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PERFORMANCE TRAINING AT ITS BEST Free Sports Performance Consultation

by Jeff Appel

Your autonomic nervous system works in two states, sympathetic and parasympathetic. When performing intense physical activity, the sympathetic nervous system takes over, this is known as a fight or flight response. When relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over. This is known as rest and digest.

This all seems pretty basic—something that just happens—and for the most part it does. However, there are ways we can control it to get better results. Getting the adrenaline rushing by playing your favorite song, consuming caffeine, or getting a back slap my help stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to help get an extra few pounds on a squat or get some emotion going for a big game makes sense. Being at a heightened level of alertness when peak performance is needed is somewhat of a given. So why do we care about getting into a sympathetic state when we are “chillin”? The reason is recovery. Our bodies do not recover when in a sympathetic state. We may be able to lift more, run faster and make quicker in-game decisions while we are in a fight or flight mode, but we do not get good rest or properly digest nutrients when we are in this state.

After competition or training it is ideal to quickly return to a relaxed state. This will help you recover and be prepared for the next practice, lift or game. This will help your body adapt to the stimulus it just went through and perform even better the next time around. Below is a list of tricks to return to a relaxed state after training.

  • Breathe. Simply breathing in and out through the nose can help get one parasympathetic. I like to use a 5-5-5 or 6-2-8 method. This means breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5. Or in for 6, hold for 2, out for 8. Doing this for a few minutes can quickly put the body in recovery mode.
  • Laugh. Laughter is highly reflective of parasympathetic function. Watch or listen to something funny to put yourself into a relaxed state.
  • Stretching/rolling out. Simply going through a stretch or foam rolling routine can help induce a parasympathetic state. Couple this with the breathing work and you’ll be ready for a nice nap quickly after training.
  • Chew gum
  • Walk
  • Cool/cold shower (if heated from training)
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