RELAXATION STRATEGIES FOR SPORT:Progressive Relaxation, Autogenic Training

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Sport Psychology(psy407)
Lesson 22
While some athletes may suffer from low levels of arousal, the more difficult problems occur with athletes
who experience excessively high levels of anxiety and tension. For these athletes, any strategy calculated to
heighten arousal can only cause greater anxiety and tension. Relaxation procedures can effectively reduce
tension and anxiety associated with sport. Four prevalent relaxation procedures can be adequately
categorized under the broad heading of relaxation. These are:
1. Progressive relaxation
2. Autogenic training
3. Meditation
4. Biofeedback
Each procedure is unique, but they all yield essentially the same physiological result. That is, they all result in
the relaxation response. Such procedures result in decreased oxygen consumption, heart rate, respiration,
and skeletal muscles activity, while they increase skin resistance and brain waves.
Four different factors are necessary for eliciting the relaxation response. Each of these factors is present to
some degree in the specific relaxation techniques that will be discussed. These four elements or factors are
(1) a mental device, (2) a passive attitude, (3) decreased muscle tone, and (4) a quiet environment. The
mental device is generally some sort of word, phrase, object, or process used to shift attention inwards.
In this lecture we will discuss specific relaxation techniques that are designed to bring about the relaxation
response. These techniques as mentioned above include: progressive relaxation, autogenic, training,
meditation, and biofeedback.
Mastering the technique of deep breathing for the purpose of relaxation and relieving tension is an
important component of each of the relaxation technique we will discuss. Two patterns of breathing are
typically used for general relaxation:
Chest breathing,
Abdominal breathing.
Chest breathing is usually associated with emotional distress and is often shallow, irregular, and rapid.
Conversely, abdominal breathing is associated with relaxation and is often deep, regular, and slow. In
practicing the relaxation procedures, the athlete must practice relaxing through deep breathing. The process
of deeply inhaling and exhaling in a slow rhythmic fashion is very relaxing to the body mind. Deep
breathing can be practiced at any time or place.
Progressive Relaxation
Modern progressive relaxation techniques are all variations of those outlined by Edmond Jacobson (1929,
1938). Jacobson's progressive relaxation procedure requires that subject lie on their backs, the room should
be fairly quiet and arms and legs should not be crossed, to avoid unnecessary stimulation. While the goal of
any progressive relaxation program is to relax the entire body in a matter of minutes, it is essential that in
the beginning the subject practice the technique for at least one hour every day. Once the relaxation
procedure is well learned, the relaxation response can be achieved in a few minutes.
Jacobson's method calls for the subject to tense a muscle before relaxing it. Jacobson warns that only the
first few minutes of any relaxation session should be devoted to muscle tensing. The remaining time should
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Sport Psychology(psy407)
be devoted to gaining complete relaxation. For a muscle to be considered relaxed, it must be completely
absent of any contractions and must be limp and motionless.
Jacobson's full progressive relaxation procedure involves systematically tensing and relaxing specific muscle
groups in a predetermined order. A well-developed relaxation training program requires a great deal of
practice in the beginning. Research has clearly shown that progressive relaxation procedures are effective in
eliciting the relaxation response.
Autogenic Training
Autogenic training relies upon feelings associated with the limbs and muscles of the body. Autogenic
training is very similar to autohypnosis, and is based upon early research with hypnosis. Various authors
have suggested different exercises and self-statements to bring about the relaxation response using
autogenic training.
Essentially, autogenic training is composed of three component parts that are often intermingled.
The first and most important part, to suggest to the mind a feeling of warmth in the body and heaviness in
the limbs.
The second component part of autogenic training involves the use of imagery. In this step, the subject is
encouraged to visualize images of relaxing scenes while at the same time focusing upon feelings of warmth
and heaviness in the arms and legs.
The third component of autogenic training involves the use of specific theme to assist in bringing about the
relaxation response. One particularly effective specific theme is the use of self-statements to suggest to the
mind that the body is indeed relaxed.
Research shows that autogenic training is also effective in bringing about the relaxation response.
Meditation, as a form of relaxation, is tied directly to the concepts of selective attention. In practicing
meditation, the individual attempts to uncritically focus his attention on a single thought, sound, or object.
The practice of meditation as a form of relaxation and thought control has its origin in Eastern cultures
more than four thousand years ago.
The most common mental device used in transcendental meditation is the silent repetition of a mantra. It is
clear that the various forms of meditation can reduce anxiety and tension by evoking the relaxation
Biofeedback Training
It has been demonstrated that humans can voluntarily control functions of the autonomic nervous systems.
Biofeedback is a relatively modern technique that is based upon this principle. Biofeedback training uses
instruments to help people control responses of the autonomic nervous systems. For example, a subject
monitors an auditory signal of her own heart rate and experiments with different thoughts, feelings, and
sensations to slow the heart rate. Once the subject learns to recognize the feelings associated with the
reduction of heart rate, the instrument is removed and the subject tries to control the heart rate without it.
