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Alexander Technique: what it is and how it can help athletes

Elizabeth Dodgson explains how the Alexander Technique can help triathletes get faster, perform more efficiently and reduce the likelihood of injury

The eternal quest...how can I get faster and be more efficient? Answer: simple, stop doing all the 'weird stuff' that slows you down, wastes effort and leads to injury! Here is where the Alexander Technique can help. 

What is the Alexander Technique?

The Alexander Technique is the psychophysical re-education of the postural mechanism. Or put more simply, driving instructions for the body and mind. It is an education and not a therapy. In one to one lessons you learn to regain your inherent ability to use your body properly and to shed unhelpful habits.

"What do you see in this picture (above) John?" I ask a swimming buddy of mine who has completed a few Ironman triathlons.

" Well," he replies, "SHE is obviously much faster than HE is!"

I question him further "Ah, that is interesting, why do you think that?"

John replies: "Look at her, she is very athletic looking and him, well, he doesn't look like he is even trying!"

I see something very different. The picture shows two people in exactly the same position in a race, 40km into a marathon. I don't know anything about the female runner, but 'TRYING' would be a good description of what I see in her. Her movement looks effortful and difficult. She is most definitely at the end of a gruelling race. ( i e someone heading for injury as she drops down into her hips and tightens her neck). Yes, she may be very athletic, but at what cost? She could perform so much better if she could rid herself of all the unnecessary ' stuff' she is doing.

Sage is the runner on the right. He has had many Alexander Technique lessons.  He has also had some specific Alexander Technique running lessons with myself when he first started running (18 months before this picture was taken). My description of how he looks in this picture would be effortless, easy, as though he has just joined in the race to have a chat with her. He looks like he has spare capacity to have a chat and run, or to run faster. What do you think?

In the words of the late FM Alexander himself, "trying is only emphasising the thing we already know"

Alexander Technique Training fundamentals

So, what are the fundamentals we might work with? They sound simple...

   

  •  Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up

   

  • Let the back lengthen and widen

   

  • Let the knees go forward and away (away from the back and knees not towards each other)

   

  • Let the whole respiratory system move freely

    

  • Be accurately and delicately balanced with no unnecessary effort.

      

How to work on freeing the neck

Most people pull the head back and down somewhat. This compresses the spinal column and distributes the weight of the head in a way that nature did not intend. 

To find the fulcrum of where we can nod put your fingers in your ears, this is near enough the level of the top of your spine. The head is heavier at the front. Then slowly send your eyes down to the floor. Soften the back of your neck and allow gravity to act on the head. If you can do this, your head will gently tip a little down at the front and hopefully allow it to move up and away from the top of the spine to arrive at an easily neutral, free balance.

Return your eyes to straight ahead but don't change the balance of the head.

Freedom in the neck is the beginning of being able to operate your whole body more efficiently.

If you have changed your usual habit, it might feel odd. Our habits are comfortable for us. It is easier to learn to change with a teacher working with you.

To find out more about the Alexander Technique or to find a teacher near you go to www.alexandertechnique.co.uk

Elizabeth Dodgson is a teacher in West London www.ATteacher.co.uk

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