Relax Relax Relax Your Way to Better Running

Posted by Filed Under: Running Tips

running tipsA Lesson From The Sprinters of the World

Have you ever watched a sprinter in slow motion? I’ve always been fascinated with the juxtaposition of muscular effort with relaxation while they run – specifically, the power exhibited in their arms and legs versus the relaxation in their faces. It fascinates me to see someone running a sub 10 second 100 meter sprint with their lips flopping around like a jellyfish.

You see, sprinters know something that distance runners should pay attention to. They know that wasted effort — seemingly minute amounts of effort — can lead to inferior performance times. They know that having a relaxed face can save them that hundredth of a second that can get them on the winners podium.

Five Areas of Tension

  1. Face: Yup, just like sprinters, you too should check your face for signs of tension. Specifically, you should make yourself aware of jaw tension (i.e. a clenched jaw), and eye tension (i.e. squinting). The latter of these may be reduced by using a hat with a brim that puts your eyes in shade, or by wearing sunglasses.
  2. Hands: Do you clench your hands into tight fists? Stop that! Seriously, a good mental image to use here is to pretend you are holding crackers between your thumb and pointing finger. If you break the crackers, you are too tense in the hands.
  3. Shoulders: We runners, especially while running long or hard, tend to scrunch up our shoulders. Relax, relax, relax.
  4. Bladder: You know what? It’s hard to run when you …gotta go so take a pit stop and relieve that not-so-small bit of tension (I’m laughing as I type this – so many jokes, so little time).
  5. Mind: Bringing mental tension with you on a run will likely cause you to carry tension somewhere in your body so do yourself a favor – find out what’s bugging you and try to release the anxiety.

Why It’s Important

While being far from scientific, my experience is that each of these sources of tension really add up – especially over long distances. Specifically, I’ve quantified the effect of points one to four as each contributing to an increase of 2 to 3 heart beats per minute while running. Of course, it’s unlikely a person will carry tension in all of those areas at one time, but just by being aware of, and eliminating these undue sources of tension, I’ve at times been able to lower my working heart rate by five or six beats per minute. For me, that amounts to a 3% decrease in effort my heart has to expend while running. While 3% might not sound like much, it could easily be the difference between whether or not you go the distance, achieve that personal best, or qualify for Boston.

So, relax, relax, relax. You’ll be glad you did.

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. Joe Ely on November 23rd at 7:55 am

    Yawn…oh, yeah…gee, Mark, I nearly fell asleep reading this…[groan][stretch]

    Great post. Great reminder. I’m a sucker for scrunching the shoulders…it is remarkable how much merely dropping the shoulders and hands will help. Yet I still have to notice and then remind myself to relax.

    Dittos on the bladder…I rig my running routes to allow for said relief points ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Adeel on November 23rd at 9:17 am

    Thanks for posting this Mark. Relaxation is very important. I’ve taken care of most things, but I still clench my left fist.

  3. Mark Iocchelli on November 23rd at 12:16 pm

    Joe: I’m glad you were so relaxed reading this!

    Adeel: It’s funny how we each have our own little trouble areas.

  4. Adeel on November 23rd at 7:12 pm

    What’s yours?

  5. Mark Iocchelli on November 23rd at 7:21 pm

    Tension for me tends to go into my hands. I sometimes find myself with pretty tight fists.

  6. Adeel on November 23rd at 9:10 pm

    That’s just your Sicilian temper. Yours are a very fiery people.

  7. IHateToast on November 24th at 4:49 am

    oh man… i’m so relieved that it’s not just me. i’ve never talked about this and assumed i was just a tightwad. i can’t even toot when i run.

    and the only way i’ve been able to relax the hand is by finger dancing (don’t ask) and the face by blowing trumpet noises.

    how do you just relax during the run. i don’t feel stressed. i’m usually spaced out and i always stop if i see something interesting (e.g. a greyhound, fairy wren, passport photo), so why am i tense?

    i’m a tipi, i’m an igloo… i’m two tents.

  8. jeanne on November 27th at 6:13 am

    iยดm trying hard to relax! really!! thanks for the reminder ๐Ÿ™‚