6 Ways to Relax While You Run

Tension in Your Shoulders Can Lead to Bad Form and Even Injury

Relax while you run? Counterintuitive (or even impossible) as that may sound, it's an important goal to strive for. If you're tense when you take to the track or running trail you can easily lapse into improper and unsafe running form, which in turn can lead to fatigue, poor performance, and even injuries.

A typical area of tension while running is the shoulders. Allowing them to creep up toward the ears into a perpetual shrug creates an inefficient running form and causes the arms to swing from side to side. This wastes a lot of energy and can cause you to tire out more easily. To help prevent shoulder creep when you run, try these tips.

Check Your Hands

Woman running on the beach
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Are they balled up into a tight fist? If you're clenching your hands, the tension will move from there up your arms to your shoulders and neck. A relaxed fist is ideal: Pretend you're holding an egg in each hand that you don't want to break.

Check Your Shoulders

Male runner wearing sports band and hi visibility top, running down winding road through mountains
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Are they shrugged up close to your ears? If so, squeeze your shoulder blades together on your back, as if they're elevator doors that you need to close. Keep them in that position and allow your shoulders to drop. As you're running, periodically check the position of your shoulders to make sure they stay relaxed. If you discover you're shrugging again, repeat the shoulder-blade squeeze maneuver.

Keep Your Arms at Right Angles

Woman running mountain trail
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Are your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle? When runners get tired or tense, their hands start to move up towards their shoulders, shortening the distance between upper arm and forearm. If you notice this happening, allow your arms to drop by your sides and shake them out. Reposition them at a 90-degree angle with your shoulders back and relaxed.

Keep Your Arms at Your Side

Man running in the desert
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Are you pumping them back and forth in front of your chest? Your arms should swing by your sides. If they're crossing over your chest, they'll start moving up toward your shoulders and you'll find yourself hunching over. Hunching can make it hard to breathe. Keep your arms at your sides, parallel to each other. Imagine a vertical line splitting your body in half—your hands should not go past that line.

Don't Thrust Your Head

Mother running with child in stroller in the city
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Is your head jutting forward as you run? This puts a lot of stress on the neck and shoulder muscles, which can lead to tension. To make sure you're not leaning forward with your head when you're running, hold it so that your ears are right over the middle of your shoulders. Imagine yourself as a puppet on a string as you run, with your entire body held long and straight.


USA, Oregon, Portland, Young women stretching on footbridge
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Don't limit post-run stretching to the lower part of your body. Take time to stretch your shoulders, arms, and neck after your runs. You also can do a lot to help prevent tension between runs. If you sit at a desk for most of the day, give yourself mini-stretch breaks throughout the day.

Regular massage can relieve tightness in your neck and shoulders. When you can't get to a professional massage therapist use a simple massage tool, such as a tennis ball, to relieve tension in your back. While sitting in a chair, position the ball between your back and the chair and move up and down while applying pressure to the ball.

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