Time needed: 20–30 minutes
Hiking and running are both excellent forms of exercise. So, in preparation, this means visualizing your competitive trail run or backpacking trip. Incorporate mental imagery into your practice trail runs or hikes.
You’ve undoubtedly heard musicians, athletes, teachers, coaches, and artists all extol the virtues of mental imagery. It not only enhances learning, but also improves performance, helps build self-confidence, regulates your emotional state, and more. Mental imagery is also called visualization or mental rehearsal. Imagery means using all of your senses (e.g., see, feel, hear, taste, smell) to rehearse your sport in your mind. Athletes, including hikers, climbers, and trail runners, use mental imagery extensively to build on their strengths and help eliminate their weaknesses. Imagery is also a tool that can help athletes to maintain a vision of what they would like to achieve in their sport and to keep in top form when training is not possible. Injuries will inevitably occur and imagery can even help the healing process to move along more quickly. Therefore, mental imagery is an effective way to train for your runs or hikes.
Here are some tips to get started:
Practice makes perfect. Imagery is a skill, and, just like any skill that you perform in your sport, you will need to practice it in order to be perfect.
Quality... not quantity. Because imagery is a mental skill, you will need to concentrate on creating and controlling your images, which can be tiring when you first get started. For this reason, it is best to begin your imagery training by holding high quality images in your mind for short periods of time and then gradually increasing the time you spend imaging.
Set the scene. Try to make your imagery as realistic as possible by re-creating important details of the setting in your mind's eye. Including details—like the color of the woods around you or the sound of the birds in the trees or the motion of the creek flowing over the rocks along the trail—will help you feel like you are really experiencing what you are imaging.
Practicing Mental Imagery:
Step 1: Generate
The first step is to generate an image. Try something like picturing yourself at the bottom of a beautiful mountain trail you are about to hike or run. It is best if the image is something that comes from a past experience because this will make it easier to imagine the details.
An important part of this step is describing as much of the scene as you can in words. Because if you can’t describe what you see in your head, it’s probably a sign that the image is not clear and vivid enough.
Then, let the imagery play out until the scene ends at some logical
point—like at the summit or the end of the trail.
Step 2: Reflect
Next, rate the image and reflect on the quality and completeness of it. The idea is to break the image down and identify which parts were vivid and which parts were unclear. This way you have some idea what to add to the image in your next attempt.
Step 3: Develop it
After reflecting on your imagery attempt, you can either re-image the same exact thing, focusing on the elements that were the most vivid and easiest to imagine clearly. Or, you could try to develop the image by adding another aspect of the space, like a creek or different sounds. Or, it might be the smell of the woods around you or the taste of the fresh air as you ascend higher on the trail.
Next, give mental imagery a try…
Now, reflect on it…
Rate the mental image you just went through and reflect on the quality and completeness of your image. Did you see just the visual elements of the location? Or, did your image also incorporate how your legs and muscles felt? How clearly did you hear the sound of nature all around you?
Think about which parts were vivid and which parts were unclear. This way, you will have some idea what to add to the image in the next attempt.
Then, develop it...
After reflecting on the imagery attempt, try to re-image the same hike or run, focusing this time on adding another layer of detail. It could be another aspect of the trail—like a creek or different sounds. Or, it might be the smell of the woods or the taste of the fresh air as you ascend higher on the trail.
Feel free to continue practicing with mental imagery as you train for your trail adventures!
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Girl Scout Activity Zone activities have been adapted from existing Girl Scout programming.