BlogEric SnaellDecember

Relaxation during Optimal Performance

Splash! You are in the cold swimming pool and your teacher can't be bothered by your non-functioning dog paws. You crank up the power, bite your tongue and get a cramp in your toe. Five meters and one minute later you're coughing chlorine out of your nose. Game over kid.

Effortless Max Effort

As a kid in the swimming pool, there was not one relaxed muscle in the body. The skill to perform in a way that not only appears effortless, but actually feels effortless for the body, was nowhere to be found. It's natural to tense up when we are under pressure and it's not necessarily rectified automatically by repetition. There might be a way to reach the effortless maximum performance without endless repetition.

You can see professional athletes shift between maximum power bursts and smooth technical movements seamlessly. The sudden adrenaline rushes do not dampen their performance. You probably saw it in class at school as well. You know the cool kids that didn't take anything seriously and could ace an exam like it was nothing. Then you had book worms that knew everything but always performed under par in exams because they were too nervous to catch any sleep the night before. Sometimes our ambition mistakes relaxation for laziness and we consequently try too hard. So where can we start the process to purposely unlock and program the body?

In the weight room teens learn to contract specific muscles through isolation exercises. This creates muscle awareness that teaches the body to relax the muscles that are not directly involved. Of course there are a lot of bodybuilders that want to benefit from an adrenaline kick and use a mouth-guard to protect themselves from their own hardcore self. But in most sports, it appears to be beneficial to keep your face, neck and shoulders relaxed. But this type of body awareness might not be enough.


Let's look at 3 specific exercises that combines max effort with relaxation. The first one is a sprint drill where the aim is to shift from pushing forcefully with the legs to reaching and maintaining a relaxed and effective running position. Stand still and lean forward until one of your legs moves. Perform a maximum effort acceleration of 20m. At the 20m mark, you let go of your aggressive pushing and lift off to a silent flight mode where your legs are automatically circulating. You keep your relaxed posture, hip high, shoulders down, and just let the body roll your legs until you reach the 60m mark. The key is to not force the body at all during the last 40m.

Another way to simulate the combination of max effort and relaxation, is to combine an exhaustive exercise with a technical one. For a ball player (basketball, handball, volley-ball, soccer etc) this can be a medicine ball exercise followed immediately by a regular ball drill. A basic way to do this is to place four players in a circle and let them pass the medicine ball to each other with the goal to get as many passes within a minute as possible. When the minute is up, you switch to a regular ball and compete for the most creative pass within the next minute.

Lastly, a technical movement can be placed within a circuit training programme . For an weightlifter, it can be to perform an olympic lift in an endurance circuit. This can be done for instance by going from pull-ups to lateral jumps to crunches to the olympic lift without any breaks.The idea is to let the body find its individual technique and most efficient way to perform the olympic lift, in a state were the mind does not interfere and the rest of the body is too fatigued to pull any breaks.

I tell my kids to think of the water in the swimming pool as a mattress that you lay on. I want them to relax and enjoy it. They should be in a confident and calm state of mind in order not to interfere with their own performance. Not to mention to receive critique about their swimming technique, from someone else than their father, of course. Splash!

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