Sport Imagery: A Powerful Tool for Olympians

olympic skiierOlympic athletes have trained their bodies to near perfection by the time they arrive in PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympics.  However it is the mental preparation for the pressure that comes with competing at the 2018 Olympics that is critical, and may ultimately determine a gold versus silver medal.  Visual imagery has long been a part of the training regimen of elite athletes and has become increasingly more utilized across the world.

The US Olympic team traveled with nine sports psychologists this year to help athletes with overcoming fears and visualizing success.  Being able to envision success is critical to achieving such goals for athletes.  US team sports psychologist and professor at Univeristy of Utal, Dr. Detling states, “You are training those muscles, and if you are training those muscles to fail, that is not really where you want to be. So one of the things I’ll do is if they fail in an image, we stop, rewind and we replay again and again and again.”†

Visual imagery is a mental training technique which involves the athlete creating a picture of their sporting event in their minds.  Visual imagery can be used for the following:

-Increase confidence before competition
-Help with healing and recovery
-Improve relaxation between events
-Reduce discomfort and muscle inhibition that comes from intense physical demands
-Overcome prior mistakes and fears of failure associated with past errors

Here is a highly effective visualization exercise to help mentally gear up for the performance of a lifetime—whether you’re a dancer, high school baseball player, swimmer, avid runner, or recreational tennis player.  Spending just a few minutes before any big event just may give you that extra winning edge!

  1. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably with your eyes closed.  Start by imagining yourself just before your event.  Picture yourself approaching the starting line, climbing up onto the diving block, getting into position, lining up with your teammates, etc.
  2. Take a deep breath and begin to notice the sounds you hear around you
  3. What do you see?  What’s happening around you?
  4.  What do you smell?
  5. Notice the sensations inside your body and on your skin.
  6. Take another deep breath and let the event begin!  Picture yourself as if watching a movie.  Watch yourself spring into action—it’s your best performance ever!  Pay attention to the sensation of your flexing muscles and the movement of your body.  Note all of the sensations, sights, sounds, and smells as you push your body to its limit.
  7. Take another deep breath as you gear up for that final push.  You may even feel your heart rate and breathing speed up a bit as you imagine the exhilaration of this moment.
  8. Finally, imagine your big win.  Listen to the crowd cheer and feel the congratulatory pats on your back.  Allow the emotions to bring a smile to your face and congratulate yourself on your best performance ever!
  9. Take one last deep breath and open your eyes.

This exercise is really easy and well-worth the few minutes it takes to do.  Creating successful mental imagery requires practice and patience.  To learn more about how to practice this technique and the power of mental preparation before an athletic event, here are a few links to articles we think you might enjoy:

Huffington Post Article on 5 “Mind-Hacks” for Performance

Psychology Today article about Sport Imagery

A Peer-Reviewed Article from the Sport Journal on Performance Strategies

New York Times Article on Sports Imagery


†Source: Clarey, Christopher. “Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training”  New York Times. Feb 2014. Link to Article.

Achilles Tendon Tears: Are you at Risk?

The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body, but unfortunately the aging tendon undergoes various changes that put it at risk for injury. Some changes that increase with age include decreased collagen density, decreased glycosaminoglycans and water content, decreased tensil strength and increased stiffness.

A study of 891 ruptured tendons in humans revealed 97% of the changes were degenerative in nature and about 50% of them were Achilles tendons.

How can you keep your Achilles tendons healthy?

Know your risk factors associated with Achilles tendon disorders and schedule an appointment for a physical therapy evaluation to determine the likelihood of your developing an Achilles tendon disorder and to learn research proven treatment strategies to help strengthen and avoid surgical repair.

Risk factors include:
-abnormal dorsiflexion (increased or decreased ability to flex foot)
-abnormal subtalar range of motion (increased or decrease foot joint mobility- pronation or supination)
-decreased plantar flexion strength
-abnormal tendon structure
-medical conditions associated with Achilles tendon disorders: diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol

Studies have shown and proven that eccentric exercises with a focus on slow and controlled movement is an extremely effective nonsurgical method to treating Achilles tendonitis/tendonosis. Below are some helpful exercises for anyone dealing with symptoms or has been diagnosed with this very common injury.

