Relax To Recover And Perform

                                      

 

 

When people start talking about recovery they commonly refer to sleep, stretching, foam rolling, massage, recreational activities that bring joy etc. Often the most basic skill of staying still and relaxing, deeply, is neglected. I think this is because most don’t know how to just be still. It seems at least 80% of people who’ve reached the top of their field, whatever it may be, chooses meditation as a method for self control, stress relief, and self development. Every athlete has some type of ritual and a style of self talk that helps them stay relaxed and focussed. One of the most defining differences between a trained athlete and an untrained individual is the speed at which the athlete can completely and totally relax. It isn’t something they were born with, like any skill, it’s learned. It doesn’t matter the field your in, or the method you choose, learning to let your mind and body relax is integral to high performance.

 

I’m a big fan of Autogenic Training, and Progressive Relaxation. They are fairly similar, but there are differences that’ll make one more suitable for you.

 

Essentially, Autogenic Training is self suggestion. Teaching yourself to be t’s a more sensitive to, and better at, visualisation and verbal suggestion. From a sports perspective, this is gold.It has been used with great success by many elite athletes, most popularly by Eastern European countries. Where as Progressive Relaxation is more of an action/reaction protocol where by you teach yourself what tension feels like, then what it feels like to let it all go. You become quicker at noticing stored tension and quicker at releasing it. All of this spells faster recovery, and whether it’s practised in it’s entirety, or as part of a rest period routine on particular areas between sets, your sure to find out how important it is to be able to relax quickly and the many benefits attached to it.

 

If you feel you are stressed out and stuck in fight/flight mode (sympathetic dominant) use these methods! A great way to bring you back to rest and digest mode (parasympathetic dominant) and we all know how important recovery and rest is. These types of exercises were hugely helpful in recovering from Chronic Fatigue, and in preparing for competition, and I’ve recommended them many times since.

 

Some important points to begin.

 

*Find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted and you can focus on you.

 

*Don’t pay attention to the length of time the exercise is taking (on average it takes 15min or so but leave ample time so that time constraints don’t become a stressor).

 

*Focus purely on the experience.

 

Below are two scripts. One for Progressive Relaxation, one for Autogenic Training. You can either commit them to memory, or better yet, record them so you can let yourself be directed during the exercise.

 

Progressive Relaxation:

 

This exercise is most effective when you tape record the instructions in advance, preferably in your own voice. This way you don't have to concentrate on remembering the instructions. Record the instructions with a short pause after each sentence to allow yourself time to actually do the sensing and relaxing. Lie on your back, close your eyes, and begin to listen. Alternatively, just try to remember them off by heart.

 

There are two options here. With each instruction it’ll say “Feel the weight of your…”. Feel free change that to “Tense your … then…”. It’s entirely up to you. The latter might be easier initially to make yourself aware of your body and it’s parts, then you may like to progress to the first option.

 

Feel your feet. Feel the weight of your feet (OR tense your feet, then…) Feel your feet relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your lower legs. Feel the weight of your lower legs. Feel your lower legs relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your knees. Feel the weight of your knees. Feel your knees relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your upper legs. Feel the weight of your upper legs. Feel your upper legs relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your hands. Feel the weight of your hands. Feel your hands relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your lower arms. Feel the weight of your lower arms. Feel your lower arms relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your elbows. Feel the weight of your elbows. Feel your elbows relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your upper arms. Feel the weight of your upper arms. Feel your upper arms relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your buttocks. Feel the weight of your buttocks. Feel your buttocks relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your back. Feel the weight of your back. Feel your back relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your pelvic and belly area. Feel the weight of your pelvic and belly area. Feel your pelvic and belly area relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your chest. Feel the weight of your chest. Feel your chest relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your shoulders. Feel the weight of your shoulders. Feel your shoulders relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your neck, both front and back. Feel the weight of your neck. Feel your neck relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your skull. Feel the weight of your skull. Feel your skull relax and sink into the bed.

Feel your mouth. Feel any tension in your mouth. Feel your mouth relax and any tension slide off into the bed.

Feel your eyes. Feel any tension in your eyes. Feel your eyes relax and any tension slide off into the bed.

Feel your entire face. Feel any tension in your face. Feel your face relax and let any tension slide off into the bed.

Mentally scan your body. If you find any place that's still tense, relax it and let it sink into the bed.

Lay there for as long as you wish in that state. If you’re an athlete you may like to then do some visualisation.

 

Autogenic Relaxation:

 

Your instructions are the same. This exercise is most effective when you tape record the instructions in advance, preferably in your own voice. This way you don't have to concentrate on remembering the instructions. Record the instructions with a short pause after each sentence to allow yourself time to actually do the sensing and relaxing. Lie on your back, close your eyes, and begin to listen. Alternatively, just try to remember them off by heart.

 

There are 6 exercise. They start focussing on heaviness, then heaviness and warmth, heart rate, breathing, and finally, cooling the forehead.

 

Start with your dominant side arm (lets say right). Say “My right arm is heavy. I’m relaxing, I’m at peace”. Repeat this six times. Focus on your right arm obviously and creating a sensation of heaviness. This relaxes your muscles.

Repeat the process for your left arm.

Repeat the process for both arms.

Repeat the process for your right leg

Repeat the process for your left leg

Repeat the process for your both legs

Finally, repeat the process for your arms and legs together.

Now you are going to focus on heaviness and warmth, to increase blood flow. Say “My right arm is heavy and warm. I’m relaxing, I’m at peace”. Repeat this 6 times. Focus on your right arm obviously and creating a sensation of heaviness and warmth. 

Repeat the process for your left arm.

Repeat the process for both arms.

Repeat the process for your right leg

Repeat the process for your left leg

Repeat the process for your both legs

Finally, repeat the process for your arms and legs together.

Now you’ll focus on creating a slow and steady heart rate. Say, “My heartbeat is slow and regular.” Again repeat it six times, and really focus on feeling your heart rate slow down.

Now to your breathing. “My breathing is relaxed and effortless.” Almost like you are ‘being breathed’.  As always, repeat six times.

In this section your focus is on creating warmth in your abdomen. “My stomach is warm.”

Finally you’ll focus on cooling your forehead. Say, “My forehead is cool.” This is a great method to offset tension headaches!

 

Your aim over the coming weeks is to create an autogenic response upon demand (over the space of a few minutes or less).  And to be able to release any tension upon command. 

 

Enjoy!