You May Be 'Stuck' in Extension. Here's Why It's Disastrous for Performance

Try this breathing exercise to eliminate stress due to extension.

If you can't relax, you can't recover.

If you can't recover, you can't handle more training volume.

If you can't handle tougher training, your progress will eventually stall.

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If you can't relax, you can't recover.

If you can't recover, you can't handle more training volume.

If you can't handle tougher training, your progress will eventually stall.

Extension refers to a position of joints and posture. It is characterized by a movement that increases the angle between two body parts.

An example would be jumping. When you jump, there's extension at the ankle, knee, hip and lumbar spine. Extension is absolutely crucial for athletic performance, as it's simply impossible to efficiently and explosively perform most athletic actions without it.

However, there is a thing as too much extension. Our nervous system is responsible for dictating what state our body is in. The autonomic nervous system can be in two "modes," which are sympathetic and parasympathetic states.

The sympathetic state is the "fight or flight" branch of our nervous system. When you are in this state, hormones are released that increase the body's alertness and heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles. Breathing quickens, delivering fresh oxygen to the brain, and an infusion of glucose is shot into the bloodstream for a quick energy boost. If you're constantly "stuck" in extension, you're likely in a sympathetic state.

A parasympathetic state, on the other hand, is correlated more with flexion and deep breathing. This is the "rest and digest" branch of the nervous system. This state conserves energy, as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes muscles throughout the body.

Many people are great at extension, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. It's a natural human movement and it's responsible for producing high amounts of power, speed and strength.

However, we run into problems when we can't get out of extension.

If we live our lives with constant huge low back arches, flared-up ribs, and poor breathing, we are more likely to:

  • Be anxious
  • Be stressed out
  • Have difficulty recovering from exercise
  • Sleep poorly

This is because the body is still sensing a threat in the environment. It cannot transition effectively to a parasympathetic state for recovery because the constant extension is still elevating heart rate and alertness.

Try this: Wherever you are right now, puff out your chest like you're a gorilla. Take a couple breaths like this. You'll notice that almost immediately, you feel more awake and "ready to go." That is your nervous system releasing adrenaline, as it senses extension.

Now imagine being stuck in that state almost non-stop throughout the day and potentially even when you sleep. No wonder some people have recovery problems!

What can you do about it? Do yourself a favor and end training sessions and practices with some deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

In the below video, I highlight several positions of flexion I like to utilize to accomplish this:

Once you get into one of the above pictured positions of thoracic flexion, maintain that position and:

1. Exhale all the air out through your mouth until you feel your side abdominals (obliques) significantly engage.

2. Keep the compression felt in your obliques and inhale through your nose without your lower ribs coming up or shoulders elevating.

3. Pause for three seconds after each exhale with your tongue on the roof of your mouth to promote a good nasal inhalation following the pause.

I recommend five full breaths in each position.

Photo Credit: Bobex-73/iStock

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Topics: RECOVERY | STRESS | SLEEP | CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM | BREATHING