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PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47207. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047207. Epub 2012 Oct 17.

Selective effect of physical fatigue on motor imagery accuracy.

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CRIS EA 647, Performance Mentale, Motrice et du Matériel (P3M), Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, F-69000 Villeurbanne Cedex, France.


While the use of motor imagery (the mental representation of an action without overt execution) during actual training sessions is usually recommended, experimental studies examining the effect of physical fatigue on subsequent motor imagery performance are sparse and yielded divergent findings. Here, we investigated whether physical fatigue occurring during an intense sport training session affected motor imagery ability. Twelve swimmers (nine males, mean age 15.5 years) conducted a 45 min physically-fatiguing protocol where they swam from 70% to 100% of their maximal aerobic speed. We tested motor imagery ability immediately before and after fatigue state. Participants randomly imagined performing a swim turn using internal and external visual imagery. Self-reports ratings, imagery times and electrodermal responses, an index of alertness from the autonomic nervous system, were the dependent variables. Self-reports ratings indicated that participants did not encounter difficulty when performing motor imagery after fatigue. However, motor imagery times were significantly shortened during posttest compared to both pretest and actual turn times, thus indicating reduced timing accuracy. Looking at the selective effect of physical fatigue on external visual imagery did not reveal any difference before and after fatigue, whereas significantly shorter imagined times and electrodermal responses (respectively 15% and 48% decrease, p<0.001) were observed during the posttest for internal visual imagery. A significant correlation (r=0.64; p<0.05) was observed between motor imagery vividness (estimated through imagery questionnaire) and autonomic responses during motor imagery after fatigue. These data support that unlike local muscle fatigue, physical fatigue occurring during intense sport training sessions is likely to affect motor imagery accuracy. These results might be explained by the updating of the internal representation of the motor sequence, due to temporary feedback originating from actual motor practice under fatigue. These findings provide insights to the co-dependent relationship between mental and motor processes.

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