A coin has two sides. Yes, I am very observant. So why display my powers of observation for you now? To bring to light one
of the most important dualities in physical performance— balancing tension and relaxation.
Tension is the ability to produce force within and with the muscles. This is a combination of neurological patterns and mechanical contractile forces working to generate force. This is the side of the coin that most of us focus upon. And it is an important side. Without tension we cannot produce strength and powerful movement and athletics would be pretty boring to watch.
Relaxation is the ability to—well…relax; but not in the “couch potato” method of relaxation. Relaxation as a balance to tension is the ability to “turn off” tension appropriately within the muscles. Where tension is strength and the ability to generate force it is also your quickest path to fatigue. Relaxation is the path to fluid, efficient movement and quick movement. A tense muscle is a slow muscle but a relaxed muscle is a weak muscle and so begins the conundrum of how to balance tension and relaxation.
For learning how to generate tension in the safest and most effective manner I would refer you to Pavel’s book/DVD, The Naked Warrior. A true gold mine of information on strength that guides you through the high-tension techniques that leads to mastering tension. By learning proper breathing and body mechanics for the Single Leg Squat (pistols), and the One Arm Push-up you will begin to understand the journey towards mastering the development of tension within your body.
For learning how to relax in the athletic sense I again refer you to one of Pavel’s DVDs, Fast and Loose. I performed a couple of different Google searches looking for comparative sources of information on the techniques in Fast and Loose. And I couldn’t find any. It all focuses on metal relaxation techniques with maybe brief mentions of different tensing strategies to help induce relaxation. But not one source is looking at relaxation from a performance standpoint. The drills in Fast and Loose may appear odd or ineffective. You may not think the partner drills are something that will help.
And you may just think that you know how to relax athletically.
Well, check the ego and realize that elite athletes achieve relaxation 800% faster than recreational athletes. Imagine closing that gap by as little as
200% or even 100%—you would blow by your competition. Literally.
Relaxation and vibration drills are your gateway to speed and power.
How you ask can relaxing athletically help you produce power and speed?
Because once you have had the burst of tension necessary to accomplish the goal activity you must then relax enough to let that burst of strength travel efficiently and quickly to your “target”. If you maintain tension you will be slow and weak as you move through your goal activity.
To put it another way—watch an elite athlete or martial artist go through their activity. The most common comment made by people watching is:
“That looks easy.” Or “He/She doesn’t look like they are trying.” This is the result of an athletic balance of tension and relaxation.
Fluid athletic movement that leaves us wondering how—and the competition wondering what just happened—is the correct balance of switching between tension and relaxation.
I will not belabor the point and try to explain the techniques involved because the two resources I mentioned do that perfectly. What I would challenge you to think about is whether you understand how to produce tension within the body and do you know how to relax athletically to allow fluid, powerful movement?
If you can’t answer the question, you need the resources to show you how.
Some additional points to hit upon:
What is the result of high levels of residual tension within the body? What happens when a person who is very good at producing tension cannot “release” that tension? Postural “deformities”, joint “misalignment”, improper firing sequences and other movement and postural problems can result. Sounds great doesn’t it? The drills in Fast and Loose will show you how to “shake off” the tension (literally) and return to normal levels of tension in the body so that you do not suffer the consequences of excessive residual tension. Also from a performance standpoint the ability to perform relaxation drills between tension drills will aid in recovery and allow for better training.
Finding and working on the “other side of the coin” is an essential skill set to develop and Fast and Loose (Pavel’s most underrated product) can be your key to achieving a more “relaxed” state of athletic performance.
Brett Jones CSCS, Sr. RKC, is a Personal Trainer and Strength Specialist in the Pittsburgh, Pa area. Please see his website www.appliedstrength.com for contact information.
A tense muscle is a slow muscle but a relaxed muscle is a weak muscle and so begins the conundrum of how to balance tension and relaxation.
And a little Christmas Cheer: