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Thursday, February 24, 2011

To be fast, be tense: manipulating your tension for optimal performance

Get fast, find your tension.
Recently a very good article was published in Running Times magazine. This article written by Steve Magness, breaks down the essentials of learning your optimal muscle tension.

What you can do to enter your optimal tension zone for the goal of the day. Are you running a recovery day? A track session? Tempo, hills or maybe racing? These different efforts all require something different from your body, obviously. But these requirements extend beyond your cardiovascular system. The impacts of skeletal muscle, over your entire body will have a great impact on performance and recovery of your total body running system.

I have found the kind of information found in this article very useful in my running career. I was first exposed to this kind of thought when running collegiate cross country at Fort Lewis College. I was able to make the connection with performance and muscle tension, the biomechanics of running. With this information I PR'd at every distance we competed in, running 27:08 for 8k and 33:29 for 10k. Knowing your body is the only way to get the most out of it!

Know what works?
This past weekend I was feeling lethargic and weary, prior to a 10k race. It is customary for me to become extremely relaxed prior to a race. If I don't concentrate on having a calm  mind, then I tend to get anxious and waste a great amount of energy before a race. Either I warm up to hard or too early, rather than do what works best for me.

Don't be afraid to chill out... a little
I have tried many ways of prepping for a race and it wasn't until I tried  sitting down, laying down, chilling out  that I found what works best at this stage in my running life. All this relaxation can be somewhat counterproductive though- essentially I can become too relaxed and feel flat and slow which is the norm...

Have you ever had that heavy legged sensation? Basically have slack in your muscle fibers. Just as if you had a tow strap too loose, you are doing work without the work getting done. Your wheels are moving but there is little response until the proper tension exists in the lever system. Increasing your muscle tension can solve this issue, if you know what to do...

Find your tension equilibrium
I find that a 15 minute easy easy easy jog serves to break a slight sweat about 30 minutes prior to racing. Then I like to do a few sustained surges of up to 60 seconds at marathon effort or so, so I feel like I am working, I give my body a chance to catch up to the effort I demand and then resume slow jogging. As race time approaches I will toss in some faster striders (3-5k) and perhaps some explosive hops to fully prime the muscles for the work ahead depending on how I feel. If I am tight I will skip these hops, already primed.

Find your sweet spot to you best running!
In the recent 10k race, despite feeling so flat during my warm up, I was able to implement a few tension increasing mechanisms and wound up running a fantastic race. Not because I became anxious or stressed, I was still relaxed mentally, but my body was tuned for performance, like Jimi Hendrix's guitar.

With some practice your PR's won't be accidents anymore and feeling great won't be like chasing the wind. So, I urge you to pay attention to your body during all of your runs. Whether your run feels free and easy or laborious and boring, you can usually pin it down to less than optimal muscle tension (or over training, in which case back off or rest). This technique is useful any time: for hard, easy, and maintenance running, even rest days... which are all about recovery and best done when relaxed. Incorporate your own relaxation methods as well. So go read those articles and you might find your running gets deeper and wider. For even more ideas check out Running Within and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

As you learn more about your body you will develop a deeper understanding of what you are capable of and your running will create a sense of empowerment within you. Your mind should always be engaged while running- there is truly a world of wonder to discover!! When you can blend these elements well, you will transcend your perceived limits and enter new realms of satisfaction and hunger.

Happy running!


  1. Good stuff. My husband was trying to teach me about this pre race warm up stuff. I tried it out and I'm guessing it will take me some practice to find out what is the best warmup for me personally. I definitely notice all the "real racers" out there doing their routine.

  2. I've always wondered why people are jumping around and running like crazy before a race. My tendency is to conserve energy and to warm up happen within the first mile of the race :) thanks for the information/links! Happy Running!

  3. If I did all that, I'ed never start the race . . . I'ed just be too tired! But what you say does make sense if your trying for optimal performance. Wish I had that desire . . . I do admire all the runners striving for personal bests, and fast times. There was a time . . . :-)

  4. I'm only about 1/3 of the way in to Running WIthin - but I LOVE it so far. It really reminds me of your writing style.

  5. Thanks! Just came across you and your blog and this is what I needed to hear.
    Training for my 1st Half and getting am finding that heavy/leg/tired feeling even before a training run a bit annoying.
    Good suggestions.
    I like the rest before run idea;)


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