Are you relaxing correctly?
When we are training or at rest, there are two systems at play. We have the Sympathetic Nervous system and the Parasympathetic nervous system.
For recovery, we want to activate the Parasympathetic nervous system, however, I don’t think people fully know how to optimise this to get the most out of their recovery.
And this doesn’t have to be recovery from physical training, it can be recovering from a heavy cognitive load at work or reducing stress from external factors outside of these two realms.
The Two Systems
When we are stressed or anxious or when we are working out we are activating and using the Sympathetic nervous system. This is our Fight or Flight system.
Our Parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is what controls homeostasis and our body at rest. This is our Rest and Digest system.
Here is a great table outlining the differences between the two…
|Parasympathetic nervous system
|Sympathetic nervous system
|Control the body’s response while at rest.
|Control the body’s response during perceived threat.
|Sacral region of spinal cord, medulla, cranial nerves 3, 7, 9, and 10
|Thoracic and lumbar regions of spinal cord
|Activates response of
|Rest and digest
|Longer pathways, slower system
|Very short neurons, faster system
|General Body Response
|Counterbalance; restores body to state of calm.
|Body speeds up, tenses up, becomes more alert. Functions not critical to survival shut down.
|Cardiovascular System (heart rate)
|Decreases heart rate
|Increases contraction, heart rate
|Pulmonary System (lungs)
|Bronchial tubes constrict
|Bronchial tubes dilate
|Saliva production increases
|Saliva production decreases
|Glycogen to Glucose Conversion
|Increases; converts glycogen to glucose for muscle energy
How Should We Recover?
A big problem I see is when people are trying to recover from training or optimise their recovery sessions they can actually be activating the exact system they are trying to turn off.
Too often I see people where they think they are fully recovering where they are foam rolling but on their phones, or watching tv and also on their phones at the same time for example.
In order to fully optimise our parasympathetic nervous system, we need to activate it in a specific and purposeful and focussed way.
There are the more “quick fix methods”
• Relax your tongue
• Relax your eyes
• Relax the diaphragm area
- Imagine being in a very comfortable setting
- Feel everything draining out of you and sinking deep into the earth
Outside of this, key elements to prioritising your recovery is sleep and nutrition. Do you have to ask yourself if you are truly making this a priority alongside your training? Are you focussing on getting at least 7.5 hours sleep and getting in the right balance of foods?
If not… why? What can be changed in order to make these changes to get the benefits? Why not talk to one of the TeamBreakthrough coaches for help?
One To Try Tonight
Deep abdominal breathing from the diaphragm
Yep. You have been breathing wrong. If when you are trying to breathe to relax, you feel your upper chest rising up, this means you are more than likely activating your sympathetic nervous system.
We want to focus our breathing to your “belly” and diaphragm.
So, find a space where you can focus purely on your breathing with no other distractions. Lie down with one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
Now what you want to focus on is breathing into your belly so that the hand on your stomach rises whilst the hand on your chest does not.
A good time to try this will be before bed to help you go to sleep.
Breath in through your nostrils for 4 seconds, and out for 6 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.