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Can your facial expression impact your running performance?

Will a fake-it-till-you-make-it smile make you run better? One study thinks so

benefits of smiling

Could the expression you wear on your face make you a better runner? Researchers from the North of Ireland and Wales certainly think so. 

It was recently reported by The New York Times that a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach could actually work wonders when it comes to your running. 

A study done between researchers at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales (published in September) analyzed a group of runners to determine whether or not smiling could physiologically affect their running. 

RELATED: Why positive self-talk is the best form of motivation


Fans of the running scene are bound to remember Eliud Kipchoge’s performance as he attempted to become the first human to break two hours in the marathon in Italy last spring. He finished just shy of his goal running 2:00:25. One notable thing about his finish (despite the time) was that he was beaming as he ran and finished the marathon with a giant smile on his face. He said that this was a tactic of his.

Eliud Kipchoge – 2:00:25 The barrier just got that much closer. #Breaking2 #JustDoIt

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The link between smiling and the psychological benefits experienced during the run has been talked about before, but what about the actual physical benefits? That’s lesser-known territory. 

The European study looked into this exact thing by getting together a group of experienced runners (men and women) and having them complete four runs each with a different approach: smile genuinely, frown, use their regular mental techniques or just relax their upper bodies. 

Their aim was to observe what would happen if they alternated between grimacing and grinning as they ran. This, however, was unknown to the people being studied. (They weren’t told what the study was aiming to find out so that their knowledge of the purpose couldn’t skew the results). The group was told that the researchers were looking at their running economy.

So what happened? 

It turns out that a smile can translate to a better run or race. Some did best while frowning but most performed better when they smiled. The group was found to be 2.78 per cent more efficient in their running economy when putting their happy face on.