We Can Stop Our Muscle Fibers From Contracting

By Aaron Weintraub

We Can Stop Our Muscle Fibers From Contracting

Tension is literally the contraction of muscle fibers. Relaxation is the absence of tension. Awareness is necessary for adjustments to happen. Therefore, if an athlete doesn’t realize she’s too tight, she won’t fix the problem. Learning to relax is a three step process (like learning anything, really): know where you want to be, know where you are, and figure out how to get from here to there.

How do we know where we want to be? We need clear goals. “Clear” means we need to know what we have to do that is totally within our control to achieve the goal. Pay attention when you’re doing well so you can repeat. Pay attention when others are doing well so you can imitate. Ask the right questions constantly. Paying this much attention to life, including muscle tension, is too much for a majority of people, but it is normal stuff for champions like you!

How do we know where we are? Check. Right now, check the tension in the back of your neck. You probably are carrying more than you need simply to keep your head from falling forward, but without checking, you didn’t realize this. Does this mean we should check for tension before stepping into the batter’s box, engaging the pitcher’s rubber? It depends… if tension has a history of keeping you from giving your best effort, then yes. Is this making your preparations to perform too difficult and complex? No. Isn’t a goal to keep it simple? Yes, during the performance — not before it. You can add this check for tension into your pre-performance routine and practice it over and over again, making it routine, or no big deal.

How do we figure out how to get from here to there (tight to relaxed, in this case)? Experiment. Make your best guess, try it a few times, and then decide if it seems to help or hurt. Here are some ideas to experiment with:

Take a deep breath (down in your belly) and just let the tension go during the exhalation.

The breathing exercise below.

Contrast strategy: tighten the muscle group as tight as possible, then breathe in and release it on exhalation.


Shake it out.

Positive self-talk to take the pressure off and increase confidence

(all mental skills training is designed to help with this issue, so keep practicing your mental skills)

a. “I’ve done this many times before.”

b. Imagery practice of your P.P.P.P. (Personal Past Peak Performance).

c. “My best effort is always good enough.”

d. “Just do my job, not more or less. It’ll work out.”

e. “They’re in trouble.”

f. “Do what I do.”

Use your routine to promote full preparedness and comfort, and to help you get lost in the process of what you’re doing.


Pay attention to your body during stretching.

Progressive Relaxation.


Dialing your hype number down.

Breathe deeply, getting the air down towards your belly. Breathe smooth and steady, trying to connect the
breaths (smooth out the transitions).

Inhale confidence Inhale relaxation Inhale enjoyment
Exhale negativity Exhale stress Exhale worries
(Inhale confidence)

Long Version (before competition):

Do each pair 5 times (5 breaths)
Then do each pair 3 times
Then do each pair once
Finish by inhaling confidence one more time

Short version (during competition):

Do one breath for each.
Practice the long version to increase the effect of the short version.

Use your mental skills to find the words and images that best bring in and get out the ideas listed. For example, don’t just say “confidence” while inhaling. Rather, picture your P.P.P.P or remind yourself that you’ve executed this skill many times before. Enjoyment reflects not only having fun, but also being fully present in the moment. Exhaling worries is releasing both worries about the future and regrets about the past. You might prefer separating these two with an extra breath.

aaron Weintraub Aaron Weintraub holds a B.A. from Emory University (1993) and a M.Ed. from the University of Virginia (2000). He served as an assistant baseball coach for 13 years before starting www.CoachTraub.com, a consulting business whose mission is to over-deliver value on goods and services designed to help you win the mental side of the game. He works with teams and individuals, adding clarity to help them get what they want for their sport. CoachTraub.com also runs camps and clinics and has an online store.Weintraub is the author of Coaches Guide to Winning the Mental Game (Coaches Choice, 2009) and An Elite Athlete’s Manual for Training Mental Skills (self-published, 2011). He lives in The Colony, TX with his wife, Nicole, and their four children.

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