The Alexander Technique and Sports
Many world-class athletes have used the Alexander Technique to improve their performance. These include British hammer thrower Howard Payne, Australian equestrian Mary Hanna, British rower Matthew Pinsent, British decathlete Daley Thompson, Canadian marathon runner Paul Collins, Australian track-and-field coach Percy Cerutty, and American equestrian Sally Swift, to name just a few.
Thirty years after his reign ended as Canada’s national marathon champion, Paul Collins credited the Alexander Technique with enabling him to continue running. “I was able to rehabilitate my running after 25 years of being unable to run through injuries,” he said, “to the extent that I was able to set 10 world records for veterans in 1982.”
Percy Cerutty, legendary Australian track-and-field coach of the 1950s (he coached John Landy, who became famous for racing England’s Roger Bannister to break the four-minute mile), was once quoted as stating, “Alexander is a must for all competing athletes.”
Adam Bailey, an Alexander practitioner in the United States, explains how the Alexander Technique has helped his skiing. “What I learned . . . was that, in many cases, I was putting more effort into a given sport than I really needed to, with the result that my body had a lot of extra muscle tension—tension that I wasn’t even aware of! . . . The Alexander Technique taught me that if at first I don’t succeed, the best thing to do is try a different approach. To be more specific, this means doing less—subtracting effort—and then trying the activity again.”
The Alexander Technique is even used to improve comfort and performance in equine sports. United States Dressage Federation Hall of Famer Sally Swift has long used the Alexander Technique to add depth and subtlety to her teaching. Her Centered Riding® technique, used by equine athletes and therapeutic-riding instructors, combines body awareness, imagery, and centring and grounding techniques to facilitate communication between horse and rider. This allows both horse and rider to replace old patterns of movement and move more freely and comfortably, thereby enhancing their performance.
How does the Alexander Technique help the horse? Since the communication between horse and rider is so intimate, the quality of the rider’s coordination affects both the horse–rider interaction and the horse’s coordination. When the rider’s coordination improves, the horse’s performance improves, too. The whole team becomes more efficient—an integrated coordination.
If you’re nervous, for instance, your horse picks it up. If you hold your back stiffly, your horse also tends to stiffen. He must rebalance to accommodate your weight, as well as compensate for the added tension in your back. And when your back is stiff, your leg and arm signals are plagued with interference from your inefficient coordination, further adding to your horse’s confusion.
The Alexander Technique helps with ease and efficiency of movement, balance, coordination, breathing, and avoidance of musculoskeletal tension and injury. When you’re not troubled by unnecessary motion and tension, you’re free to enter “the zone” of effortless control sought by every athlete.
You can use the Alexander Technique to ramp up your own athletic skills, or simply to enjoy your favourite physical activities without stress or pain. The Alexander Technique helps you develop a kinesthetic awareness that you can use to refine your performance technique.