Energy Management

Different sports and different tasks within sports require different optimal levels of energy or intensity. Examples of this abound in sports. A golfer standing over a critical 4-foot putt does not need the same level of physical intensity that a charging linebacker does to execute the task at hand. Most athletes have a band of energy levels--often referred to as the zone of optimal functioning--at which they perform their best. Several theories have been proposed to explain the relationship between energy and performance, the most popular being the Inverted-U Hypothesis which states that performance improves as energy increases up to a certain point after which, as energy continues to increase, performance begins to gradually decrease. More recently, this hypothesis has been revised as evidence points to a rapid deterioration in performance once energy reaches a certain point. Most athletes can recall times when their energy, intensity, or energy was too great and their performance suffered.

Most athletes can also recall times when they felt like they were performing at their best. How much energy/intensity do you need for your specific sport to maximize your performance? Once you have answered that question, you can develop a plan to adjust your energy level to its optimum level each time you prepare to practice or compete.

Techniques for adjusting level of energy usually involve some type of relaxation as most athletes tend to have difficulties with being too tense or aroused. Muscular tension occurring with anxiety or over-energy, interferes with the execution of a skill and, hence, with optimal performance. Strategies for reducing tension or level of energy range from deep, diaphragmatic breathing to different muscle relaxation techniques.

The technique that is most effective for a variety of over-energy situations and is most readily applicable to performance environments is diaphragmatic breathing. Most athletes, when they feel tense or overaroused, react by either holding their breath or breathing rapidly and shallowly from the upper chest. Both of these responses tend to create even more tension and lead to impaired performance. Deep breathing comes from the diaphragm. During inhalation, the diaphragm should move down, pushing the abdomen out and creating space in the lungs. The lungs fill with air from the bottom up. Practice breathing with this focus: push the diaphragm out, forcing the stomach out. Fill your lungs with air starting at the bottom, and slowly expanding through the middle portion of the lungs by expanding your chest cavity, raising the rib cage and chest. Finally, continue filling the upper portion of the lungs by raising the chest and shoulders. Hold this breath for several seconds before exhaling. During the exhalation process, pull the abdomen in and lower the chest and shoulders to empty the lungs and let go of all muscular action at the end of the exhalation to promote relaxation in the chest and abdomen.

When practiced regularly, this deep breathing technique will promote a feeling of relaxation after just a few breaths. It can also be used in conjunction with other strategies such as meditation or visualization.

Some athletes need help increasing their energy level. Strategies for increasing energy include listening to favorite songs, using energizing imagery, and increasing the rhythm of their breathing.

Maximizing your performance starts with having the right amount of energy for your sport. Determine what yours is and start practicing ways to consistently attain that level. Contact us at 231-2556 or at sportpsych@vt.eduif you have questions.

Bull, S.J., Albinson, J.G., & Shambrook, C.J. (1996). The mental game plan. Cheltenham, UK:

Harris, D.V. & Williams, J.M. (1993). Relaxation and energizing techniques for regulation of energy. In J.M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Landers, D.M. & Boutcher, S.H. (1993). energy-performance relationships. In J.M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.