Relaxation is an unlikely secret weapon in the arsenal of a fighter, but that is the skill Conor McGregor has been cultivating ahead of his bout with champion boxer Floyd Mayweather on Saturday.
Last week McGregor’s movement coach Ido Portal explained the importance of the “underrated” skill.
“Since we know that maximal power output as delivered through the kinetic chain is comprised of an orchestra of accurately timed muscular contractions and relaxations, how is it that most fighters focus so little on the capacity to disengage and relax overly tense areas in their bodies?” said Portal, who has a background in martial arts as well as dance, gymnastics and acrobatics, in a social media post.
“This is a basic understanding in fields that truly mastered power/speed output like the javelin throw, sprinting, discus in track and field or pitchers in baseball.”
Portal, who works with athletes from a variety of disciplines, added: “I’ve been focusing with [Conor] on ‘unclogging the hose’ and being able to relax certain areas in the body fully and immediately as well as contract maximally and abruptly in a well timed chain of actions. It’s not about stretching mind you … relaxation is a skill and one of the most underrated yet hardest one to master.”
The ability to “keep the body soft” is a skill relevant to all athletes wanting to refine and improve performance.
It is an “often overlooked” technique according to elite performance coach, Nam Baldwin.
“It’s so important as it gives an athlete a much broader spectrum in which to operate i.e. through relaxation they will further enhance the talents they already have (both in mind and body) which otherwise would have remain untapped,” Baldwin said. “Athletes and coaches have nothing to lose by giving this practice a go, yet everything to gain.”
Baldwin, a former sprinter and freediver with a background in martial arts, said he uses the principles when training world champion surfer Mick Fanning, Stephanie Gilmore, the Australian Olympic K4 kayak gold medal team, and the NRL’s New Zealand Warriors.
The technique, which Baldwin learned through his own teacher Sifu Mark Rasmus, instils the ability to “generate incredible power” through the most subtle of movements.
“When training pro surfers, we often work on drills that help to generate greater speed and power through a more relaxed body or line, these skills allow you to do more on a wave, manoeuvre much better and produce bigger and better turns,” Baldwin said. “I (and many others) refer to this concept as generating elastic force, or spring energy.”
Baldwin explained the concept with the example of exercises using the tornado ball, which is similar to a medicine ball, but has sailing rope attached that is used to swing the ball during rotational exercises.
“If the athlete is rigid and not in a flow state, the ball will fling them around, whereas when they are relaxed and absorbing the force throughout their whole body there is more power output, speed and flow,” Baldwin said.
Even for non-athletes, Baldwin suggests the practice of tai chi can help develop these skills.
“I think it’s a great skill for everyone to practice! Tension generally leads to stress, whereas relaxation leads to non-stress and we can all benefit from more of that. In my opinion it should be a regular practice but not ‘at every moment’ as there are vital skills in particular sports where more tension is key i.e. bracing for a tackle in football.
“But the switch between tension and relaxation is paramount because immediately after a tackle you may need to sprint up the field and relaxation will help to generate speed. Too much tension in specific areas can also lead to overload and injury, it can be a balancing act for sure.”