Imagining Movements: Increased Muscle Strength Experiment

November 14, 2013


For years Feldenkrais practitioners have successfully used the kinesthetic imagination to help clients make improvements in their ability to move easily. Now researchers have found we can also strengthen muscles simply by imagining movements.
Dr. Vinoth Ranganathan and his team of researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation had a group of 30 young adults imagine using either the muscle of their little finger or their elbow flexor for 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 12 weeks. They had the participants think about moving the muscle being tested and make imaginary movements as real as they were able.

Results were compared to a control group that did no imaginary exercises. The little finger group increased muscle strength by 35% and the elbow group increased strength by 13.4%. The control group made no gains in strength at all. Brain scans taken after the study showed greater and more focused activity in the prefrontal cortex of those that used their imaginations. The researchers postulated that the gains in the imaginary exercise group were made because of improvements in the brain's ability to signal the muscle the exercisers focused on.

Once again research shows that it’s the brain that makes the difference. Moshe Feldenkrais said many times that he was more interested in training flexible brains than flexible bodies. However, the reverse is also true, if you have a flexible brain you will have a more flexible body.

Try this Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® lesson. It will give you a sense of how your brain organizes your muscles to move. I can’t say that after one experience with this lesson that you’ll have stronger muscles but it will show you how effective the kinesthetic imagination can be.

Turn While Cradling the Chin in the Hands
Sit towards the front of your chair, feet flat on the floor a comfortable distance apart and hands resting on your thighs. Repeat each instruction 3 or 4 times pausing for at least one full breath between each initiation of the movement.

  1. Turn to one side and back to center. Notice how you did this movement. How much of yourself did you include as you did the movement? Did you turn only from your head and neck or was more of yourself involved? 
  2. Now turn to the other side and back to center. Does it feel the same or different than the other side? Which side had the greater range?
  3. Rest for a few moments before continuing.
  4. Now turn to the easier side and stay there. Look at the spot on the wall where your nose is pointing. This is your reference point. Return to center.
  5. Cradle your chin in your hands. The heels of your hands are joined together, your palms are wrapped around your jaw line and the tips of the fingers are near your temples. Let your arms rest on or near your upper chest.
  6. Staying in this position, imagine that your entire upper body is glued together so the head, neck, shoulders and arms have to move as a unit. Now turn again to the easier side and back to center a few times Keep your movement at about 60% of your capacity so that it feels dead easy. With the constraint placed on the upper body you now have to turn differently. Notice that you have to include your ribs and pelvis in the movement.
  7. Continue to do the movement on the same side slowly and thoughtfully many times. Feel what is happening in your ribs, your pelvis, your legs and feet.
  8. Bring your hands to your lap and turn to the same side. Notice any improvements in your turning.
  9. Now, put your hands back around your chin but imagine the movement that you did on the other side. Repeat this in your imagination 10 times slowly including all the sensations you remember feeling on the other side.
  10. Bring your hands down to your lap and turn again to this side. Notice the improvements that have come simply by imagining the movement.


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