Relaxation Exercises for Runners

Relaxation exercises help identify and remove tension from the body to improve running. Studies show that a tensed body uses more energy than a relaxed body. It is essential that we run in a relaxed state to achieve maximum efficiency and prevent injuries.

Before we can learn how to relax our body while running, we need to know what it truly feels like to have our body in a relaxed state.  When we have experienced this, tension in the body is much more easily recognized. It is only when we become aware of tension that we are able to release it.

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Relaxation Practices

"The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be."

     -- Bruce Lee

Initially, relaxation exercises should be learned and practiced when not running. As our skill improves we will be able to consciously relax our bodies while running. 

Holding tension in our body requires energy and we want to conserve all our precious energy for running.  We will be using all our energy wisely and reaching our maximum efficiency when we keep our body totally relaxed while running.

Relaxation Exercises for Runners

The following video  from is very relaxing and guides us through the process of progressive muscle relaxation. These  exercises help us learn how to notice tension and then how to totally relax our muscles. These exercises can be practiced as often as necessary.

Relaxation Exercises for Relaxed Strength

A very useful skill to develop is to be able to use your strength and remain relaxed while running. It requires practice and awareness, but well worth the effort. You will be a more efficient runner and because you are not holding tension, you greatly reduce the risk of injury.  You muscles will not feel as tight as before and will not require as much stretching.  The exercise in the excerpt below will help you learn this. 

Utilizing your relaxed strength is particularly helpful when more effort is required to run and train, such as when running uphill or doing speed work. These are also great opportunities to enhance your awareness of any tension present in your body. 

The following exercise is an excerpt from the book:  Body Mind Mastery: Training For Sport and Life by Dan Millman. This exercise really helped me to understand and really feel what it means to be strong and soft at the same time. There are many other great relaxation exercises and practices throughout this book that can help you discover your full potential and natural athletic abilities.

This book is a true classic. It was published in 1999,  but the techniques and tools are still relevant and offer an alternative and refreshing perspective with much pointed evidence that all physical improvement begins with relaxation. Dan's athletic career was in gymnastics, but the knowledge contained in this book is relevant and inspirational to all athletes.  

Excerpt from Body Mind Mastery: Training For Sport and Life:


Test 1. Hold your right arm out in front of you, fist clenched, arm slightly bent, with your wrist on your partner's shoulder. Your partner puts one hand on the crook of your elbow and gradually begins to push down, in order to bend your arm (in the direction it normally bends, or course). You resist, tensing your arm.

Shake your arm loose before Test 2.

Test 2. Standing balanced, place your wrist on your partner's shoulder as before, this time with your fingers extended and spread.

Your partner will again begin pushing downward gradually, as if to bend your arm.

This time, however, you'll remain free of tension. Let your arm be totally relaxed, yet strong--not like a wet noodle. You do this by imagining a powerful flow of energy, like water gushing through a hose, continually flowing through your arm and out the ends of your extended fingers, shooting right through the wall for a thousand miles.

Let your awareness flow with the energy, continuing past your partner's arm. As your partner begins to push more, imagine an increase in the power of the flow balancing the pressure.

Experiment with this exercise, and see if you begin to feel a new kind of relaxed strength.

This relaxation exercise teaches you how to use your muscles more efficiently with less tension and effort. Visualizing the flow of energy is very powerful and effective in developing relaxed strength.

Relaxation while Running

Try this simple awareness technique while you are running.

  • Become aware of your eyes. Allow your gaze to become soft and gentle. 
  • Let a smile form softly. 
  • Relax your shoulders and neck.
  • Notice your breath.
  • Notice your thoughts.
  • Notice if you are resisting anything about the run, i.e. the temperature, the distance, hills. 
  • Become one with whatever it is you want to change and wish was different. 
  • Accept it with your breathing.
  • You will feel more peaceful and your body will be more relaxed.

All resistance creates tension and stress. As you increase your awareness to any type of resistance, you can make a conscious choice to change your thinking and let go of the discomfort that it creates.  This is essential to running in a peaceful, more relaxed state.

Everyday Awareness

Throughout the day, whenever you feel tension, shake it loose and breathe deeply to relax. As your awareness of tension increases, you will be more in tune with your body and quickly notice when it is feeling tense. 

As you practice noticing and releasing tension, you may mistakenly think that your body is becoming more tense. It is not and this is a normal reaction.  You are noticing it more as you become more sensitive to it, and this is the process of developing a more relaxed and tension-free body so you can run more efficiently and with less injuries!

Related articles:

How to Relax While Running

Body Awareness

Return to Running Psychology 

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