Relax! It’s good for you.
You hear it all the time, I bet, and probably from your friends and family who don’t share your passion for competition. “You just need to relax!” Relaxing seems to be everywhere in popular culture, something we long for but rarely let ourselves do. But what if it would make you faster? Or make it possible for you to race longer, with less fatigue? Before you start plumping up the pillows on your couch for your long winter’s nap, I’m referring to relaxing during your training and especially during your races!
Have you ever noticed that you have a headache when you’re done swimming, or your upper back starts to hurt when you run long? Have you had aches in your arms when you’re cycling? While there are sometimes other causes for these kinds of things, pay attention the next time you have pain or discomfort in muscles you don’t think you’re using. Take an inventory and ask yourself if you are clenching your jaw while you’re swimming, or hunching your shoulders when you run, or gripping your bars when you ride. There are a myriad of ways you can hold tension in your body while you’re racing and if you aren’t looking for it, you may not even notice.
The next time you set out for a long swim set, a long run, or a long ride, pay attention to the non-working parts of your body, or what are supposed to be the non-working parts of your body! Relax your shoulders away from your ears and lengthen your neck, let your face and jaw relax, loosen your elbows and ease your grip on your aero bars, focus on only carrying tension in the muscles that are supposed to be working and re-check your tension every few minutes. If you remember my last blog article, relaxing your non-working muscles should also help you to improve your form by running, biking, and swimming taller and more fluidly.
If you train with a heart rate monitor, take a look at your watch and see if you can relax enough to lower your heart rate. There is a linear relationship between oxygen uptake and heart rate1 , therefore if you can reduce your heart rate, you should be able to perform at the same level of effort and require less heavy breathing to do it. In addition, when you bring your heart rate down, you will likely feel calmer and more in control of your race, all while maintaining your speed.
In a nutshell, put your focus where it’s needed most—on the muscles that you’re using to race with. The rest of them should just be playing a supporting role, not fatiguing prematurely. You’ll even take better race pictures because you’ll LOOK relaxed! So take a deep breath… and GO! Happy training!
(1) Bernard T, Gavarry O, Bermon S, Giacomoni M, Marconnet P, Falgiarette G. Relationships between oxygen consumption and heart rate in transitory and steady states of exercise and during recovery: influence of type of exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 1997; 75:170-176.
Judie Refvik is a USA Certified Triathlon Coach with Experience Triathlon Coaching Services. As leaders in the endurance coaching industry, Coach Judie and the Experience Triathlon coaching team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life. Learn more about Coach Judie and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com and www.ET-Youth.com.