We’ve all had those moments during a fitness class where no matter how many times a trainer explains how to do an exercise, you just can’t quite seem to nail it. Whether it’s a particularly tricky move (we’re looking at you, Turkish get-up!) or because you had a crappy night’s sleep the night before, your body just won’t do what your brain wants it to.
The seemingly simple solution would be to get the trainer to walk you through it step-by-step until you get it. But according to new research published in the Journal of Motor Behaviour, this may not actually be the best way to get the hang of it quickly. The study revealed that when trying to improve performance, painting a mental picture of the end goal is more helpful than step-by-step coaching on how to execute the task.
In the study, the researchers gave participants a drawing task. They found that when asked to draw complex images, participants produced more accurate drawings when the object was described, compared to following instructions for what movements to make with the pen.
So, what does that have to do with the gym? Well, according to study co-author Warren Mansell, Ph.D — professor in clinical psychology at the University of Manchester in England — the same idea can be applied to physical movement. He gives the example of learning to walk on a tightrope. Someone can tell you exactly what to do, like keeping your eyes in a fixed spot and holding your arms out wide. But at the end of the day, successfully staying on the tightrope comes down to an internal sense of what feels right (ie. knowing how much pressure you should put on the inside of your foot.)
For this reason, picturing yourself walking on a tightrope rather than following instructions can help you subconsciously alter your body and keep your balance. The same goes for when your trainer is taking you through a challenging workout move – instead of getting them to talk you through it, why not just ask them to show you how it’s done?
Looking for more ways to get the most out of your workouts? Check out these workout tips from the world’s fittest women.