Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, is a mental exercise meant to increase your awareness of muscle tightness and increase your ability to relax your muscles. Many people suffer from chronic muscle tightness. Without being aware of it, many people keep their neck, shoulders, abdomen, lower back, or legs tensed without needing to. This bad habit is partially caused by high stress levels. When you are stressed, your body tends to tighten up. This can lead to pain in your back and other areas. This unnecessary muscle tension can be fixed from both reducing stress and practicing PMR.

But how is this relevant to sports? Muscle relaxation helps performance while stress-caused muscle tension hurts performance. You usually execute your best shots and throws when your body is relaxed, and only the necessary muscles are used. When this happens, it feels like the energy just flows right through you, allowing you to hit or throw with power and accuracy. However, when your body is overly tensed, contracting unnecessary muscles such as your face and neck, you don’t usually play that well. It feels like you are “muscling” the ball, and you don’t hit or throw with as much power or accuracy. This is because the force going through your kinetic chain is getting slowed down by the unnecessary tension in your body. Playing loose and relaxed is a skill needed to help you play with peak performance. Practicing PMR helps you improve this skill. You will be better at noticing tension in your body and relaxing. This skill is especially useful during pressured situations when nervousness causes you to tense up.

Here is how to practice progressive muscle relaxation:
1. Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down. Laying down is best if you can prevent getting sleepy.
2. Breathe deeply and relax your body as much as possible. You can imagine yourself floating in water if it helps.
3. Next, pay attention to your face muscles. Are your cheeks or forehead tense? If you become aware of tension, try to relax the muscles. But don’t try too hard. Just let it happen.
4. After you notice and relax the tension of your face, purposely tense all of your face muscles for about two seconds, or one full breath (inhale/exhale). Then relax your face and feel the tension melt away. As you tense your muscles, maintain slow, relaxed breathing. Don’t hold your breath.
5. Repeat step 4 for each part of your body, progressively moving down from your face to your feet. Do face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, abs, lats, lower back, quads, glutes, calves, shins, and feet. Depending on how long you want the exercise to go, you can focus on individual muscles, such as biceps, or you can do muscle groups, such as the entire arm or leg.
6. After finishing each body part, you can end PMR by tensing the entire body then relaxing it.

As you can see, PMR can take some time and effort. If you want to get the most out of it, you should take the time to go through each body part. However, like any exercise, you can condense PMR and make is shorter to make it fit into your daily schedule. You can do only steps 1 and 2 for a couple minutes everyday. Or you can do steps 1-5 for your upper body one day, and then your lower body the next day. Like most mental exercises, PMR can be practiced at night, in the morning, or as a pre-game ritual to help with arousal control.