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Smiling While Running Could get you a Personal Best | Find Your Stride | Edinburgh Podiatrist

In their research paper, Brick et al. (2018) aimed to investigate the effects of facial expression and relaxation cues on movement economy, physiological, and perceptual responses during running. While previous studies have shown the benefits of relaxation training on running economy, this study sought to compare the effects of brief contact instructions to alter facial expression or to relax on running economy and performance.

A smiling runner
Smiling periodically while running may help performance

The researchers conducted the study with 24 trained runners who completed four 6-minute running blocks at 70% of velocity at VOmax with 2 minutes of rest between blocks. The participants completed the running blocks while either smiling, frowning, consciously relaxing their hands and upper body, or with a normal attentional focus as a control. Cardiorespiratory responses were continuously monitored, and participants reported perceived effort, affective valence, and activation after each condition.

The results revealed that oxygen consumption was lower when participants were smiling compared to when they were frowning or in the control condition. Interestingly, 14 participants were most economical when smiling, while only one participant was most economical when consciously relaxing. Additionally, perceived effort was higher when participants were frowning compared to when they were smiling or relaxing. Activation was also higher during the frowning condition compared to all other conditions.

The study concluded that periodic smiling during vigorous intensity running may improve movement economy, while frowning may increase effort perception and activation. Surprisingly, a conscious focus on relaxing was not found to be more effective on any outcome. Overall, these findings have implications for applied practice to improve endurance performance.

This research provides valuable insights into the impact of attentional instructions, specifically facial expressions and relaxation cues, on running economy and performance. By understanding the effects of these cues on physiological and perceptual responses during running, coaches and endurance athletes may be able to adopt some of these techniques and improve their overall performance. Further research in this area could lead to the development of more targeted and effective training strategies with a specific focus on facial expression for runners seeking to improve their endurance and running efficiency.

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