Graded Motor Imagery: Step 2 - Explicit Motor Imagery. Learn how to implement this into your OT practice today! |

Explicit Motor Imagery: Step 2 in Guided Motor Imagery

Explicit Motor Imagery (aka Imagery) is step 2 in the Graded Motor Imagery training continuum. I previously discussed step 1, Left/Right Discrimination in this blog post here and it all started with the reflections I have had as an occupational therapy practitioner trying to use mirror therapy with my patient and not having good results.

I was super frustrated, especially since the evidence shows that mirror therapy can have a positive effect on motor function, but what I realized I was that I was doing it all wrong. 😁 I wasn’t following the continuum and progression and was initially trying to use it as a standalone stroke intervention.

This study states that, 

“combined with conventional rehabilitation, mirror therapy is an effective method for the recovery of functionality after stroke.”

We have reviewed Left-Right Discrimination and Mirror Therapy in previous blog posts and if you are an OT Accelerator member, we have given step-by-step instructions and supporting research on how to complete these techniques, but today, I am going to dig in and share some examples with you Step 2 ⬇️⬇️

Explicit Motor Imagery

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What is Graded Motor Imagery?

Graded motor Imagery a set of 3 different, sequential (but flexible) treatment techniques using “top down” cortical central processing to improve movement difficulties or complex pain in occupational therapy.

1️⃣ Laterality Training (aka Left/Right Discrimination)
2️⃣ Explicit Motor Imagery Exercises (aka Imagery)
3️⃣ Mirror Therapy (see how I used to just skip the 1st two steps and expected amazing results?!?)


Learn how to use explicit motor imagery with our OT patients that have had stroke or pain to get great results! |

What is Explicit Motor Imagery?


Explicit motor imagery is basically imagining yourself moving without actually moving. We have a mirror neuron system that “mirrors” action and movement – which is why top coaches have professional athletes imagine shooting hoops or making a goal in a soccer match.

What is the Difference Between Explicit and Implicit Imagery?


The main difference between explicit and implicit imagery lies in the conscious awareness and intentionality associated with the mental processes.

  1. Explicit Imagery:

    • Conscious and Deliberate: In explicit imagery, individuals consciously and deliberately create mental images. They actively engage in visualizing specific details, often with a clear intention and awareness of the mental process.
    • Intentional Rehearsal: Explicit imagery is commonly used for intentional rehearsal and mental practice. For example, athletes may use explicit imagery to visualize precise movements, enhancing their performance through conscious mental rehearsal.
  2. Implicit Imagery:

    • Unconscious and Automatic: Implicit imagery involves mental processes that are more unconscious and automatic. Individuals may not be fully aware of the images forming in their minds, and the mental representations are not intentionally directed.
    • Subtle Associations: Implicit imagery often involves subtle associations between concepts or stimuli. It can influence behavior and perception without individuals consciously intending or being aware of the mental images.
    • Everyday Associations: In everyday life, implicit imagery may manifest in the form of automatic mental associations triggered by certain situations, emotions, or stimuli.

In summary, explicit imagery involves conscious and intentional mental visualization, while implicit imagery refers to more automatic and unconscious mental processes. Both types of imagery play roles in different cognitive functions and can be utilized in various contexts, such as sports training, rehabilitation, or understanding cognitive processes.

What is an Example of Motor Imagery?


An example of explicit motor imagery could involve a basketball player mentally rehearsing a free-throw shot before actually taking it on the court. In this scenario, the player would close their eyes and vividly visualize the entire process: the stance, the grip on the ball, the motion of the arms and legs, the release of the ball, and its trajectory toward the hoop. The player consciously imagines the details of each movement, focusing on precision and technique. By repeatedly engaging in explicit motor imagery, the basketball player aims to reinforce neural pathways associated with the specific motor skills required for a successful free-throw, ultimately contributing to improved actual performance on the court.

Imagine the process of brushing your teeth in the morning.

Imagine pouring your dog’s dog food into it’s bowl.

Imagine sitting down at your computer and writing an email.

How Do I Instruct My Patients in Explicit Motor Imagery?

✅ Pick tasks and occupations that they do regularly.
✅ Have them imagine the task completion.
✅ Break down the task as needed per patient experience with pain or movement
✅ Progress with minimal context and sensation to rich contextual tasks and occupations, one step at a time.                

Have the patient imagining opening a jar of marinara sauce and progress the steps until you have the patient imagine the sound of the jar popping open while they are physically turning the lid and absorbing the smell of the marinara sauce filling their nose.

Open jars of marinara example to help you learn how to use step 2 of the graded motor imagery continuum, explicit motor imagery, with our OT patients that have had stroke or pain to get great results! |


Is this imagery clear to YOU?

🔑 One key is having the patient successfully complete step 1, Laterality Training, before moving on to step 2, Explicit Motor Imagery in the Graded Motor Imagery Continuum.

⬇️ Learn Practical Examples of How to Use Explicit Motor Imagery With Your OT Patients!

In the OT Accelerator Masterclass, we go over step-by-step how to integrate this strategy into your occupational therapy practice to get even better results with your patients that have had a stroke – check out the OT Accelerator here.


Ji EK, Wang HH, Jung SJ, et al. Graded motor imagery training as a home exercise program for upper limb motor function in patients with chronic stroke: A randomized controlled trial. Medicine (Baltimore). 2021;100(3):e24351. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000024351

Neural plasticity during motor learning with motor imagery practice: Review and perspectives

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