Olympic Weightlifting Resource

Autogenic Training
What is autogenic training? Well quite simply it is a relaxation technique that is designed to help improve performance. The limbs, heart, and breathing are relaxed through a series of sessions to help an athlete relax. This method of relaxation is aimed at influencing the autonomic nervous system; it will help calm the body and mind. This form of training was developed by Johannes Schultz, a German psychiatrist, and was initially published in 1932. In European athletes autogenic training has been used consistently to try to increase performance and ability.

An autogenic training session will consist of series of exercises with the main goal of producing two physical sensations, heaviness and warmth. Many experts believe that autogenic training works in ways similar to self hypnosis or autohypnosis. There are six basic steps in autogenic training...

Phase 1: Heaviness
Phase 2: Warmth
Phase 3: Calm Heart
Phase 4: Breathing
Phase 5: Stomach
Phase 6: Cool Forehead

An athlete can either learn from an instructor or themselves if they desire and choose to. Learning usually moves at a slow pace and may take anywhere from four to six months to master all the six phases. When an athlete can finally reach their relaxed state the addition of incorporating imagery may further increase the depth of relaxation. Mastering this technique will not only help with improving athletic performance, but also help with managing daily stress.

Warm Up
There will sometimes be a warm up process before heading into the six phases of autogenic training. This warm up consists of breathing exercises. The athlete will count in on one and exhale for double, i.e. one, two. Then that will proceed upwards until six counts in is reached, that would be twelve counts out. Then precede downward back to one.

Phase I
Phase 1 is about getting the arms and legs to feel heavy. The athlete should start on their dominant arm/leg and say "My right/left arm is very heavy." This phrase should be repeated roughly six to eight times. Then afterwards repeat the phrase "I am calm, or I am at peace," once. Repeat the sequence of saying my "My right/left arm is very heavy" and "I am calm, or I am at peace" for roughly three to six cycles. Then the athlete will bend their arms to cancel out the affect and to maximize the effectiveness of the stage. It should also be noted that the canceling out should be performed after each heaviness stage. When practicing the right or left arm, whichever is the dominant, the athlete will begin to feel heaviness in the opposite arm. When this does occur replace "right/left" with just arms. If this does not occur the athlete can use separate phrases for each arm. Similarly the heaviness should extend to the legs, if not use the aforementioned phrase for the legs to induce heaviness. The mind should not be wandering or thinking about random things, it should be focused on inducing heaviness in the body. The main goal of phase 1 is to induce heaviness in the body and it will roughly take some athletes up to three weeks to master this phase. That is normal and the athlete should only proceed to phase 2 when they have mastered the feeling of heaviness in their body.

Phase II
Phase 2 is about getting the body to feel warm. This process is almost exactly identical to the phase 1 process; however replace the word heavy with warm instead. Also before commencing with the warmth phase make sure to do the phase 1 heaviness. Again the before moving onto the third stage the athlete must master phase 2 and be able to get the body to feel heavy and warm.

Phase III
Phase 3 is about calming the heart down and being able to regulate it. Like the other previous stages the heaviness and warmth stages must be repeated before attempting the heart regulation phase. Some athletes may not be able to lie down and be able to feel their heart beat; if this is the case then they can put a hand over their heart and get a feel for their heart beat. Using the principle of autosuggestion the athlete should say "My heartbeat is regular and calm" or "My heart is beating quietly." Again once this phase has been mastered then the athlete can move on to the next phase.

Phase IV
Phase 4 is about becoming aware of the breathing rate. The athlete should become aware of the breathing rate but should not try to change it. The previous phases should be repeated before attempting phase 4. The phrase used in this stage is "My breathing is slow, relaxed, and calm." Remember to focus on the breathing, but do not try to consciously change how you are breathing. This phase should be mastered before proceeding to phase 5. Again, do not worry how long it will take to master the phase; it varies from individual to individual.

Phase V
Phase 5 is about controlling the visceral organs. The area to concentrate on is the solar plexus which is roughly the upper abdomen. Again repeat the previous phases before attempting this phase. The goal of this phase is to focus on warmth in the area. A phrase that could be said is “My solar plexus is warm.” If an athlete is having problems thinking of warmth in the area, have them think of a ray of sunlight hitting their stomach. Once this phase is mastered the athlete can proceed to the next and final phase.

Phase VI
Phase 6 is about achieving a coolness feeling on the forehead; remember to repeat the previous phases. Think of it like a placing a cool washcloth on the forehead if the athlete has trouble with trying to identify coolness. The phrase that can be repeated with this stage is "My forehead is cool." Again keep working on this till the athlete has mastered it.

That concludes the six stages of autogenic training. Remember each phase should be almost mastered before proceeding to the next. Practicing everyday will help further the progress and help with achieving relaxation. The standard is usually six repetitions for each phase, however so athletes will be able to get their desired with only maybe two repetitions. Granted it takes hard work to master the autogenic training exercises and they will only allow the athlete to go as far as they desire. Hopefully, any athlete or coach reading this will be able to implement this advice and improve their performance to beyond what they were capable of beforehand.

References:
Williams, Jean M., and Dorothy V. Harris. Applied Sport Psychology. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006. 285-305.