The “Secret” to Success: Visualization

Do you visualize? Is your visualization mindset positive? Can you see success?

Visualization is not only something I personally practice, but I also coach my students to practice it as part of their training. Visualization may sound “woo-woo” to some people, but not to those who have their sights set on meaningful goals and believe in quality training. Because I strongly believe if your mindset isn’t right, then your training will suffer.

The "Secret" to Success: Visualization

The Power of Positive Mindset

Positive mindset is key to success, and visualization in one of the quickest ways to change your mindset. I will touch on a few other uses for visualization, but first let’s dive deeper into using it to help with positivity.

If your mind is negative and you cannot “see” yourself as successful in your training, in reaching a personal goal, or winning in a competition, then you are not fully ready to achieve those objectives. First, you must be able to picture in your mind that a skill, goal, or competition can be 100% successful and then you can achieve it.

True some goals will take longer, of course, but until you can see each goal in your mind and truly believe it, then and only then will you achieve it. Doubt will always hold you back.

The Skill of Visualization

Visualization is a skill that can and should be practiced with the same dedication we practice the skill of strength. This practice is done to strengthen our mind. When you first begin practicing visualization, you may find you get distracted easily, but the more you practice and the more structured you make that practice, the better you will become at it.

Here’s a quick exercise to get you started in this practice by visualizing your breathing:

How to Practice Crocodile Breathing:

  1. Lay on your belly.
  2. Before you put your head down, cross your hands on the ground in front of you.
  3. Rest your forehead on your hands.
  4. Spend 2-5 minutes focusing on the in/out of your breath.
  5. Inhale through the nose and let the breath travel deep into your belly.
  6. After allowing your belly to expand and press against the floor, slowly exhale the breath out.
  7. Slow the pace of your breathing, each breath taking a little longer.
  8. Visualize each breath coming in through your nose, traveling down your throat, and going deep into your diaphragm.
  9. Allow the breath to pass through your chest but not expand the chest as it makes its way deeper into your belly.

Once you have practiced visualizing just your breathing and have relaxed, add an additional picture. Along with your slowed breath, picture something that makes you happy and see that picture or situation play out step by step in a positive fashion. Now you should not only be relaxed but also in a positive mindset.

Here are three specific visualization practices I find helpful depending on the goal at hand. After you read all three, I recommend you pick one and add it to your daily practice.

1. Visualizing a Skill

Think about a new skill or one you are working to achieve. Walk your mind through each step of that skill from the set-up to the completion.

Example: One-arm Push-up

Begin with a minute of crocodile breathing, then start laying the foundation for your mind to see you achieving your new skill (if you can already perform a one-arm push-up, then pick something different). See yourself clearly in each of these steps:

  1. Get set up in quadruped
  2. Stack your shoulders over your wrist and lock out your elbows
  3. Pack your shoulders, brace your abs, and extend your right leg and tense the right glute
  4. Extend the left leg and tense the left glute
  5. You are now in a solid straight arm plank, nothing bulging or sagging
  6. Add a quick tension breath to brace prior to removing one arm from floor
  7. You are now holding a solid one arm plank position
  8. Slowly pull yourself down the floor, “rowing” your elbow to your hip
  9. You are in complete control with perfect form reaching the floor and maintaining control
  10. You pause and then you powerfully press back up

You just completed a strong perfect rep in your mind. If you can continue to see each and every step of thousands of perfect repetitions in your mind, then you are making progress toward achieving this skill. When you practice your actual reps, you’ll have already set a solid foundation for your work because your mind has already practiced the perfect technique over and over.

The "Secret" to Success: Visualization

2. Visualizing a Specific Breath Path

Seeing a specific breath path for different skills can make for a stronger movement. It can help you to have better control and balance. It can also help you increase your active negatives and create more carryover to other skill sets.

Example: Pistol

The pistol is one of our SFB skills that people seem to consistently improve through use of the breath path visualization. For this visualization you will actually be performing a pistol, so get yourself set up appropriately for pistol practice and remember this is just one example. You can switch this visualization practice to a squat if you do not yet have a pistol.

  1. Before beginning to descend with an inhalation, visualize that you are inhaling that breath through the bottom of the working foot
  2. As you begin to lower, visualize pulling that breath up your calf, and then past your knee and your hip, and then deep into your belly as you arrive at the bottom of the pistol.
  3. Pause here and take notice of how balanced you feel.
  4. As you begin your ascent, visualize your exhale of breath being explosively pushed back out from your belly, through your hip, and down your leg until it is released out the bottom of your foot as you complete the repetition with a full lockout.

I have found that by using this visualization I achieve a slow and controlled solid pistol. And, remember, this can be done with many skills. One of my other favorites is visualizing the breath during one-arm push-ups. I see it coming up my arm and into my belly on the descent, and then back out the same path to completion.

3. Visualizing a Competition

Seeing every aspect of your upcoming competition is key. Some aspects of the competition setting may be unknown to you, but finding out about as many of the parameters as you can will increase the power of your visualization.

The first time I used this type of visualization was when someone recommended it to me while I was at a sticking point in my Iron Maiden training. I believe it made a huge difference in my subsequent training. While I did not know the exact location where I would complete the challenge, I was still able to see the process and make it come to fruition. I have since coached my students through this type of mindset work to help them reach their goals.

Example: Iron Maiden Challenge

  • As I got closer to mastering all three skills, I used my visualization practice to see myself the day of the challenge. I laid in bed with my eyes closed and saw myself in front of all the attendees. I saw the order of events, as well as the set-up and full execution of each skill. I saw each event as a success.
  • As funny as this may sound, I even saw the attendees cheering for me as I touched my neck to the pull-up bar. Why would I do this? Because the pull-up was my most challenging of the three events and I needed to see it and then believe it was possible. Then, and only then, I could achieve it.

A funny thing happened during my actual Iron Maiden attempt—when I was performing each event, even though people were right in front of me, I saw no one. Once I got into my zone, my performance played out just as I had seen it a though times before.

The "Secret" to Success: Visualization

You Need to See Your Success

Visualization can be used during your training session or outside of your sessions as a standalone practice depending on what skills you are working to improve or master. The bottom line is: success is yours for the taking. But if you can’t see “it,” then achieving “it” might be difficult. Remember, the mind is a powerful tool, but it must be set to the positive in order for you to reach your goal.

I believe visualization is a “secret” tool for quicker progress. So, make sure to practice seeing what you desire thousands of times in your mind. Believe that you can be successful and you will achieve anything you can “see.”

Karen Smith
Karen Smith is a StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor, and the fourth woman to claim the Iron Maiden title. She has been personal training students of all fitness levels from beginners to elite US military forces since 2000. Karen specializes in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a certified SFG, SFB, FMS, and Battling Ropes instructor.

Karen currently resides in Dallas where she is available for private and group sessions. She is also available worldwide for distance coaching and program design. She travels regularly instructing workshops and StrongFirst Courses and Certifications.

She can be reached at or at her blog, Coach Karen Smith.
Karen Smith on Email

5 thoughts on “The “Secret” to Success: Visualization

  • Really great article! I especially loved the details you gave on visualization. I think that’s the toughest part for people (me at least): you really do have to visualize every moment and make it as vivid as possible.

    Also, I remember your Iron Maiden event. You made it all look so easy 🙂

  • Couldn’t agree more about this. I first learned of it years ago when I started skydiving. They teached us to do this before every jump.

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