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Muscular Tension and Its Effects on Performance

Updated on August 27, 2017
Purches Power profile image

Purches Power is a competitive, drug-free bodybuilder and a qualified gym instructor with a diploma in Sports Psychology.

Muscular Tension

Coaches and athletes should make themselves aware of the effects of fatigue brought about by muscular tension.

In understanding its effects and prevention they will allow for better performance.

In recognising the symptoms they can “pull back” the effort and minimise the detrimental effects on the athlete. If allowed to manifest itself over a long period it can be difficult to return to a previous “non fatigued” state.


Relaxed Soft Muscle

There are various signs the coach and athlete can observe in order to recognize muscular tension.The first being touch. There will be a noticeable difference between a relaxed soft muscle over a hard tense one.

In observing the athlete the coach will be able to differentiate between smooth limber movement and tense stiff movement. Athletes who are relaxed in mind and body are able to flex (contract) each muscle and then relax it back to a normal state.

If the funds and facilities allow the use of electrical instruments would provide biofeedback from measurements of muscle tension. The muscle monitoring (EMG Electromyography) equipment needed is available for self use in the home or larger equipment can be used in a clinical environment. These units can help in the relaxation training of tense muscles and the re-education of injured muscles.

Teaching the athlete to recognize the symptoms in both training and performance will help them in treating it, especially away from the sport arena when at home.


Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can help with relaxation and is often the first step in some of the best techniques.

Deep breathing should be performed in a controlled manner. If performed to a level of hyperventilation there could be detrimental effects such as dizziness, fainting and pain in the chest area.

Controlled deep breathing can be used as a quick calming technique and can be used in unison with a mantra (positive affirmation) that can be repeated and timed with the breath. The athlete can imagine they are inhaling in “calm” and exhaling away tension.

In order to perform the techniques correctly the diaphragm should move upwards and outwards. The focus should be on inhaling into the stomach first, the chest area should come second. The breath should be held momentarily and followed by a slow even breath out.

Deep breathing can help the athletes relax their body in stages. As the first breath is exhaled the athlete can allow the facial and neck muscles relax. After another deep breath the second exhalation can be focused on relaxing the shoulders and arms. With each progressive breath and exhalation the athlete can work their way down the body relaxing it in stages until the achieve a full body relaxation.


Chosen Method

Once the athlete has their chosen method of relaxation they then need to apply it to focusing on their event. Some athletes may find this difficult at first simply because they are not able to sufficiently relax to mentally rehearse the activity or skill. Or they are unable to focus on the “whole” technique or event.

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Stepping Stones to Relaxation

A simplified way to achieve focus will help prior to the athlete being able to fully focus on the skill orevent. They may find focusing on a everyday item in a familiar surrounding as a stepping stone technique to achieving mastery of event focus. For instance, the athlete could focus on their house, they could focus on the front door, its color, its number, the flowers in the garden, the number of steps in the pathway leading to the door and so on. Once they are able to focus on the everyday item to the point that outside influences can be ignored they can then progress to focusing on their event.

Breaking It Down

As this type of focus may take time and practice to achieve, some athletes may find breaking the whole event down into component parts helpful. For example, the full technique of a rugby conversion kick could be broken down to.

1, strike the bottom third of the ball “the sweet spot”

2, head and chest over the ball at the point of impact

3, strike the ball with the instep

4, rigid ankle and leg at the point of contact

5, follow through to the posts


Mental Rehearsal

This mental rehearsal should result in two things. One: the knowledge the skill was executed perfectly, two: That there is some tiredness as there would be in the real life vent.

Once the athlete has completed their mental rehearsal they will return to preparing their body for the event by either a relaxation technique or going through a warm up to prepare their body. They should be aiming to focus the mind and body so both are in time with each other and ready for the upcoming action

Planning For The Event

Planning for the event and the hours and moments leading up to it will lead to better performance. Preparing their kit, planning the journey, going through their routine/performance in their heads will all enable the athlete to arrive relaxed, in control and more focused on themselves than their opponent. A self focused well prepared athlete will exude a level of confidence. This could have an impact on a opponent who has yet to master tunnel vision and is focusing on the athlete or isn’t adequately prepared enough to focus on their own mental rehearsal or warm up. This will elevate their stress levels and result in a less relaxed opponent.

Boxer preparing for fight
Boxer preparing for fight | Source

Focus On The Self

Focusing on the “self” and achieving complete tunnel vision is very important but a level of honesty must prevail in the athletes focus. They must appreciate that they may at times come up against a superior opponent and that no matter their level of focus they may not win.

They should use their opponents superior qualities as a challenge. To find a alternative route to succeed. For example a boxer who comes up against an opponent with a superior right hook punch could use their superior footwork to circle and move away from the punch. Therefore nullifying its power and ability to land cleanly.

Using Imagery

The development of imagery (visualization) skills will help with the mastery of focus and give the athlete the right frame of mind when competing. The athlete can learn to create a image script that will contain the components or whole skill being performed at their very best. They could also be used to develop a strategy that prepares them for a certain event or opponent.

The images should be vivid and in color. They should try and incorporate emotions and sensory awareness (e.g. smells, sounds, the wind). The images should be realistic in details and as real as the event itself. Ultimately the images should finish with a positive result “you only achieve what you believe”

George St Pierre, UFC Champion

"The key to effective visualization is to create the most detailed, clear and vivid a picture to focus on as possible. The more vivid the visualization, the more likely, and quickly, you are to begin attracting the things that help you achieve what you want to get done."

Concept Images

Concept images can also be utilized in creating a positive focused mind. A power lifter for instance when dead lifting can prepare by visualiZing he/she is King Kong lifting light shopping bags in each hand.


Breaking The Cycle Of Doubt

Achieving a high level of focus can be a difficult skill to acquire. It can be just as easily lost as the athletes mind wanders or negative thoughts are allowed to creep in. Once the athlete or coach recognizes that focus has been lost there needs to be some kind of intervention. Whether this be simply the athlete briefly steps away, takes a deep breath , takes stock and starts again. To a more extreme approach such as a boxers coach slapping their face between rounds.

To break the cycle of doubt or fear the athlete can stop and gather their thoughts. They can use positive reaffirmations or imagery and remind themselves that they have practiced and succeeded the task with a positive result many times before.

Once mastered, focus and learning to cope with muscular tension will result in better performance and more successful results for the athlete.


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