Why All Athletes Should Do TRE

This blog post is written by TBY co-director Leslie Stokman, who is a Certified TRE Provider (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises). She’s a big fan of rock climbing, even though it can be scary and stressful. In this post, she shares about her own journey with athleticism, climbing, and some amazing background info on TRE. (8 minute read)

A little ways into my regular TRE practice, I began noticing some positive changes in my climbing. I realized that TRE changed me for the better, and as a result, my sport performance and experiences with exercise improved. Now as a provider, I love sharing TRE with sporty folks as a strategy for increased vitality and mindful recovery.

TRE offers huge benefits to those who engage in any intense sports or style of exercise with elements of risk and stress. The therapeutic benefit of a TRE practice aids in recovering after a strong session, increasing flexibility, healing injuries, and staying or returning to calm after stressful moments. If your goal is to perform well and feel good in your body, TRE can help.

Softening Body Tension

If flexibility is limiting your performance, you’re not alone! Stretching, mobility work, and full-range strength training can definitely make a difference, but speaking from experience, sometimes you just hit a wall. For years, I felt like I was fighting my body to increase my range of motion. My hips and hamstrings wouldn’t give me any more reach; they felt locked up and unwilling to move in ways that would help me get the most out of my existing strength and climbing technique.

Because of postural habits (like sitting a lot or repetitive movements at work), or because of past injuries and experiences, there can be parts of our bodies that really feel and act stuck. Our nervous systems have made the decision that a given body part should not move a certain way or be that flexible. This is a protective strategy meant to keep us safe from injury, and for that we can be grateful. However, sometimes this attempt at protection is no longer necessary. TRE works in cooperation with our nervous systems to allow our bodies to release this excess tension. 

Rhythmic Repatterning

To nerd out for a moment, part of what goes on during TRE practice is communication between our brain stems and the rest of our bodies. At first, many people will experience tremoring localized to their legs, hips and pelvis (originating with the psoas muscle). With consistent long-term practice (and for some people, sooner), these tremors can travel to all body parts by way of self-contained neurological networks in the spinal cord called Central Pattern Generators. 

In addition to spreading tremors throughout the body, these CPGs create rhythmic or harmonized patterns of shaking along the spine and lines of myofascial tissue (muscles and fascia) described by Tom Myers’ Anatomy Trains model. This process can be independent of our cognition, and is an intrinsic way of reorganizing the body. The potential results of tremoring and connecting to these networks? Increased flexibility, mobility, circulation, pain reduction from injury, better communication between the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and injury healing rates. It sometimes also just feels really good!

Soothing Psychological Stress

It’s also our nervous system that runs the show when it comes to staying or losing our cool in moments of high risk (for the climbers reading: sketchy top-outs, near-falls, or making a risky clip). Our nervous systems are very skilled at detecting danger or threat, and it turns out that clinging to a cliff face, hurtling downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard, or running a marathon are all perceived by your body as kind of dangerous, or at least pretty stressful. Some people are attracted to intense sports for the adrenaline rush it provides, but that rush is partly coming from your body doing everything it can to save your life!

In those moments of intensity (including stress and panic), each person is able to get through in a few different ways: you might meet the challenge and feel super accomplished, you might decide to back off and try again another day, or you might fail to meet the challenge. Some people have learned to keep cool with a top-down approach: they might use breathing techniques or rehearse positive self-talk. Others have learned to dissociate from their feelings of fear, and simply push through. Still others might express their overwhelm through tears, and there’s no shame in that. I’ve certainly been there!

Short & Long-Term Recovery

In every case, each time you climb hard (or whatever it is for you), your whole system is processing a pretty good deal of stress physically, but potentially also emotionally and neurologically. Every time you practice TRE, it helps your body to complete cycles of the stress-response activation. This can make it great to practice later in the day or directly after your activity. A long-term TRE practice also teaches your nervous system what it feels like to be calm, gives it more resilience, and builds your ability to bounce back from stress and return to homeostasis more dynamically. It is in that homeostatic state – our most relaxed and restful state – that our bodies actually heal and repair themselves.

When we tap into the tremor mechanism, we’re giving our bodies a chance to loosen up, rebalance tension, and heal. Alongside sleep, hydration and nutrition, I consider TRE to be the final key in my recovery. It’s been my mission to share the gifts of TRE with both my local yoga community, and my local climbing community. Next time we see each other around the gym or the studio, don’t hesitate to ask me about TRE.

Curious about how TRE might impact your body and mind? Leslie will be leading a 4-week course called TRE for Athletes on Mondays 5:30-7:00pm starting June 6. 

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