Is Visualization Your Ticket to Better Performance?

Travis Ortmayer is no slouch in the gym. The 42-year-old has had a long, illustrious, strongman career, appearing in elite events over three decades. He has competed at the World’s Strongest Man (WSM) contest on five occasions — he ranked fifth overall three consecutive times from 2008 to 2010 and qualified twice more in 2011 and 2021.

While Ortmayer only competed once in 2023 at the Strongman Champions League (SCL) Holland, according to Strongman Archives, he continues to train heavy in the gym. On Jan. 4, 2024, Ortmayer posted a video of him performing a seated machine row with 270 pounds in each hand.

Before performing his set, Ortmayer expressed how he uses visualization to prime himself for a lift. “Today’s visualization: rowing a Greek trireme and smashing it into a Persian ship… Ramming Speed!!!” This begs the question: does visualization boost performance? The science on the topic suggests it does.

Check out Ortmayer’s set below, followed by a dive into how visualization, also known as motor imagery training, could be the ticket to better lifts:

[Related: 2024 Britain’s Strongest Man Roster Announced]

What is Motor Imagery Training?

According to the Journal of Neural Transmission, “motor imagery is the mental execution of a movement without any overt movement or without any peripheral (muscle) activation.” In simpler terms, imagining yourself performing a movement beforehand can help better execute the movement physically. (1)

Of course, motor imagery training is not a substitute for actual muscular stimulation via resistance training but can serve as “a complementary but relevant technique to improve motor learning.”

Motor imagery leads to the activation of the same brain areas as actual movement.

Motor imagery training can be especially useful during deload weeks or during times of “forced detraining,” such as while recovering from injury. A 2021 randomized control trial in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise deemed that “motor imagery practice seems to be a viable tool to maintain and increase physical performance capacity.” (2)

Over a span of six consecutive weeks, study participants in two of three groups performed three motor imagery sessions per week (the third group did not perform motor imagery training). The findings displayed significant improvements in upper and lower limb maximal strength measures.

So, next time you are training for a new PR, try visualizing the movement patterns of the rep before grabbing the barbell.


Mulder T. Motor imagery and action observation: cognitive tools for rehabilitation. J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2007;114(10):1265-78. doi: 10.1007/s00702-007-0763-z. Epub 2007 Jun 20. PMID: 17579805; PMCID: PMC2797860.

Dello Iacono, A., Ashcroft, K., & Zubac, D. (2021). Ain’t Just Imagination! Effects of Motor Imagery Training on Strength and Power Performance of Athletes during Detraining. Medicine and science in sports and exercise53(11), 2324–2332.

Featured image: @travis_ortmayer on Instagram

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