How-to Walk the Tightrope of Perfection

October 10, 2009 – 3:46 pm

Due to my genetic disadvantages, I needed to exploit every technological (training) advantage possible. This included the hormonal edge of training. Though my opponents may have been physically superior, tapping into the hormonal cascade helped me super-charge my skills beyond that of my competition. But it’s a fine line, a tight-rope which you must walk: too little and no effect - too much and the opposite results.

As heart-rate approaches your maximum, you release a wave of hormones which increase:

  • concentration
  • focus
  • precision
  • motor control
  • awareness
  • alertness
  • balance
  • reaction time
  • decisionary time
  • cognitive recognition speed.
  • Time moves more slowly.
  • Your hearing increases
  • You feel slight changes in force, tension and movement.
  • Your strength increases.
  • Pain diminishes and even disappears.
  • You feel euphoric.

Enter the Zone of Flow-State Performance

Of course, you have a thick wall of discomfort to go through first. In lay terms, people call this “2nd wind”. The geek science behind this is that “Circulo-Respiratory Distress” - the discomfort you feel when you get to the end of your current level of neuromuscular threshold, panting, painful chest, headaches, etc - causes a cerebral adaptation to make your activity become easier… resulting in a release of chemical hormones. 2nd Wind’s blissful all-is-right-in-the-Universe feeling.

On the other side of that wall are these innate (endogenous) performance enhancement drugs which sport psychologists call being “in the zone” and positive psychologists call “flow-state.” And actually there are multiple “winds” which I call “gears” like shifting a car transmission into greater efficiency. As US Team coach and an international competitor, I’ve cataloged 5 gears to masterful performance. Perhaps there are even more.

The problem is that you can try to shift too fast, or with a poor transmission. This is where the analogy breaks down, because unlike in a car, if you try to push into a threshold that your body cannot handle, it doesn’t just break down like a car. Your body has another response. It “dumps” into your bloodstream too much of the hormonal chemicals too fast… often called the “adrenal dump” but it relates to more than just adrenaline/epinephrine.

What Happens to You in the Adrenal Dump?

When this chemical dump touches your bloodstream instead of supercharging you, it causes you to go to your most basic life-support system in a last ditch attempt to survive. But the chemicals work against you now:

  • instead of slowing time, they make it go by too quickly (called “tachipsychia”), making you feel behind, lost, too slow to respond.
  • instead of more accurate, they make you imprecise, fumbling and trembling unable to hit the broadside of a barn.
  • instead of more aware, they give you “tunnel vision” - seeing only what’s directly in front of you.
  • instead of more alert, you become panicky and hyper-vigilant, unable to focus, jumpy and skittish.
  • instead of more balance, you hit your head, trip, stumble, fall and feel uncoordinated.
  • instead of hearing better, you can hardly hear even loud noises (called “auditory exclusion”), screams for help, even your own voice.
  • instead of greater sensitivity, you feel numb, insensitive and incapable of feeling even dramatic movements and force.
  • instead of stronger with greater stamina, you feel weak and listless, like you’re wading through molasses.
  • instead of painless and euphoric, pain becomes amplified, pounding, throbbing, screaming in your head, even if you’re not injured - beset by a battery of “phantom pains” throughout your body…

All this, because too much of your jet fuel dumped into your bloodstream, because you surpassed heart rate maximum.

How Do You Walk the Tightrope?

You see, it’s a tightrope to walk. As you approach heart rate maximum (HRmax), performance increases dramatically, and as you crest beyond HRmax, it gets exponentially worse. How to walk that fine line has been my goal as an athlete and coach, because I could never get by on genetics alone. I had to use every technological advantage possible.

This also negatively impacts your health, too, so don’t think it’s just for athletes and fighters. When you get “stressed out” too much, you create a host of mortal diseases. You can’t outrun daily needling stresses which turn your life into a seethingly quiet desperation. It becomes a cancer inside you.

Even though we have digital age nervous systems capable of masterful creations and performance, we have a Paleolithic alarm system. Even if a coworker, boss, spouse or child is throwing a tantrum at you, you still become aroused as if you’re being chased across the tundra by a sabertooth tiger. That is… unless you’ve trained your emotions.

Only training can emotionally acclimate you to stressors, so that you convert the hormonal dump into a “slow-release.” So, how do you do this? Well, you can’t control your hormones. You can’t even control your heart rate. But you can control your breath. Breath is the only mechanism which has branches to both aspects of your nervous system: the voluntary which you can control, and the autonomic which you cannot.

Specific breathing exercises can help you relax, like Qigong. But there are also exercises which can be used to maximize the speed of your recovery from exceeding your maximum heart rate (HRmax). You must train these, and interwoven with your exercise. If you do, you will have 6 times the energy of your opponents, and recover 6 times faster than them.

Breath is like a Gun: under stress you don’t need to remember how to shoot, you only need to remember to pull the trigger. In a crisis, you forget everything, because your mind clears out unnecessary thoughts in order to open to the new, critical information coming in. But your skills are not stored in your mind. They’re in your body. Your mind doesn’t need to remember what to do under the extreme stress of a crisis; you only need to be aware enough to remember your that you can control your breath.

What you need to do will be taken over by your training. And like a gun, even if you haven’t trained you’re not necessarily screwed (see articles on “instinctive shooting” to stick to the metaphor.)

But this requires you to become accountable for your preparation. You can surpass any dream. That’s for sure. I’ve proven that overcoming my childhood obstacles to become an international champion in two different martial arts. But let’s be sober here from the excitement of these possibilities.

The best you can hope for in performance is the worst you’ve done in training. You don’t perform how you train; don’t rise to expectations but fall to level of preparations… And moreover… Great for those of you who train daily; for those who don’t, not so much.

I’ve shared my discoveries which have given me so much athletically and that of my students, fighters and first-responders in fire rescue, law enforcement and military. If you want to learn more about my technique, see this website: The RESET Technique (Rapid Energy Sports Enhancement Technique.) Click on this image (to the right) to watch a video sample of the exercises and drills you’ll find in my RESET Technique video course.,

Scott Sonnon

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