I have been looking back at my notes from studying one of the books from The Pose Method of Running, by Nicholas Romanov, and ran across this quote on relaxation that had caught my attention previously. It adds another dimension to my thoughts shared in a previous post on the TI blog called The Tension Behind Relaxation.
It’s a relative thing; there is no such thing during activity as complete relaxation of your muscles. It’s just that some are working less than others at any given point in time. Relaxation during running means that a specific muscle group does not work in opposition to the efforts of another muscle group; it doesn’t mean that muscles that are suppose to be working simply switch off. (p.65, Chapter 13: Muscular Activity in Running, The Pose Method Of Triathlon Techniques by Nicholas Romanov)
When you’ve heard or read about relaxation in athletic motion, it is not talking about moving lazily, or about being soft all over, or about being passive or without effort. The ‘effortlessness’ we may speak of is a contrast to the excessive effort that we put in when new to an activity and under-developed in skill. What we are aiming for is to remove all the unnecessary effort, while maintaining very intentional, well-directed effort. When you feel the difference between all the excessive, wasteful action you were doing previously and the refinement for making only the most essential effective actions, the motion you experience now feels relatively effortless.
We must train all the muscle groups of the body to do this. It doesn’t come instantly. It takes weeks and months to build these new patterns, where some parts skillfully work less so that other parts can skillfully work more. If, in misunderstanding of what it means to relax, you end up turning off too much, becoming too passive in too many parts of your body, you will find yourself going slower and wonder why relaxation hasn’t been working for you!
Initially in your training for more refined technique, there may be a season of time where you do need to slow things down and learn to move with less excessive tension all around. You may likely turn off too much at first, and that may be what you need to do while figuring out how to make those relaxing parts relax better. But if you are working hard for months at relaxing, but still going slower, then you may not quite yet understand what athletic relaxation means in the body.
Relaxation first requires awareness of where and how much parts of your body are working against other parts in antagonistic ways. Then from this awareness, using specific focal points you work on skills to reduce conflict and restriction against your own body’s motion, and then to quit working against natural forces in unnecessary ways. What should be pointed out is that parts of your body still need to be working with effort, yet working smoothly inside, and working as cooperatively as possible with natural forces outside, magnifying their benefit.
In swimming, a big misunderstanding is for the swimmer to not fully extend his body when its time to transfer force forward through that body line. After all, generating momentum and driving the body forward with that momentum is the chief purpose of the stroke. When you try to relax this delivery position of the stroke, you stop sliding forward so well.
In running, an obvious misunderstanding we see all over is for runners to quite maintaining good posture (or never have it to begin with) – they collapse in the core, and along the spine. The shoulders hunch. The head slides forward. The body caves to gravity rather than channeling it into forward motion through the lean of a straight spine frame. Running then becomes full-of-effort and slower. Wear and tear on the joints increases.
The point about relaxation here is to relax in one part of the body in order to free up more powerful motion in another. Work on reducing internal resistance to that flow of force, and this means you must generate some force and let it flow. Don’t hold back. Relaxation is not the absence of force, rather it enables the smooth, uninhibited transfer of force through your body.