Short-term effects of integrated motor imagery practice on muscle activation and force performance.Neuroscience. 2015 Oct 01; 305:146-56.N
The effect of motor imagery (MI) practice on isometric force development is well-documented. However, whether practicing MI during rest periods of physical training improves the forthcoming performance remains unexplored. We involved 18 athletes in a counterbalanced design including three physical training sessions scheduled over five consecutive days. Training involved 10 maximal isometric contractions against a force plate, with the elbow at 90°. During two sessions, we integrated MI practice (focusing on either muscle activation or relaxation) during the inter-trial rest periods. We measured muscle performance from force plate and electromyograms of the biceps brachii and anterior deltoideus. We continuously monitored electrodermal activity (EDA) to control sympathetic nervous system activity. MI of muscle activation resulted in higher isometric force as compared to both MI of muscle relaxation and passive recovery (respectively +2.1% and +3.5%). MI practice of muscle relaxation also outperformed the control condition (+1.9%). Increased activation of the biceps brachii was recorded under both MI practice conditions compared to control. Biceps brachii activation was similar between the two MI practice conditions, but electromyography revealed a marginal trend toward greater activation of the anterior deltoideus during MI practice of muscle activation. EDA and self-reports indicated that these effects were independent from physiological arousal and motivation. These results might account for priming effects of MI practice yielding to higher muscle activation and force performance. Present findings may be of interest for applications in sports training and neurologic rehabilitation.