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Want to Run Faster? Relax.

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Relax_photoMost runners feel nervous, jittery and excited at the start of a race. But athletes perform at their best when they’re relaxed, reports a recent NY Times article.

Runners who are too tense don’t use their muscles as efficiently as those who stay relaxed and in a rhythm. You’ve seen them on the course (or experienced it yourself): Racers with clenched hands and rolled shoulders. They expend more energy through this tension, which slows them down and and leaves them out of gas by the finish line.

The Times article notes that runners can benefit from relaxation exercises, such as running with “sleepy eyes,” which causes the face and jaw to relax. Allowing this relaxation to spread through the shoulders and arms keeps the upper body loose, allowing the lower body to use that extra energy to run faster.

Staying relaxed—whether running, on a work deadline or stuck in traffic—offers plenty of health benefits, from lower blood pressure and fewer headaches to improved concentration and greater efficiency, reports the Mayo Clinic.

So how do you stay relaxed during stressful or exciting moments like race day? Just like any other part of your fitness routine, the key is to practice, practice, practice. The Mayo Clinic offers relaxation techniques such as visualization you can try when you’re training as well as during the rest of your day. Yoga, anyone?