The brain and the body go hand-in-hand when it comes to performance. If you think a race is stressful, your body will react by being tense and tight. When you’re having fun your body is loose and relaxed. Therefore, relaxation for athletes is imperative for personal enjoyment and performance success.
Practicing mindfulness is nothing new – top athletes all over the world use it. Even Olympian runner Shannon Rowbury and NBA star Kobe Bryant discuss incorporating mediation and mindfulness into training. Just type “professional athletes who meditate” into Google, the query will yield hundreds of other examples. How we perceive external situations, the kinds of messages we tell ourselves and how we approach a challenge, have implications on performance and our ability to reach our potential. Get the most out of your training with these relaxation tips for athletes:
This is a great practice for enhanced relaxation and greater in-the-moment awareness. Much of reaching your potential as a athlete rests in the mind’s ability to deal with uncomfortable aspects of the sport like pain, discomfort and uncontrollable external factors like weather. Practicing meditation helps train your mind to stay relaxed and in the moment. This is the first step to transforming a negative situation into a positive outlook. This practice is also an excellent starting point to incorporating points #2 and #3. There are many options for guided mediation MP3s and videos, many created by leading sports psychologists. Find one that works for you and incorporate it regularly.
How To: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Focus on your breath, taking slow, deep breaths through your nose. After a few minutes bring your awareness to your body. Feel your feet, your legs, your torso on the floor, your arms and your head. Imagine the air you breathe in filling each part of your body, allowing it to fully relax. Tense up each part of your body individually then relax it: tense your feet muscles, and then release them. Contract your lower leg muscles, and then relax them. Continue moving your way up. When done, rest in this state, feeling the relaxation of your body and the flow of your breath for a period of time.
Pro Tip: Practice meditation a few hours before going out to perform a challenging running workout or to compete in a race. Getting your body relaxed will allow you to get the most out of it.
What happens when you enter into a situation that you’ve never experienced? While some people thrive on this kind of excitement, some people freeze from the anxiety. The same thing can happen in a race. You get passed half way through, your legs feel heavy, or there is an unexpected hill. Visualization can help your body react in a positive way to planned and unplanned elements alike. Seeing yourself successfully handle potential challenges not only allows you to go into an uncertain situation with confidence, but it allows your body to respond in an automatic way once you’re fatigued and your reaction time is dulled. This is a great practice to build into a meditation or relaxation session.
How to: Sit or lie down and take a few minutes to breathe deeply and relax your entire body. Once relaxed, begin imagining your upcoming race or workout. Imagine all the aspects: the kinds of clothes you’ll be wearing, the smells, the feeling in the air, the music you’ll be listening to. Then imagine yourself running the race you’ve planned – imagine hitting all your pace splits feeling strong and relaxed. Imagine half way through the feeling of dead legs begins, but you talk yourself through it, stay focused, and stay on pace. Imagine that three fourths of the way through the race you get passed, but this becomes motivation as you draft off that person and finish stronger. As you progress through your race look for ways to turn negative circumstances into positive challenges that allow you to reach your goals. This is also a great exercise to do before you fall asleep at night.
Pro Tip: In the week or two weeks leading up to a big race begin end your day with this visualization practice to ensure you go into your race fully confident and ready.
Deep Breathing with Inverted Legs
This is a great practice to enhance circulation and refresh the legs, especially after a long period of sitting or inactivity. When sitting, circulation can become poor to the feet and lower legs. Inverting the legs helps reinvigorate the lower limbs, swapping out stagnated blood, and helping to reduce edema.
How To: Lie down with your back on the floor and your feet against a wall. Scoot closer so that your butt is right up against the wall, and then fully extend your legs so they are straightened against the wall. Relax and breathe deeply, allowing your legs to rest against the wall. This is also a great opportunity to practice mediation or visualization.
Pro Tip: This is a great exercise to perform after traveling or flying. Put your legs up for 10 minutes as soon as you get to your destination or hotel to get the blood flowing and unwind from the trip.
Mantras are phrases or power words that hold a certain meaning. They are great tools that can be used as motivation mid-race or whenever you’re feeling anxious or challenged. These positive phrases will be different for everyone and should be something that is easily repeated. Some people have a single world like, “relax” or “strong”. Others use a verse or an aspect of their faith, while some use phrases like, “be the lion” or “every step gets you closer.” Mid-way through a race when my focus begins to wane and my legs start to feel heavy I tell myself, “looser, faster” or “stronger, tougher” over and over until I feel like I can handle the challenge.
How To: Find a word or phrase that resonate with you. Practice repeating this to yourself during a run or workout once you begin feeling tired or lethargic. Write it on your hand or post it on a mirror if seeing regularly it helps.
Pro Tip: In the middle of a challenging workout or race the mind likes to find excuses to explain why it can’t go harder or faster. For every negative thought that creeps in repeat your positive mantra. Keep combating one negative thought with one positive mantra until you’ve changed your perspective (note: sometimes you’ll end up repeating the mantra for the entire race!). Like these tips and want to learn more about relaxation technique for athletes? Connect with a private coach to take both your physical and mental game to Another Level™.