Action observation (AO) alone or combined with motor imagery (AO + MI) has been shown to engage the motor system. While recent findings support the potential relevance of both techniques to enhance muscle function, this issue has received limited scientific scrutiny. In the present study, we implemented a counterbalanced conditions design where 21 participants performed 10 maximal isometric contractions (12-s duration) of elbow flexor muscles against a force platform. During the inter-trial rest periods, participants completed i) AO of the same task performed by an expert athlete, ii) AO + MI, i.e. observation of an expert athlete while concurrently imagining oneself performing the same task, and iii) watching passively a video documentary about basketball shooting (Control). During force trials, we recorded the total force and integrated electromyograms from the biceps brachii and anterior deltoideus. We also measured skin conductance from two finger electrodes as an index of sympathetic nervous system activity. Both AO and AO + MI outperformed the Control condition in terms of total force (2.79-3.68%, p < 0.001). For all conditions, we recorded a positive relationship between the biceps brachii activation and the total force developed during the task. However, only during AO was a positive relationship observed between the activation of the anterior deltoideus and the total force. We interpreted the results with reference to the statements of the psycho-neuromuscular theory of mental practice. Present findings extend current knowledge regarding the priming effects of AO and AO + MI on muscle function, and may contribute to the optimization of training programs in sports and rehabilitation.