How to Regain and Maintain Top Form
Why do we fail to maintain top form? As we perfect the abilities of our body, they become more automated, which in turn means that we have less conscious control over them. Less conscious control over our movements also means less awareness and control over our muscles and body proprioception. At the same time, the unconscious control over our muscles increases and that makes our muscles constantly tensed up. This induces fatigue, a feeling of being weak, less coordinated movements and reduced coordination between the agonists contracting and antagonists relaxing.
It is not only individual movements that become less efficient but also the movement of our entire body. Athletes invest increasing amounts of energy in the same movement. Their ability to concentrate, perceive and respond to changes, which require a conscious reaction, decreases. First, they try to compensate for this lack of efficiency by getting into better shape, acquiring more strength, doing more exercise and relying on their impulsive reactions. In this way, improper use of joints and muscle groups in the arms, legs and neck increases. The functioning of the sensory motor system gradually changes and so does the body structure. This is important for acquiring top psychological and physical abilities, which are in turn required for achieving top results. But eventually it becomes increasingly hard for the body to substitute the lack of efficiency, which is a consequence of a decreased conscious control or sensory motor amnesia, with greater strength and endurance.
How to eliminate the causes of failing to maintain top form and regain it? When the body reaches the point when it fails to substitute the lack of efficiency with strength and endurance, athletes can regain the ever present awareness and innate knowledge with the help of clinical somatics. These were lost only because they focused almost entirely on the outside environment and on perfecting automated movements. Athletes usually do this by training intensively and putting their body under immense strain until it collapses. Consequently, they forget how light, fluid and smooth their movements used to be.
The loss of this awareness and knowledge is, however, not irreversible and permanent. It can be regained through learning and conscious movements that can change the efficiency of the system. This in turn changes the functioning of the body and its structure. Top form can be regained much faster and lasts considerably longer. The incidence of injuries is greatly reduced and motivation to train and compete receives a considerable boost, especially because less effort is needed to regain top form. Due to greater efficiency, training can be less frequent and intensive, which means that athletes can make better use of their experience and knowledge. These are usually pushed to the sidelines because athletes lose the sense of where they are and why they train. In other words, their point A is unclear, while their point B (goal, results, time, ranking, medal etc.) is clearly defined. The path from point A to point B is thus full of trials, guesswork and search for meaning. This makes a dent in motivation and increases the possibility of injuries and the time needed to get from A to B. In such cases, reaching point B, or the goal, usually entails Pyrrhic victory.
By making clinical somatics a part of the training process, athlete’s focus can be greatly improved. This focus normally wavers due to good results, increased media attention, keeping sponsors happy and feeling the relentless drive of their opponents to overthrow the top athlete. The top athletes must find new ways to remain on top as their focus, which was sharp when they were the ones chasing the number one, loses its edge.
The basic quandary of top level sports is that maintaining top form requires more effort than achieving it. By contrast, our world and the universe follow a different kind of principle: reaching a higher level requires more energy than maintaining that level (for example, flying an aeroplane, boiling water etc.). Even so, the body and sensory motor system of an athlete is a final product of adaptation through evolution over thousands of years. It is also a result of the search for the best way how to take advantage of the forces that rule our world and overcome them.
This explains why there are so many injuries and why so much effort is invested into maintaining top form. We are trying to improve the system that developed through evolution according to the laws of nature without properly including the conscious part of our sensory motor system into the process. Not only that, we try to exclude it as much as possible. Consequently, athletes forget the very thing that brought them to the top. The most efficient way of preventing, or at least reducing, such a downward spiral is a conscious practice of somatic movements. These will help us regain, maintain and improve the awareness of our body and our control over it. At the start, at least 15–30 minutes of conscious and slow movements while lying down on the ground (because of less gravitational pull) are necessary. It is crucial that these movements are carried out through careful observation and pandiculation. In this way, our sensory motor system can change and regain its correct balance – more movement will less effort. It is also important to do away with the “mysterious forces” and discover the actual root of the problem. We can do this by analysing and studying the effects of sensory motor amnesia on our movement.
What if we want to improve even further? In later stages, when sensory motor amnesia is relatively unnoticeable and under control, we can achieve even better results by carrying out a great variety of movements in different directions, especially with our hips and shoulders. We also need to start practising somatic movements standing up as this is our natural position in which we do most of our movements.
We also need to combine different levels of muscle contraction in various phases of a pandiculated movement – from strong to light and gentle. By strong contraction from the start and until just before the end of the movement, we are instructing our agonists, antagonists and synergists to work together in complete harmony and in all directions. We need to be in complete control over what we are doing in every phase of the movement. It is also important to slowly relax the part of the body involved in the last phase of the movement so it doesn’t become “stuck”.
Athletes who are experienced in somatics can gain strength and flexibility in a relatively short period of time even without any work with weights. They can transfer the effects of clinical somatics into their everyday life and experience numerous benefits, such as regaining top form faster and maintaining it longer, less injuries, greater motivation to train and compete as well as more meaning and purpose in their professional and personal life.