maintain my bike; and so there’s a lot more. In the end, a workout takes twice as much time as the exercise itself. But now I discovered a time-saving alternative: take a comfortable chair and start dreaming. Then I have simply to visualize how I move my legs, think how I jump over a tree fallen on my path, imagine how I climb a hill on my bike, simulate how I pass other joggers or do a little sprint now and then. I can train as I like it and I do not have to look for the right hill, the right flat track, or how I want to have it, for it comes to me. And I’ll not be stiff with my last training, for I need simply to imagine how smooth my legs move. And when I have finished my mental training, I can immediately go on with the other things that are waiting for me, like writing this blog, without taking off my training clothes, taking a shower, and so on. Maybe the training effect is a bit smaller than by training physically, but it is still big enough and its advantages are legion.But shall I not miss the birds singing in the wood, the roes crossing my path, the tailwind that makes me ride faster? Will mental exercise be as relaxing as moving through real fields and through a real wood? I am afraid that I am going to miss it when I would switch from a physical to a mental training of my muscles. And I’ll still see my books around me when training in my chair and it will be difficult to distance myself from my other mental activities. Maybe it is not as relaxing as real running and riding a real bike. Maybe it will be better to keep it for special occasions; for when I am busy; for – let it not happen – when I am injured and cannot go; or for the days that the rain is pouring down. But in case this happens, I have an alternative now: running or riding with my mind.