If you’ve become a couch – potato like me during these extraordinary times, you’ve probably finished Netflix by now and it’s time to get some exercise. We start to lose muscle after about a week of inactivity.

But we’re essentially confined to our homes and it’s sometimes hard to maintain social distancing when outdoors. What can we do from the safety of our couch?

Fortunately, there’s been some compelling research that suggests simply thinking about a specific exercise or activity can make us stronger.

Motor imagery is a technique often used by athletes and others in the performing arts. It requires you to vividly imagine performing a specific exercise or task over a period of time, just like physical exercise. Motor imagery exercises the part of the brain where the impulse to move the muscle originates. In one study, participants used 22% more of their muscles after using the motor imagery technique.

In 2014, researchers performed a study involving subjects whose arm was in a cast. Half of the subjects were told to imagine flexing their wrists for 15 minutes, 5 times a week for 4 weeks. At the end of 4 weeks, this group was twice as strong compared to the group that did not perform the motor imagery technique.

So, pick an exercise. Let’s use a squat as an example because I’m not too fond of doing squats in real life. Sit still and vividly imagine performing the up and down movement of the squat exercise. Do it for 15 minutes. You might get brain strain, but no muscle burn to suffer. Repeat 5 times a week for the next month. It will give you some get up and go when the time comes that we can all get up off our couches and go back to normal life again.

While motor imagery is not a substitute for real exercise, it can supplement physical exercise and improve muscle performance.

And you don’t have to move a muscle.

Dr. David Olson

Dr. David Olson

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