Breath Control, Relaxation, Mental Imagery, and Visualization Training for Athletes at Any Level:
First, start by finding a quiet spot where you can sit or lie down in a comfortable position, in order to relax and learn and train yourself in these techniques. Once you’ve mastered these techniques, you then will be able to perform them on short notice, at crowded venues, and locations where there are many potential distractions and noise levels.
Okay, you’re (preferably) on your back, lying down on the floor, sofa, bed, or lawn somewhere. I want you to lie flat with your arms at your sides, your legs relaxed (which will generally mean your toes are pointing outward) and close your eyes. Start by taking full diaphragmatic (belly and chest) breaths that force the stomach to extend and chest to rise. Take in air for a count of at least 5-10 one-thousand, hold for a count of 5-10 one-thousand, and then slowly (through pursed lips) exhale – which should also extend to a count of about 5-15 one-thousand. Do this for the first 5-10 breaths to help you relax the body.
Now that you are controlling your breathing and starting to relax, feel your body let go.
Let go of all of the thoughts, stress, and tension. I commonly refer to this as “dumping your baggage,” getting rid of the excessive and unnecessary daily stress and tension. A little stress is good; however, most Americans carry way too much excess tension (i.e. clenching jaw, tense muscles, shallow breathing…). Feel it leave your body as you seemingly melt into the ground, sofa… etc.
Now focus your mind on images of yourself swimming, cycling, running, or walking with proper form, rhythm, while feeling light and fast as you effortlessly perform your exercise or activity. It doesn’t matter whether you see yourself as if you’re actually performing (from your eyes) or as if you’re seeing yourself from a “spectator view” or video. The point is that as you see yourself performing, you can correct your form when you see or feel your focus drift and proper technique falter. Seeing yourself execute correct and efficient form is a critical component to you doing so later on when you actually do train or race. Just as important as logging the miles, performing speed work, hill training…etc., your mental training level and ability to focus or re-focus quickly is key to improving and obtaining optimal performances, in both training and competition.
Spend a good 10 minutes at first, ultimately working up to 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted mental imagery and performance visualization training.
It takes time to learn these techniques, but with practice, after 2-3 times per week as a recommended minimum, you’ll learn to catch yourself throughout the day breathing shallow, carrying excess tension in your body and mind, and quickly be able to re-focus your mind and relax through deep breathing.
Use some of these techniques for that upcoming presentation, mid-term exam, or for us athletes before, during, and after training, in order to relax and achieve better technique and optimal performances.