Relax and Retrain Your Body for a More Effective Exercise
Are you stiff? Do you hold tension in your shoulders, back or other areas when you play or compete? If so, you’re seriously limiting your potential.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a cyclist or a golfer. Tension will slow down muscle reaction time and shorten your range of motion. For example, many golfers unknowingly stiffen their shoulders as they line up their shot. Cyclists and mountain bikers may tense their necks during a tricky downhill or technical part of the trail. Even hikers can lower their endurance by tensing up their lower core and hamstrings during a hike.
Tension in any body part requires energy. That’s energy that could go to your sport or activity if it wasn’t being used up by holding muscles stiff. It’s also why one of the most frequently used by coaches in every sport is “relax.” But even a great coach can’t always pick out every tensed up muscle in your body. The best person to analyze the nonrelaxed areas of your body is you.
Start right now, while you’re reading this. Concentrate on your shoulders. Are they stiff, maybe even hunched up a little? Let them relax and drop. How about your forearms — are they also part of the tension in your upper body? Concentrate on relaxing them. Now it will be easier to get rid of any residual tension you may be holding in your neck.
Neck tension is hard to feel or recognize, and even harder to get rid of. We sit at desks or tables while our neck supports a head that weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. As we lean over to read a monitor or papers, tension can spread from the neck to the shoulders and back. Holding tension makes the muscles work harder, so the result is an ache in the neck and upper back after hours of sitting. Worse, that kind of tension can become a physical habit that spreads into other areas of life — like a game of hoops or a round of golf where your shots lose power because of stiff shoulders.
If tension has become so much of a habit that you no longer even recognize the feeling, it’s time to retrain your body. Start this reconditioning process by lying on the floor with arms at your sides. Begin with the feet. Concentrate on relaxing your feet and ankles. You might be surprised by how much tension you carry in your ankles. Continue to keep them relaxed as you now work on relaxing your calves, knees and thighs in turn.
Next, work on relaxing your core, eliminating every bit of tension, especially in the obliques, the muscles at the side of the abs. By now, several minutes should have passed while you concentrated on keeping your lower body and core relaxed.
Now comes the hardest part; eliminating tension from your back, neck, shoulders and arms. When your neck and shoulders are completely free of tension, you may even feel the aftermath of it under your ears with a slight pulling. That’s the feeling of your trapezius muscle relaxing — a muscle that goes from the neck to the shoulders and halfway down the center of the back. Your body should now be completely free of tension — for the moment.
The trouble is, tension returns quickly. While you were working on relaxing your shoulders, your ankles may have tensed up again. So your goal is to learn the feeling of being relaxed, so you can recognize habitual tension instantly and get rid of it, even in the middle of a strenuous action.
The most efficient way to do this is to practice head-to-toe relaxation several times a day, until your body unlearns the habit of tension and gets conditioned to staying relaxed.
@2012, Adventure Sports Weekly. Distributed by MCT Information Services