Relaxation: A “New” Concept in Strength Training.

I am no stranger to the old adage “no pain, no gain.”  As a former body builder, I pushed myself to the limit training 3 hours a day on a limited diet. I don’t know about you but I’m not a big fan of pain, as I learned through that process.  I wondered, is there an easier, more effective way to achieve the same goal? This lead me into thinking not about how hard but simply how to train body.

Our bodies are AMAZING.  It’s glorious to imagine everything working the way it should, at least most of the time. When I train my clients I tell them, care for your body as if you were an infant.  Do not push or force your way through your workout, let alone your life!

But how can we strengthen through relaxation?  In the Essentrics® program we teach our clients about the neuromuscular system, namely our muscle reflexes. Our bodies are equip with a really smart nervous system.  This is a system that works automatically to protect us from causing injury-especially when we use force.  Our muscle reflexes automatically relax the muscles and tendons to avoid tearing in most situations. When we extend our body away from the midline eccentrically, in a relaxed state, the muscle fibers safely work with the reflexes to “go to the end of a stretch” recruiting maximum muscle cells for strengthening purposes.  This extension also creates a longer, heavier lever, which in physics is much more strengthening!

The big question here: how do we relax while working out?   Relaxation comes when you can feel areas of your body through an awareness we call kinesthetic or body awareness.  This awareness first comes from a consciousness of what you are feeling (i.e. pressure, tingling, pain) and where you are feeling it (neck, lower back, shoulder).  Just like coordination, body awareness improves over time when practiced.  This awareness allows you to sense how to relax by connecting the mind to the body, giving you an opportunity to get the most out of your workout!

Pointers to help you to relax in your next workout:

  • Create a relaxing environment using music. Hard, fast, heavy downbeats in your playlist is fun, but not conducive to relaxing the muscles, especially when working with large, flowing movements. When I want to create relaxation in my Essentrics® class, I speak softly and use quiet, flowing music.  Download Bach, Yo-Yo Ma, or Brian Crain onto your playlist and use it in your next session.
  •  You are what you think.  If you imagine you are under the weight of a heavy barbell, your body moves heavier.  If you imagine you are a light balloon floating on a warm breeze, your body becomes lighter. Many cues I use to create relaxation in Essentrics® include “lift a light feather,” “gently pull on a silk sheet,” or “run your fingers through warm water.”  Put your mind in the right frame of mind and the rest will follow.
  • Deep Breathing. Breathing during any physical activity is critical to move blood and revitalize all systems.  This can be done automatically or consciously.  Deep breathing is a conscious breath utilizing more muscles to open up space in the lungs.  This type of breathing is said to bring the body out of sympathetic (fight or flight) and into parasympathetic (relaxation). The key is to inhale down through the belly, hold for a few seconds, then, making a round hole with your lips, blow out the air, taking twice as much time to exhale as you took to inhale.  Breathing in this way will tap into a nice state of relaxation.  Do this breath several times during the workout.
  • Leave your stress at the door. I begin my classes with a 2 minute mental “break” from the day.  This includes beginning with soft, slow music in conjunction with deep breathing down through the belly.  I then begin a process of shaking the hands, arms and shoulders with slow neck rolls and shoulder rolls. This mindless movement allows the thoughts you brought in with you to fall away, creating a relaxed state. This in turns improves body awareness and deeper relaxation during class.  Try these techniques before and during your next workout!
  • Practice, practice, practice! When we repeat patterns over and over such as relaxing the muscles in your workout, the brain creates new neuro-pathways in the brain.  When new pathways are created, so are new patterns of doing things.  This creates automation of our actions and happy healthy habits!

As creator of Essentrics® program, Miranda Esmonde-White states, “Relaxation is the NEW strengthening…the NEW power!”  The combination of relaxation and eccentric training, eliminating force, allows us to tap into much deeper, stabilizing muscles for ultimate strength and power!  Try relaxation techniques in your next workout and see if you notice a difference!

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