When you hear the word “tension,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Tight hamstrings, tendon sprains, and fascia tears? Too much stress? Whatever you think, chances are it is related to, too much of something.
We all know more tension means more strain on your mind and body, which can put it out of commission for weeks on end if not properly handled. But what about a little planned tension incorporated into your training? Muscles store and release energy like an elastic band, too much tension can cause the band to snap. But what if you could get that tension just right? Strategically planning your training so you are explosive and highly responsive yet not so tense that muscles pull and lead to injury is a key to athletic success. The same can be said for your mental game. If you see the activity as too challenging or you are tired, you will become anxious and under-perform. If you see the activity as under stimulating, you may not respect the competition and be bored, also leading to under-performance.
Have you ever gone into competition after a recovery or down-week and felt sluggish and slow? Although you performed all the work exactly as planned up until your taper, at which point you cut back on your volume and reduced your intensity drastically, something wasn't right. What about the mental side, have you ever entered a competition too relaxed and calm, then when it comes time to compete, you can't get your head in the game? Think about it for a second, if low tension results in reduced energy production by your body; then it also means less force production and decreased quickness. It also means our mind may not be in a flow state, rather a state of boredom.
How can you remedy this problem? Be aware of your training. Monitory, record, and reflect upon your training so you can plan accordingly. Next time you start your recovery period or have a competition coming up, use the following tips to keep tension high without over-working. Reduce the duration and frequency in the days leading up to competition, but keep the intensity high. By reducing overall volume while maintaining intensity, it keeps your muscles and mind primed to go while allowing them to recover from your previously high training load.
On the other hand, what if you are in the middle of amping up a training cycle and your next major competition is still far out? Is it safe to maintain all that tension over a prolonged period? No.
Maintaining too much tension all the time is how athletes become injured. The key is to always have the right amount of tension, finding the golden mean, not too over- or under-stimulated. Sometimes you may need to lower tension, if that is the case, reduce speed work, plyometrics, and power training, shifting gears from higher intensity to lower intensity yet longer duration, focusing on corrective and preventative exercises that help you maintain your range of motion and fix issues that have been nagging you. Longer yet milder sessions will keep up your training volume, but the lower intensity will allow you to recover quicker between sessions. This allows you to focus on proper movement patterns, which will reduce your risk of injury. The key is to maintain balance, use tension adding techniques when you feel sluggish and need to add some reactiveness and use tension reducing techniques when you have been competing or training hard and need to reduce some stress.
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