Relax Your Body, Improve Running Performance

We all say we want to be relaxed, without stress, without tension. However the reality is that relaxing can be very difficult.

Many people are not aware of the tension that they carry, especially the tension in their bodies.

Perhaps you get a shoulder massage and WOW, just the slightest touch and you can feel the pain. Or you lie down to go to sleep and you finally do feel the tension in your body and you can't sleep; or you may feel it when you wake up stiff and can't get moving as easily as you'd like.

Realize it or not, stress and tension hinder your forward movement, whether you're walking or running. Any tension held in your muscles and tendons will restrict your range of motion, making you work harder to move your body. Tense muscles are a primary cause of injury. When you don't stay on top of it, tension can get deeper and deeper into your body.

And yet, the idea of relaxing your muscles to go faster or further while walking or running is alien to our idea of sport improvement. We're generally told to work harder to be successful, to push harder to be the winner, to do more to reach our goals. To relax, do less.

Since Chi Running and Chi Walking allow gravity to pull you forward, your main muscle usage (lower abs) is leveling your pelvis, which holds your posture in alignment, and allows your structure to support your body weight between strides. The rest of your body should be as relaxed as possible. To reap the full benefits of that strong core, you need to relax all else, deeply and completely.

As a matter of fact, one of my best focal techniques is to drop all tension into my abdomen, where that energy is put to good use. Whenever I feel tension in traffic or about an upcoming presentation, I drop as much of the energy and tension into my core. Use the energy as positive fuel.

People carry tension all over their bodies, from their face to their neck, shoulders, upper back, chest, lower back, glutes and all down their legs into their ankles and feet. Relaxing your body can help you drop mental tension and visa versa. Dropping ideas of how you should be performing will help your body relax.

Relaxation Exercises

Get into a regular habit of doing Body Scans and train yourself to detect tension in your body. You can't do anything about tension unless you first feel and accurately locate it. If you can release the tension, go ahead, but if you can't, don't worry.

Here are several good techniques for general relaxation:

  • Sit in a chair, comfortably upright. Take a deep breath and then tense every muscle in your body and hold it for 15 seconds—your face and head, neck, shoulders, arms and hands. Tense your belly and all the muscles around your pelvis. Then tighten all the muscles in your upper legs, lower legs and feet.

    Then, purse your lips (like you're trying to blow out a candle) and let go of all the tension you've been holding in your body as you blow all breath out through your lips.

    Repeat this cycle three times. The whole thing should take about two minutes, so you can do it at your desk, at a stop light or before and after you go out for your run. Basically anytime you've got some relaxation to do and a few minutes to spare.

  • Lie on your back on a rug, yoga mat or carpeted floor. Do a scan of your body starting at the top of your head and ending at your toes. Take your time and imagine you have a miniature street sweeper cleaning the tension off your body, leaving you in a deeply relaxed state. Breathe deeply while you're doing this.

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