Most people run to relax, but often they forget to relax while running. In any sport, people have a tendency to stiffen up or concentrate so hard on what they are doing that their body contorts into harmful positions – think a clenched jaw while going downhill on a mountain bike, stiff shoulders while running or a severely arched brow while contemplating the next chess move.
For running, though, the best way to achieve maximum results is to stay loose. That means staying relaxed. Watch any major marathon and what’s the first thing you notice about the race leaders (apart from the fact that the pace they are running at should not be possible) – they all look loose and chilled out, don’t they?
Obviously race leaders have strategy going through their minds, but the best runners have perfected the art of staying relaxed on the run, and that’s why even over long distances they look like they’re bouncing along serenely on plush clouds.
Stay calm and watch your body respond.
One way to find your chill sweet spot is to focus on your breathing. “Deep breathing calms your body and readies your muscles for movement,” writes legendary big wave surfer Laird Hamilton in Men’s Journal. “When I started focusing on my breathing, I became a stronger athlete and was better able to control my levels of effort and pain.”
Hamilton advocates the practice of deep nose breathing – which brings the breath deeper into your diaphragm – the muscle that separates your lungs from your stomach. “This causes your abdomen to expand, creating a downward pressure on your stomach that forces air into your lungs and increases blood flow to and from your heart… if you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you know that diaphragmatic breathing is relaxing.”
Concentrating on what your body is doing is another way to stay relaxed on the run. Writing in Runner’s World, sport psychologist Jerry Lynch says, “The secret to smoother, faster running is to focus on being relaxed, rather than ‘efforting’ more power. Efforting causes muscles to tighten. Athletes who stay loose run best.”
Lynch says that runners who want to improve their workout should try a few relaxation techniques every day; simple things like winding down at the end of the day in the bath, visualization or yoga all help to get you into a relaxed mind-body state.
While on the run, follow this advice for a smooth, personal best session. “Make sure your hands are not clenched but closed softly, as if you are holding eggs,” says Lynch. “Focus on a smooth stride and avoid over and under striding, as they waste energy. Shake out your arms, relax your shoulders, and carry your arms low with elbows firm but not locked.” You’ll be floating across the tarmac or trail in no time.