What is Your Personal 'Optimal State of Arousal'?

Last week we introduced the concept of there being an ‘optimal state of arousal’ (or OSA) for martial athletes in general, and grapplers in particular. The point was made that OSA varies from sport to sport, situation to situation, and also from athlete to athlete. The question now becomes how to determine what your OSA is and how to achieve it.

The short answer to this question is that EXPERIENCE is the key to determining your personal OSA. Figuring out your OSA is usually a trial and error process, and you are unlikely to figure it out on your first couple of tries. With repeated exposure to the stress of the situation you WILL eventually get a better idea of where your comfort zone is and where you function best.

One thing I should make clear is that every situation is different. Sparring in the club is NOT the same as competing against Wanderlei Silva in mixed martial arts: consequently your OSA will change as the situation changes. Take a look at this list of scenarios – I have arranged them from lowest to highest stress, and also lowest to highest OSA:

  • Grappling in class with a familiar sparring partner
  • Grappling in class with an unfamiliar sparring partner
  • Competing in a submission wrestling or BJJ tournament
  • Competing in an MMA event
  • Defending yourself in an all-out street fight

Let’s look competing in a submission wrestling or BJJ tournament. Most fighters usually overshoot their OSA in their first couple of competitions: they are simply too excited and/or too scared and/or have too much adrenaline in their systems to perform their best. With experience it becomes easier for them not to be so tense, and the level of performance goes up. What these competitors are doing is figuring out what their optimal OSAs are, and modulating their level of arousal accordingly (whether they put it in those terms or not). How much more relaxed should they be? Well that is where the trial and error comes in – there is no simple formula because everybody has a different optimal level.

In contrast, some competitors undershoot their OSA and are too relaxed and too passive. This is more common after a competitor has some competitions under his belt and is beginning to feel semi-comfortable (complacent?) about the whole thing. Being at a low level of arousal is also common when competitors underestimate their opponents: they should remember that in competition EVERY opponent is dangerous, and that every person they face has at least one match-ending technique up their sleeves.

So hopefully now you understand the concept of OSA, and have perhaps begun to figure out if you personally need to modulate it up or down for maximum performance. Next we’ll tackle some of the methods I’ve used, and have seen used, to lower your state of arousal if it is too high.

Here are three related articles on Grapplearts that deal with the concept of the optimal state of arousal:

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