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Friday, September 9, 2011

MGBG Form Tip #3: Relax Your Shoulders

Behold citizens!  Part 3 in my award-winning, spell-binding, slow-clap starting series on barefoot running form tips for your enjoyment on this beautiful Friday.  This one is short and sweet, and just as simple as the other two (which you can find here and here).  But if you want to have any kind of success running barefoot, even after you've gotten basic form down, it's probably the most important.

Folks, I'm pretty convinced that we teach this whole barefoot running business backwards.  We load people up with all this information about cadence, body position, forward lean, and all that other crap, and then tell them to go off running.  Then after they are completely stressed out about how to remember it all, we tell them to relax.  All the while they've been out for the last mile or so looking like Frankenstein at a 5K. 

I'm guilty of the same teaching crime.  I gave you Parts One and Two of my form tips, when this one should have been first.  As punishment for my crime, I'm going to quit hiding the ball.  I'm not going to lump relaxation in with a bunch of other form advice.  I'm going to put it out front.  You simply cannot run barefoot successfully if you're not relaxed.  Period.  End of story.  If you don't believe me, try tensing up your body and see how far you make it down the road before you step on a rock and start hopping around in pain like a pansy.  Pansy... 

Now relax your feet and try stepping on the same rock that made you scream like a tween girl.  Your foot will probably mold around it, and it won't hurt at all.  Tension in your feet make them more stiff and sensitive.  That can affect you right away, as happened when you yelped in pain from stepping on a pebble.  Tension in the rest of your body tightens it and throws it out of proper alignment.  That can affect you down the line, by causing blisters and other injury.  And they both feed off each other and make good form nearly impossible.

Before you even take a single step barefoot, you need to be relaxed from your head to your toes.  And throughout your run, that's the way you need to stay.  If you're having trouble finding your barefoot stride, this weekend I want you to focus on relaxation more than anything else. 

Actually...even if you're an old pro, you can benefit from a little relaxation drill.  It just makes running that much easier.  This Tuesday I caught myself getting tense during my 100m sprints on the baseball field.  I got myself to relax, and my splits instantly got faster. 

How do I suggest you focus on relaxation?  By taking a deep breath and telling yourself to relax your shoulders.  The place I find that runners store the most tension is their shoulders and arms.  They hold so much tension that consciously telling your shoulders to relax has an immediate impact on your entire body.  I find that it's like a wave that travels from my shoulders to the tips of my toes, and instantly makes my running smoother and more comfortable.  I do it before I start running, and occasionally throughout my run.

Having trouble getting your shoulders to relax?  Try a shoulder lift.  Lift your shoulders slightly and hold them there for several seconds.  Then release them back to their original position.  That little bit of added tension followed by conscious release will give your shoulders that little push to let go.

And that's it.  Relax and concentrate on feeling good.  That's all I think barefoot running really is.  If you want complicated, try brain surgery.  If not...relax and go for a run.  Enjoy your weekend citizens!

Barefoot Running Sandals by Invisible Shoes


  1. Great advice! I seem to also recall a piece of advice from Jason Robillard about a little pre-run warmup that involves tensing up every muscle group in the body, one at a time, then relaxing. "Only then, he says, is he ready to run. Another great relaxing trick is to slow-breathe. Five second count in, five second count out. Do a few of those & it really relaxes the whole body.

  2. I totally agree with MGBG about over-thinking barefoot running. Before I ditched the shoes, I read Chi Running and Jason Robillard's book. I got tons of "good" information but then tried to focus on way too many details while running, including relaxing, which was never at the top of list of things to do while running. Lately, I have really tried to relax as much as possible, but I have always had tense shoulders while running, so I'm going to concentrate on that for the next few runs and see what happens. I think the items that Dan mentioned above are also great. Tensing every muscle group and then relaxing is a standard yoga practice, so I can see how it would be beneficial for getting relaxed before a run.

  3. Against most medical advice, would a little vino before a run help promote relaxation?

  4. I'm a fist clencher so to help me relax I've started holding my hands like I'm sitting in the lotus position and floating 6" off the ground. It's very zen. I just hold all four fingers together with their natural curve at rest, then put my thumb in the crease between my middle finger and ring finger and hold it there gently. It makes me look like GI Joe with a kung-fu grip but it keeps me relaxed.



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