Thinking about your muscles can make them stronger, according to a new study. The way athletes think could boost muscle strength and help recovery after injury.

A team at Hull University monitored 30 people performing bicep curls. They tried to produce as much force as possible under three conditions - thinking only about their muscles, thinking about the weight they were lifting, and thinking about whatever they wanted.

The study found "much more" muscle activity when people thought about their muscles and how they moved, compared to when they just thought about the weight they were lifting.

But studies have shown that thinking about muscles when performing skills such as throwing a ball makes activities more difficult, therefore "sports coaches and trainers would benefit from tailoring their instructions depending on what they want performers to achieve," said Dr David Marchant, who led the research.

"When they want people to improve their performance, thinking about outcomes is best. However, when they want athletes to recover from injury, thinking about their muscles during exercise is helpful."

The findings were presented yesterday at the British Psychological Society's conference in Cardiff.