When the body is relaxed the muscles rest, and the nerves associated stop sending and receiving messages to the brain. Relaxation exercises have to be included for a complete training plan because of its many benefits. Physiologically, relaxation exercises help to avoid fatigue, and psychologically it helps to sleep better, reduce sensations of anxiety, and helps to improve self-esteem. In terms of performance, when athletes are too tense their attention, optimal level of activation, and self-talk are affected, and this can have detrimental impact on performance.
There are two different ways to relax:
- From the body to the mind, for instance through breathing exercises, or progressive muscular relaxation.
- From the mind to the body, with some types of meditation, or visualization.
The body-mind exercises are usually easier to practice for athletes and people who exercise regularly. Even with just one or two weeks of practice people can notice a positive difference. The best time to teach and learn any relaxation techniques are once the muscles are tired after doing exercise.
Relaxation can be used for many purposes within sport, including:
- To provide momentary relaxation for specific events:
During a competition break to relax tense muscles or to manage worrying thoughts. After competitions, to let the body get back to its usual state.
- To regulate the optimal activation state of the body.
Here you have a worksheet with a breathing exercise:
Here you have a worksheet with an activity to help seeing the context in perspective: