Have you ever stopped to notice how relaxed and smooth the best endurance athletes in the world look when they are competing? When we swim, bike and run, we are continually moving between a state of relaxation and tension both physically and mentally.
While we obviously need that tension at times, if you are gritting your teeth and trying to force and fight yourself through a workout or race, you may be severely lessening the potential benefit and enjoyment you would have derived from that session--and you might end up going slower. The elite athletes who are silky smooth and relaxed know that:
- When your body's natural rhythm and timing are altered, less fluid and less efficient movements use up precious energy reserves and increase the risk of cramping and injury.
- The best chance for a true "breakthrough" performance can only happen if our focus is on being more relaxed, rather than trying to fight through and force more power from our legs.
- Taking at least one session each week in each sport to practice and refine skill and technique will lead to more relaxed, efficient sport specific movements.
- Your ability to completely relax your body and mind, while simultaneously moving at the fastest possible speed, is a very important determinant of how successful you will be in your most important events.
What does it mean to relax the mind?
According to Joann Dahlkoetter, Ph.D., well-known author and expert on mental training for athletes, "Relaxation is an experience. It's a state of physical and mental stillness characterized by the absence of tension and anxiety." In addition, studies and anecdotal reports from elite level cyclists and other endurance athletes consistently say one related key to faster training and racing is learning to stay "in the moment" at all times--emptying the mind of left-brain thinking, analyzing and judging.
In my own practical experience as an endurance athlete, when I am able to really focus on staying task-oriented and being in the moment--emptying my mind of anxious thoughts and judgments--I instantly feel a mental and physical response that allows me to relax more fully. What results is that I am able to breathe more deeply from my lower abdomen, which in turn lowers my heart rate and any additional tension I might be feeling. This makes it easier to move through a greater range of motion and helps me pick up my pace even further without an increase in heart rate or in RPE. I know that with nothing more than my enhanced focus and breathing, I am able to immediately change the way I feel and perform.