Furrowed brows, clenched jaws, pursed lips — most of us make some pretty intense faces while muscling through a run. But gritted grimaces can actually stand in the way of better, faster runs.
Yep, one expert secret to smoother, faster running starts above the shoulders. More specifically, with relaxed face muscles.
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Learn why a tense face may be holding you back from your next PR. Plus, how to relax your face muscles when running.
How Tight Face Muscles Hurt Your Performance
Running requires a lot of energy. And the more you spend on scrunching you face, the less you have to fuel your run, says Janet Hamilton, CSCS, clinical exercise physiologist and owner of Running Strong.
But more than that, running with a tight face can throw off your entire running form.
"Tension in the facial region can often translate down into the shoulders, upper back and arms," she says. So if you have an angry, tight face, "there's a good chance your shoulders are up by your ears, and your arms are held in a stiff, tight alignment as well."
When that happens, you reduce how well both your arms and legs swing with each stride. It's a domino effect that, over time, can affect your gait, slow you down and potentially contribute to various overuse injuries, Hamilton says.
3 Ways to Relax Your Face When Running
When you learn to loosen your jaw and relax your face, the rest of your muscles will likely follow. The result: smooth movements that keep you running as efficiently as possible.
Follow Hamilton's three tips on how to relax your face for a speedier (and safer) stride.
1. Do a Body Scan
Every mile, try tuning into how your body feels with a head-to-toe scan, Hamilton says. If you sense tension in your face, deliberately drop your jaw and shoulders down, then "think tall and relaxed."
2. Wear a Hat or Sunglasses
Sometimes a head-to-toe scan may reveal you're squinting because the sun is in your eyes. This can lead to tension in your upper body, Hamilton says. In this case, the solution is simple: Try wearing a hat with a brim or a pair of good quality sunglasses, she says.
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Best Running Sunglasses
3. Visualize Holding a Potato Chip
OK, it might sound odd, but it works.
When you run, position your hands as if you're "'holding a potato chip' between [your] thumb and first two fingers," Hamilton says. The idea is to relax your hands so you don't crush your salty (and imaginary) post-workout snack.
Typically, releasing the tension in your hands will help your shoulders drop and neck loosen up.