Eccentric Heel Drop on Step: (Achilles Tendon Strengthening)
Begin this exercise with both feet in a neutral position with only the forefoot on the step
Perform a toe raise with both feet
Remove the unaffected leg from the step and slowly lower the affected back to neutral, keeping knee straight
Perform 3 x 15 repetitions twice a day. This is maintained every day for 12 weeks.
As soon as 2 x 15 repetitions twice a day can be done pain free, the load should be increased.
Progression:  Loaded Eccentric Heel Drop on Step–now add weighted dumbells to increase difficulty and to build strength

Running in Minimalist Footwear

by Dylan Bartley, MSPT

You may have heard of the class action lawsuit against the Vibram FiveFingers that resulted in a settlement. If you’re a runner who tried the iconic FiveFingers shoes and developed an injury such as plantar fasciitis or achilles tendonitis, this may be sweet validation for you. If you’re one of the many people who used them and loved them either casually or as a running shoe, then maybe you’re left wondering, is it just a matter of time before I develop an injury? Should I go back to those cushy, supportive Brooks shoes my Podiatrist said I should use? Are all minimalist shoes such as the Nike Free and the New Balance Minimus risky to run in? In 2013 we saw sales of minimialist footwear stop their climb and begin to decline, replaced, of course, by sales of motion control shoes and stability shoes.

Well, let me shed a little light on some of those questions. Let’s start with anatomy: there is a variability in the morphology of our ankle bones that predisposes one towards having a low or a high arch. Structurally some of us have the type of arch that wants to collapse and pronate while others are just blessed with a normal or high arch that supinates well. And there is a fourth category: those that have a structurally normal or supinated foot but when they stand and move, they pronate and collapse too much. Let’s call them functional pronators. A knowledgeable physical therapist should be able to assess what kind of foot you have exactly and guide you through the process of choosing footwear.

If you are in the first category of structural pronators, then you may not fare well in your attempt to run in minimalist shoes. There are just too many biomechanical forces to overcome when your foot hits the ground and eventually your tendons and ligaments get strained. Using a stability shoe or motion control shoe or orthotic placed in a minimalist shoe will reduce your risk of injury. Your level of strength and conditioning (or simply personal preference) determines which of those shoes will work best for you. If you are genetically blessed enough to have a neutral, supinated, or functionally pronating foot, then you may be able to slip some minimalist shoes on and get your foot in shape. You can rely on your foot’s ability to naturally pronate and absorb the shock of landing without over-taxing your soft tissues.

By the way, I say “get your foot in shape” because the wean-in process with this kind of thing is real. That is, of course, why even people with perfect arches often get injured when wearing Vibram FiveFingers. Those of us with sedentary jobs or feet that have been living the life of luxury supported by rigid orthotics and supportive running shoes will have an even greater challenge. Functional pronators may need extra time to strengthen their foot muscles. It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to really build up enough strength to wear a minimalist shoe for an entire 10k or just walking around town all day. There are so many fine motor intrinsic muscles in your foot like the flexor digiti minimi brevis that you probably have never been asked to use unless you were a modern dancer or you grew up walking barefoot in Africa. So be patient as you gradually increase the distance of your runs in minimalist shoes. Wear them half the day at work, and bring a cushy old pair of shoes to switch into at lunchtime. Alternate wearing your minimalist shoe on short runs while wearing supportive shoes on long runs. And listen to pain. See a physical therapist to help diagnose and treat even minor injuries before they become chronic, severe ones. Stretch after your runs and employ a little self-massage and strength training to help your body through any strains. Your new and improved feet will thank you.

Ski Tips From Jonny Mosley

Skiing with Olympic gold medalist, Jonny Moseley during a “ski with a pro” day in Tahoe certainly shines as a highlight for 2013. Hopefully, you too can benefit from these helpful tips our local ski star.unnamed1. “Be one with your ankles” Control your skis through your ankles rather then using the brute force of your knees and hips.
2.  Arm positon: Swing your arms in front of you as you jump up in the air.  When you land, notice how your arms land in front of you in an active position.  This is where your arms belong when skiing.
3. When you plant your pole, “flick your wrist” out at a 45 degree angle (Jonny learned this from another fellow ski Olympian).
4. Pull your uphill ski back with your hamstring, keeping your tip in contact with the snow.
5. “Thrust” your pelvis through the turn to prevent sitting back on your skis.
6. Keep the tibia angles the same on both skis.