When most of us think about improving our performance the first things that come to mind are working hard on things like cardio and strength. However, your ability to relax may be just as important.
A study by the old Soviet Union’s sports scientists showed something very interesting about the ability to relax. When they looked at the differences between their Olympic level sprinters and those just below them it wasn’t the ability to contract harder that separated them – it was their ability to relax more between contractions.
This means that it wasn’t the ability to produce tension that these other runners needed to work on, it was the ability to cycle that tension with relaxation of those same muscles.
Think about it this way – two muscles have the same contraction/ tension production potential of 1 – 100. The difference is that once the first muscle contacts all the way up to 100 it can drop all the way back down to 20 before contracting again while the other muscle can only drop back down to 30.
Each muscle will be contracting just as hard at the end so they’ll appear the same on a power meter or strength test, but the first muscle will be doing it more efficiently since it is able to put more into each contraction. It may not be a huge difference at first but eventually that inability to relax and let the tension levels drop to an even lower level will catch up to the second muscle, fatiguing it faster than the first muscle.
To me this says that the ability to relax is just as important as your ability to contract and produce tension. Strength and cardio are really a double sided coin and you have to master both sides to be “fit” without working against yourself in the process.
One of the best places to start practicing relaxation techniques is when you are trying to stretch and mobilize a tight muscle or joint. One of the most common mistakes riders make when working to improve their mobility is trying to fight tension with more tension.
I tell every client I work with that when you are doing your mobility work you can’t force the issue.
You have to learn to use your breathing to help you relax into a stretch or mobility drill. Once you learn how to do this with your mobility work you will also find it easier to apply to your cardio and strength training.
In this video I go over this concept and show you how to apply it to your stretching and mobility training. I know that now everyone will appreciate that they don’t have to turn everything – including their stretching – into a life and death struggle but for those that do this video will change how you look at improving both your mobility and ultimately your performance as well.
BTW, the response to my new Mountain Bike Mobility Follow-Along Videos has been awesome. Almost 200 riders have gotten their copy already.