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What do we mean by “Down Regulation” and how can you implement it immediately?

First of all, when we refer to down regulation, we are referring to switching from a sympathetic dominant nervous system response (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic dominant nervous system response (rest and digest). You are never fully in one state, but we are trying to manipulate the dial so that we are able to control which state is more dominant at the time. In a well balanced program, this should be done at the end of every training session and is typically done via the cool down – stretching, breathing and any other self care to assist and aid in the recovery process. Physiologically, we are trying to get out of the adrenaline fueled, catabolic state that we were just in while training.

Here’s a quick diagram of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system for a bit more detailed breakdown of what each entails

Autonomic Nervous System Image

Besides assisting the recovery process, why else would we use down regulation within a training session?

Previous posts have talked about using RNT (Reactive Neuromuscular Training) as a modality for improving form flaws and for aiding proper muscle recruitment of “troubled” movements some might experience. Well, down regulation can also be an aid to employ in helping to address the above. For many people, when struggling with a movement and/or learning a new movement, the stress of trying to achieve the desired outcome can send a person into a more sympathetic dominant nervous system response. This can lead to tensing of the muscles, increased heart rate and a spike of adrenaline, all of which can make executing a new movement and improving fine motor control that much more difficult, if not impossible. So, how can we help to fix the issue and achieve the desired outcome?

Introduce Breath Work

Here are two simple, yet effective ways to incorporate breath work that can be used during a rest period between sets and most definitely should be employed during the cool down period of a training session, or anytime you are feeling ramped up really.

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Box breathing has become very popular lately and the duration of the cycles can be modified in a number of ways. Some keys to focus on, are deep inhales (think of expanding rib cage AND diaphragm in all areas, shoulders should not shrug up) and then getting a full release of the air during the exhale portion of the box.

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The 4-7-8 breathing method is another great technique to innervate the vagus nerve and aid in pushing the nervous system to a more parasympathetic state. You do not have to just use this protocol, the main point to keep in mind is to make the exhale longer than your inhale. This aides in greater heart rate variability over time which can lead to lower stress levels, better overall health and improved cognition.

Hope this helps your own stress levels and try this next time you are teaching someone a new movement or trying to clear up a “troubled” movement. Happy Coaching!

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