What’s sapping your energy and, unbeknownst to you, hindering your performance in martial arts, athletics, or simply the daily art of living, working, and taking care of your family? Residual muscle tension, or tonus, is the continuous, passive partial contraction of muscles in the body that aids in posture and support. Unfortunately, any type of exercise, stress, fear, and trauma, all cause an unwanted and unnecessary increase in the normal residual muscle tension of the body. Usually this extra tonus goes unnoticed, or worse is simply deemed an acceptable and natural side effect of living. The problem with this added tension is that the continuous contraction of muscle throughout the day, ever day, is using up energy. Energy that can, and should, be available to us is being siphoned off thereby putting the brakes on our performance. It’s like driving a car around all day with the emergency brake on. You can still get where you need to go, but that extra, unnecessary drag is killing the car’s performance and guzzling gas.
So how do we remove these insidious restrictive forces on our body? Besides a daily dose of joint mobility, which has been covered extensively in Warrior Fitness: Conditioning for Martial Arts, and in various other posts, I have come across 2 methods that work wonders:
1. Tension/Relaxation Exercises
At first glance, it may seem odd to increase tension in order to relieve tension, but remember, residual muscle tension is held unconsciously while these exercises will intentionally increase muscular tension for the purposes of identifying and releasing it. Stand naturally and lift your shoulders as high as possible up to your ears while simultaneously squeezing them as tight as possible. Hold for a couple seconds then drop with an exhale. Do it again. Feel the tension in your shoulders, neck, and upper back start to release? You can do this locally with any area of the body, or the whole body all together. For example, tense your left arm as tight as possible on an inhalation, hold for 3 seconds, then completely relax on an exhale. Do this with the legs, the abdomen, chest, back, shoulders. Tense each area while inhaling, hold for 3 seconds, then release and relax on the exhale.
2. Vibration Exercises
These are very simple, yet highly effective exercises which have been used for centuries in yoga and qigong to shake out and release residual muscle tension in the body. So how do you do them? Stand naturally, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Spine straight. Lift up from the crown of your head. Begin to bounce gently with the legs shaking the whole body up and down. On each down bounce allow the body to exhale – don’t force it. Don’t try to breath, just let the motion breath the body. Slightly round the shoulders and tuck the pelvis to help the motion push air out. Continue shaking the body up and down for about 30 seconds to a minute. Stay loose. Stay relaxed. Shake out the tension.
These 2 simple exercises, done on a daily basis, will go a long way toward helping you recover the energy that’s been bound up in holding residual muscle tension. Let me know how they work out for you!