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Imagery in Strength & Conditioning

Imagery is a mental process that involves multisensory experiences in absence of actual perception [1]. Imagery incorporates all five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound [2, 1, 3]. Often, the terms imagery, visualization, and mental practice will be used interchangeably. It is important to note their differences to ensure that true imagery is occurring. Visualization is a specific sensory modality, focusing only on the one sense of sight [4]. Mental practice usually involves other psychological skills such as self-talk along with imagery [5].


Imagery is a skill that gets better with practice. As a strength and conditioning coach we can help athletes learn how to incorporate each sense successfully through the use of the weight room. Athletes spend so much time in the gym that it is easy to recall a training session. Using a common and comfortable space, that has low risk associated with it, is a great space for practice to be done and learned to modify. A successful way to practice imagery is using the PETTLEP model [6]. 

For a printable pamphlet on imagery, click below!

The PETTLEP Model [6]

Physical: Make it feel as close to a real experience as possible (wearing competition uniform) [6]

Environmental: Mimic competition as closely as possible (golfer standing in sand) [6]

Task: The imagined task should match the true abilities and attention of the athlete [6]

Timing: The speed of the imagery should match that of the activity [6]

Learning: Imagery scripts/sessions should mimic real-life progress and adapt alongside training sessions and competition [6]

Emotion: Imagery emotions should be that of competitive emotions; don't assume one should be relaxed while practicing imagery [6]

Perspective: First- or third-person depending on the skills and the preference of the athlete [6]

Click below for a step-by-step infographic!


One of the easiest ways to introduce imagery is through the use of a script. An imagery script can help with coaches who are educating athletes or leading imagery sessions. A script is a low-risk high-reward tool that can be edited and practiced to ensure successful implementation. Do consider the small details of delivery, the background noise that may negate the impact. If possible, find a room and put on a relaxing background sound to stimulate the brain and increase receptiveness. 

When creating a script it is important to remember each category that makes imagery successful. Try to keep it paced similar to how training or competition is paced. Another good rule of thumb is to use lingo of the activity, terms an athlete can relate with. Fill the script with the athlete's/team's personality and emotions. 

For an imagery script on doing barbell back squat or an outline to create your own imagery script, click below!

The Skills
The Skills_Goal Setting

Goal Setting

Imagery: Resources

[1] Horn, T., Murphy, S. M., Nordin, S. M., & Cumming, J. (2008). Imagery in sport, exercise and dance. In Advances in sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 297–324). Human Kinetics.
[2] Hanrahan, S. J., Andersen, M. B., & Morris, T. (2013). Imagery. In Routledge handbook of applied sport psychology: A comprehensive guide for students and practitioners (pp. 481–489). Routledge. 
[3] White, A., & Hardy, L. (1998). An in-depth analysis of the uses of imagery by high-level slalom canoeists and artistic gymnasts. The Sport Psychologist, 12(4), 387–403.
[4] Richardson, A. (1969). Mental imagery. Springer-Verlag. 
[5] Horn, T. S., Murphy, S. M., & Martin, K. A. (2002). The use of imagery in sport. In Advances in sport psychology (2nd ed., pp. 405–439). Human Kinetics.
[6] Holmes, P. S., & Collins, D. J. (2001). The PETTLEP approach to motor imagery: A functional equivalence model for sport psychologists. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13(1), 60–83.

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