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Relaxation

     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 face.
  • 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 techniques.
  • 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 relaxation.