Riders – learn like an Olympian

Deborah Criddle who won a gold and two silver medals at the London 2012 Paralympics has been having Alexander Technique lessons as part of her training schedule.  In an interview after the Paralympics she stated:

“For the last year I have been having regular weekly Alexander Technique lessons both on the ground and on a mechanical horse. It has proven so beneficial that I shall continue with them for the foreseeable future.”

Two colleagues, Claire Rennie and Kamal Thapen, and I are  running a workshop for horse riders on Saturday 2 March 2013 in central London.  We’re using static saddles so that riders can experiment with their posture and seat without the horse taking this as a signal to gallop off!


Alexander Technique and Rowing – Olympic Gold in 2004

The final of the rowing men’s coxless four at the Athens 2004 Olympics was so exciting. It needed a photo finish to prove the GB team had won. I remember noticing the posture of the GB rowers at the end of the race – how well their backs looked, considering the enormous effort they’d used.

Later, I discovered at least 2 of them had been having Alexander Technique lessons. Caroline Chisholm who’d been working with them “was faced with oarsmen who had an almost religious belief in the contracted muscle, an over-trained physique and an immune system on the
blink.”  In our Alexander Technique journal she highlighted some of the issues they worked on:

  •  Immune System. Rowers face huge mental, emotional and physical pressure seven days a week for eleven months every year. Their nervous system is rarely still. Many suffer from sore throats, fatigue and a faster than average heart rate. The Alexander semi-supine work (lying down with legs bent) improved their immune systems and slowed their heart rates. They used this to help prepare for races and to recover afterwards.
  • Injuries. The hours spent lifting weights and using rowing machines can cause muscle shortening that may lead to injuries such as fractured ribs – a frequent occurrence among rowers. They learnt how to prevent this shortening. They also found that not pulling the head back when lifting weights made lifting easier.
  • Sensory Awareness. The athletes had to develop a greater sense of change or release in their muscles. This enabled a more open and lengthened posture.
  • Means vs Ends. Rowers’ body use can cause chronically collapsed spines. The Alexander Technique encouraged pivoting forward using the hip joint rather than using the waist as a joint. They also had to learn to inhibit the fear reflex – not easy in an unstable, thin boat. This prevented tightening and shortening and gave them more length in the back. This enabled them to make longer and more powerful strokes, thus moving the boat further and faster to win gold.

Cycling & the Alexander Technique

Child on Bicycle with upright posture

Child on Bicycle with upright postureOne of my pupils started cycling to work after a long period of not having been on
a bike.  He found his Alexander Technique thinking really helped him and has now gone cycling
mad. He not only cycles to work, he also does regular 60km bike rides up and down hills and enjoys
it! Here are his observations:

Cycling is a good way to use the Alexander Technique, especially as some of the body positions that
modern cycles can lead to are not good for us. A lot of cyclists complain of aching shoulders and
arms because they lean forward on the handlebars and absorb a lot of road bumps through their
arms and shoulders, leading to discomfort. Being a long-time student  of the Technique, I purchased
an adjustable handlebar stem which lifted the bars and moved them slightly backwards.  This tilted
my body into a much more comfortable seating position, one which led to a softening of the
shoulders and arms and a disappearance of the related aches and pains.

Any increase in wind resistance is negligible, especially in city riding. Thinking of the body as
pivoting at the hips.  A  cyclist, while thinking upwards, can adopt a more comfortable riding
position and just have the hands lightly resting on the bars, alleviating tension in the arms,
shoulders and neck.

A lot of cyclists get cross at having to stop at red lights and frequently jump them, causing danger to
themselves, pedestrians and drivers. The student of the Alexander Technique, however, can
welcome the stop as a change to straighten and relax the neck and spine.  You can also think about
the width across your back which can aid breathing.

The thing about cycling is that you will always arrive at your destination within a minute or two of
your expected time unless, of course, you get a puncture. Thus, the Alexander Technique can help
avoid “end-gaining”.  The cyclist need not bother looking at his watch constantly, jumping red
lights or racing at breakneck speed all the time because the rider should learn that trying to get there
as quickly as possibly will be futile, as well as dangerous, especially in built-up areas.

I frequently see other riders arriving at work looking stressed and exhausted, instead of relaxed and
cheerful, which is what exercise, when carried out properly, should do for you.