Relax! I know being told to relax as well as calm down can be fighting words but seriously, relax.
We live in a world of high stress. Mental stress, emotional stress, physical stress. Stress everywhere. Work stresses us out, people stress us out, traffic, money and so on. Then you add in the obsession with making everything physical we do into high intensity aka high stress and it is no wonder so many of us live with our shoulders in contact with our ears. Relax!
Relaxation is the yin to tensions yang. Tension with no relaxation, relaxation with no tension, this is not the way life operates when in balance. When in balance, we are capable of creating tension and also able to completely release that tension. The difference between a high-level sprinter and an amateur is the ability to relax.
Yogis will often have injuries from being too flexible and not mobile (mobility is having strength in the range of motion you can access) and strength athletes will often have injuries from being too tense for too long. The balance between the two is where both groups can thrive.
StrongFirst and Original Strength, two leaders in strength, both preach the importance of tension and relaxation. In StrongFirst we do fast and loose drills in between sets of high tension or heavy lifting. Original Strength teaches resets which are meant to remove tension in a passive manner.
Both StrongFirst and Original Strength emphasize breathing. They both emphasize utilizing two things often neglected. One is protruding from the middle of your face, the other can’t be seen by the untrained eye. If you have not guessed it by now, I am referring to your nose and your diaphragm. These body parts are key components to achieving true relaxation. Oddly enough (or is it) these two body parts are also key to protecting the body from injury when lifting heavy weights. Nasal breathing helps to ensure that you are utilizing your main breathing muscle (diaphragm) and not overworking the accessory muscles that are located in our shoulder/neck (scalenes) region. Breathing into our shoulders creates unnecessary tension that is not useful for much, other than fatiguing and limiting the range of motion in our shoulders. All the stuff we do not want. Breathing into your nose, accessing your diaphragm can take your body/nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest). Many of us, because we do not know how to relax are perpetually in a state of fight or flight, I think you can begin to see just how important relaxing is and it can almost start and end with breathing. Almost.
Breathing is tied into all things relaxing, whether it is meditation, yoga, or movement. Breathing is always present. So when I go over a few movements I like to do to relax, remember to breathe from your belly.
Original Strength has an enormous library of resets. There is a reset for almost every tension issue you can think of. Some of them give immediate relief. Others take a little bit of time to gain awareness of the effects. The reset that I have found to positively affect most people’s tension issues are rocking. Due to the world we live in, a lot of people hold tension in their shoulders and in their hips. Desk life helps exacerbate this issue. Rocking, on the other hand, helps to release tension in our shoulders and hips plus it is fun and feels like you are doing nothing. This movement is so easy to do it can be thrown in between any exercise. I have personally had great success with rocking. Before I discovered Original Strength, I was unable to ever sit on my feet or touch my foot to my butt, now I am damn near Gumby status. As with anything I do on video, I do not suggest copying what you see especially if you have injuries. It is always useful to learn movements from someone who knows how to do the movement and teach it.
In the video above, you can also see a movement called head nods. This too is a great reset to bring awareness to tension and release it.
One of StrongFirst’ newer seminars is called Second Wind. A lot of what is covered in Second Wind is how to relax. The ability to relax is synonymous with the ability to recover. Therefore the faster you can relax, the quicker you can recover. BOOM 🤯. This works for endurance and strength. We are elite at developing both strength and endurance which means we are elite in relaxing and recovering. BOOM. StrongFirst emphasizes fast and loose drills to help relax and recover between working sets. You essentially want to shake the meat off your bones. Here are a few examples of fast and loose.
There are many ways to relax, find what works for you and do it. But whatever you do, don’t turn that relaxation into more tension. Remember that true relaxation starts with breathing. If you continue to breathe up into your shoulders instead of down into your diaphragm you are probably holding onto the tension you wish to release.