Staying relaxed while running is important if you want to be a faster runner. This is because tension compromises your running form, which makes you less efficient and causes you to slow down. When runners are trying to speed up, they often focus on increasing their effort, but this tends to have the opposite effect because it creates more tension in your body. It may sound counterintuitive, but relaxing your body can help you to keep hitting your splits throughout the run, and will allow you to speed up for that finishing kick.
In order to stay relaxed, you first need to know what to look out for. Most runners carry tension in their upper bodies, so pay attention to your arms and shoulders. Are your shoulders creeping up toward your ears? Are you clenching your hands? These are common running form mistakes that are created by excess tension. You should also bring your attention to any areas of the body where you’re feeling discomfort or pain, because that could also be a result of tension in other areas. Finally, notice your face — are you clenching your jaw? Are your eyebrows drawn together like you’re about to blow a gasket? These are all common signs that you’re straining too hard.
How to relax while running
While your run, you should periodically do a quick body check, scrolling through your mental list of form cues. Start by asking yourself if you notice any areas of discomfort, then take a quick note of your face, shoulders and arms. Once you’ve determined the areas of your body where you’re holding tension, you can learn to relax them, starting with your face and working your way down. Follow these steps to help you relax while running:
- Unclench your jaw and soften your eyes
- Take a deep breath, and exhale forcefully
- As you exhale, give your arms a quick shake
- Return your arms to their normal position, keeping your shoulders down and slightly back, staying relaxed
- Make sure your hands are unclenched, like you’re holding raw eggs
- Focus on keeping a smooth stride, instead of straining to speed up
Relax your mind to relax your body
Many of us carry the stress of our day with us into our run, which can cause us to tense up and compromise our form. Some runners may also find the stress of race day can make them feel tense, making it difficult to relax and hit that PB they’re aiming for. Learning how to calm your mind when you’re feeling anxiety or stress will also help you to relax your body and help you perform better.
One effective way to relax your mind when you feel anxiety creeping in is to focus on your breath and your stride. Counting your strides for a minute or two can distract your mind and bring your attention back to your body. In the same way, focusing on taking deep belly breathes can also centre you and bring about a feeling of calm.
Relaxing your mind during a race doesn’t just happen while you’re running, but should actually start before you even toe the line. A helpful tool for anxious runners is to visualize your race before it starts. Run through the race in your mind, focusing on the parts that you know will be hard, and imagine yourself pushing through those tough spots. Many coaches will encourage their athletes to do this multiple times before a race, so by the time they’re in the race and they’re hitting those challenging parts, they’ve already seen themselves get through them several times.
Finally, many runners find that having a personal mantra they can repeat to themselves while they’re running helps to calm their mind when things inevitably get tough. Choose a short sentence or phrase (usually no more than a few words) that helps inspire and centre you, and when you feel like you’re losing control or you’re starting to strain, repeat your mantra over and over again in your head to distract you from negative thoughts and spur you on to the finish line.