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Learn How to Relax to Improve Running Economy

When you learn how to relax your body, you will be able to consciously recognize and remove the stress and tension that often occurs while running. Tension promotes injuries and draws energy from our bodies. 

We often tense our bodies without realizing that we are doing it.  The next time you go to the dentist, pay attention to how your body feels in the dentist's chair.  Are you tense or relaxed?  

Studies show that relaxation practices can improve running economy. According to Wikipedia, "Running economy is a measure of how efficiently a person uses oxygen while running at a given pace."

During this six-week training experiment, runners were asked to learn and practice relaxation techniques and then run on the treadmill. At the end of the experiment, results showed participants had lower heart and ventilation rates and lower VO2 consumption than at the beginning of the experiment. In conclusion, practicing relaxation techniques will improve your running economy so you will be able to run further and faster using less effort than before.

Benefits of Learning How to Relax

Staying relaxed when running can improve your running performance and reduce the risk of injuries, but there are other reasons why runners need to learn relaxation techniques.  

A relaxed body promotes a relaxed mind.  It is in this state that you can more easily achieve "runners high" or "get in the zone." Many runners have experienced this flow state—the feeling of effortless running. This is the high that runners love so much. 

How to Relax

Other benefits of keeping your body relaxed:

  • Removes stress, tension and anxiety
  • Keeps heart rate down
  • Promotes recovery from injuries
  • Slows breathing
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Increases your energy level
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Improves concentration and focus
  • Increases positive thoughts and reactions
  • Increases strength, endurance and coordination

How to Relax your Body

There are numerous relaxation exercises you can use to learn how to relax when running. The simplest one is just to contract and relax all your major body parts, starting with the feet and ending with the top of your head. When a muscle is tightened for a few seconds and then released, it becomes more relaxed than before.

How to Relax When Running

Start by lying or sitting down and breath deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth.

  • Focus on your breathing for a few minutes and then tighten both your feet as much as possible. When the feet are tightened, focus on the muscles and feel the tension in them for a few moments. When you release the tension, notice how relaxed your feet have become. 
  • Continue to move up your body. Tighten and release the calves, upper legs, thighs, buttocks, stomach, back, hands, arms, shoulders, throat, jaw, face, eyes and scalp. Don't forget the jaw - it is a common place to hold stress. The scalp is another important part to keep relaxed. Some say a tensed scalp is the main cause of hair loss.
  •  When you have completed tensing and relaxing these areas in your body, you will feel totally relaxed in mind and body. This is a great exercise to do before going to bed.

Try these Relaxation Exercises for Runners 

How to Relax While Running

With practice, you will be able to recognize this relaxed feeling and maintain it while running. During a run take a moment from time to time to scan your body for tension. With practice, you will be able to consciously relax any part of your body that feels tight.  

"In all activities of life, the secret of efficiency lies in an ability to combine two seemingly incompatible states: a state of maximum activity and a state of maximum relaxation."

-- Aldous Huxley

Are you relaxed when you are running up those hills? Do you feel any tension in your shoulders or chest? Become aware of how you feel at times when you are using more effort. You can still train hard and fast and stay relaxed at the same time. 

Are you nervous about slipping and falling? If you do fall, the nervous tension you are holding in your body increases the risk of injury.  Relax, so that even if you do fall, the risk of injury is greatly reduced. Also, remember to smile - it will relax your face.

Breathing techniques can help keep our bodies relaxed. Tension often creates irregular breathing patterns. Many runners use various  breathing patterns to help them practice relaxation by coordinating their footstrike while running.  Try this simple pattern to help regulate your breathing and relax your body: 

  1. While breathing in, take two steps.
  2. Breath out and take two steps.  
  3. Repeat. 

Try talking to your body. Tell it to RELAX! This can be most beneficial when you feel a tightening in one particular area, such as the knee, hip, or IT band. Direct your focus to that particular area and consciously help it relax. Our bodies are very obedient and will listen and respond when we give them focus.

Be sure to try these Relaxation Exercises for Runners to get you on your way to becoming a more relaxed and tension-free runner.

Other related articles and pages:

Running and Meditation

Relaxation Tips

Back to top of Learn How to Relax

Return to Running Psychology

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