Relaxation plays a critical role in barefoot
or minimalist shoe running. It is essential to be able to relax your
muscles when running. Being tense can be a major roadblock to learning
to develop excellent form.
One of the difficulties of learning to
relax is running itself activates your sympathetic nervous system. This
is your body’s “fight or flight” response… it kicks in whenever we
engage in physical activity. This problem is compounded if we are tense,
anxious, or excited. The following techniques can be used to limit this
natural bodily response. The more you use them, the more effective they
are. Practice them often!
- Deep breathing- This is one of the easiest
relaxation methods. All one has to do is slow breathing down. I do
this by inhaling slowly for about five seconds, then exhaling for
the same time. Repeat for two or three minutes.
- Use relaxing imagery- Think of an object,
place, or scenario that always relaxes you. Close your eyes and
imagine it in your mind. The trick to imagery- the more detail you
can visualize, the more effective it is. Engage all of your senses.
Visually picture it. Think of the sounds you’d hear in association
with your image. Think of the smells. Think of what it would feel
like. The more senses you can engage, the better. This method is
especially effective if combined with deep breathing.
- Progressive relaxation- This technique involves
tensing various muscle groups, holding it for five seconds, and then
slowly relaxing. You cycle through all major muscle groups. The
repeated release of tension activates your parasympathetic nervous
system (which de-activates your sympathetic nervous system). When I
use progressive relaxation, I use the following order of muscle
groups: feet, calves, thighs, butt, abdominals, lower back, chest,
upper back and shoulders, upper arms, forearms, hands, neck, and
- Listening to relaxing music- This is pretty
self-explanatory. It can be done before or during your run. If used
during the run, make sure you are running in an area free of
traffic. Also, some individuals will be too distracted by the music.
If you find it is not helping the process of learning good form,
only use it before the run.
- Positive self-talk- Repeating a mantra, such
as, “I am relaxed, I feel no tension.” This can be surprisingly
effective. I use this method to ease pain when running
ultramarathons. It can also be very effective for relaxing yourself.
Simply repeat a phrase again and again. Some people find it is more
effective to repeat the phrase aloud, others repeat it mentally.
Find what works for you.
- Hypnosis- Hypnosis is largely misunderstood by
popular culture. We tend to see it as either a new-age gimmick or
silly stage stunt done for entertainment purposes. In reality,
hypnosis is nothing more than a state of focused relaxation. We
enter this state every time we fall asleep. We can take advantage of
hypnosis by learning self-hypnosis. The exact method goes beyond the
scope of this guide, but a Google® search will provide many
- Massage, hot tubs, or anything else we normally use for
relaxation- We often use various stimuli after a run to
relax. Any of these methods can be used before we run to promote