© Copyright Virtual University of Pakistan
Sport Psychology(psy407)
Athletes could be trained to control their physiological responses in the laboratory; they should be able to
transfer this ability onto the athletic field. There are three basic instruments for biofeedback, (1) skin
temperature, (2) electromyography and (3) electroencephalogram.
The most commonly used and least expensive form of biofeedback is skin temperature. Although
sophisticated instruments are available, a simple and inexpensive thermometer can be used to monitor skin
temperature. Another very popular biofeedback technique employs the use of an electromyographic
feedback instrument (EMG). A third major instrument used for biofeedback is the electroencephalogram
(EEG). Use of the EEG is commonly called brainwave training.
While skin temperature, EMG, and EEG are the most commonly used in biofeedback training, several
others are used to a lesser degree. These are the heart rate, and blood pressure.
Biofeedback and Performance
A number of scientific investigations have been conducted to determine the effect of biofeedback on
athletic performance. In forty-two studies, 83 percent found biofeedback training to be successful in
facilitating sport and athletic performance, as well as beneficial to the athlete's well-being.
Cox, H. Richard. (2002). Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications. (Fifth Edition). New York: McGraw-
Hill Companies
Lavallec. D., Kremer, J., Moran, A., & Williams. M. (2004) Sports Psychology: Contemporary Themes. New
York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishers
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Table of Contents:
  1. SPORT PSYCHOLOGY DEFINED:Issue of Certification, The Research Sport Psychologist
  2. SELF-CONFIDENCE AND SPORT PSYCHOLOGY:Successful Performance, Verbal persuasion
  3. SELECTING SELF-TALK STATEMENTS:Skill accusation, Controlling effort
  4. GOAL ORIENTATION:Goal Involvement, Motivational Climate
  5. CAUSAL ATTRIBUTION IN SPORT:Fritz Heiderís Contribution, Other Considerations
  7. MOTIVATION IN SPORT:Social Factors, Success and Failure, Coachesí Behavior
  9. PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE GOAL SETTING:Clearly identify time constraints
  10. A TEAM APPROACH TO SETTING GOALS:The Planning Phase, The Meeting Phase
  11. YOUTH SPORT:Distress and anxiety, Coach-Parent Relationships
  12. ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN SPORT:Information Processing, Memory Systems
  13. ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN SPORT:Measuring Attentional Focus
  14. PERSONALITY AND THE ATHLETE:Personality Defined, Psychodynamic Theory
  15. THE MEASUREMENT OF PERSONALITY:Projective Procedures, Structured Questionnaire
  16. PERSONALITY AND THE ATHLETE:Athletic Motivation Inventory, Personality Sport Type
  21. COPING STRATEGIES IN SPORT:Measurement of Coping Skill
  22. RELAXATION STRATEGIES FOR SPORT:Progressive Relaxation, Autogenic Training
  23. AROUSAL ENERGIZING STRATEGIES:Team Energizing Strategies, Fan Support
  24. AROUSAL ENERGIZING STRATEGIES:Precompetition Workout, Individual Goal Setting
  25. IMAGERY:Skill Level of the Athletes, Time Factors and Mental Practice
  26. IMAGERY:Symbolic Learning Theory, Imagery Perspective. Sensory Mode
  27. IMAGERY:Paivioís Two-Dimensional Model, Developing Imagery Skills
  28. THE ROLE OF HYPNOSIS IN SPORT:Defining Hypnosis, Social-Cognitive Theory
  29. THE ROLE OF HYPNOSIS IN SPORT:Achieving the Hypnotic Trance, Hypnotic Phase
  30. PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING:Psychological Skills Training Program
  31. PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING:Performance profiling, Performance routines
  32. ETHICS IN SPORT PSYCHOLOGY:Competence, Integrity, Social Responsibility
  33. AGGRESSION AND VIOLENCE IN SPORT:Defining Aggression, Catharsis hypothesis
  34. AGGRESSION AND VIOLENCE IN SPORT:The Catharsis Effect, Fan Violence
  35. AUDIENCE AND CROWD EFFECTS IN SPORTS:Social Facilitation, Crowd Hostility
  36. TEAM COHESION IN SPORT:Measurement of Team Cohesion
  37. TEAM COHESION IN SPORT:Predicting Future Participation, Team Building
  38. LEADERSHIP IN SPORT:Fiedlerís Contingency Theory, Coach-Athlete Compatibility
  39. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Special Populations, Clinical Patients
  40. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Social Interaction Hypothesis, Amine Hypothesis
  41. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:The Theory of Planned Behavior, Social Cognitive Theory
  42. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Exercise Addiction, Bulimia Nervosa, Muscle Dysmorphia
  43. BURNOUT IN ATHLETES:Overtraining and Overreaching, Recommended Intervention
  44. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ATHLETIC INJURIES:Personality Factors, Coping Resources
  45. DRUG ABUSE IN SPORT AND EXERCISE:Stimulants, Depressants