For most of us, working out is routine. It’s part of our day-to-day schedule alongside waking up at a certain time, getting to work at a certain time, leaving work at a certain time, and getting back home at the end of the day at a certain time. This can be helpful, especially when it comes to sticking to our fitness goals. However, it can be less effective when it becomes monotonous. It feels like we’re going through the motions, yet hardly feeling them mentally, as well as physically. This is where something known as mindful running comes into play. Mindful running is maintaining awareness of our body, its movements, and our breathing throughout our workout.
Not only can mindful running help you destress and relax a bit more (when it comes to getting through your workouts), but incorporating mindful running techniques into your workout may actually improve your stride, heart rate, and overall level of endurance. “A lot of our athletic ability comes down to our mental capabilities and how far we’re willing to push our minds,” says Caleb Backe, certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “Being mentally in tune with your body not only allows you to get the most out of your workout, but it also helps prevent injuries. You’re more aware of how each stride and each mile is making you feel.”
Initially, it may require energy and commitment to incorporate mindful running in all, or at least most, of your workouts. But, over time it will eventually come naturally. “As with any meditation eventually, after enough practice, you reach a stage called ‘flow,’ where you’re able to perform at your peak without exerting maximum energy,” adds Backe.
To reap the benefits of mindful running, we asked top fitness experts to share some of their best strategies for tapping into it.
Meditate while stretching.
Hopefully, you already incorporate stretching into your pre-workout routine. While you’re at it, take ten deep breaths and focus on your “why.” This is your reason for running today in the first place. “Is it for stress relief? Or is it a planned run to practice your race pace? Is it a recovery run?” asks Meghan Kennihan, certified personal trainer and running coach. “Make sure you know the goal of the run so you have a single focus.”
Focus on your form.
As you begin to take your first few strides, notice your running form. Are you slouched over? Is the bulk of your foot placement under your hips? “Focusing on your [running] form is a great way to get into a rhythm and really feel what your body is doing and what it needs,” says Kennihan. “Thinking about your posture will help you stay injury free and make you extremely mindful on your run of how your body moves.”
Develop a breathing rhythm.
“Rhythmic breathing will help send oxygen to your working muscles and make the run more enjoyable and free you from that grinding feeling of wanting to stop,” says Kennihan. She recommends trying to find a breath pattern that matches your foot cadence. For example, inhale for three steps and exhale for two steps. However, not everyone’s breathing rhythm is the same. She encourages you to try and establish your own in accordance with your run flow.
Incorporate belly breathing.
Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, can be incredibly helpful in getting you more mentally in tune with your running experience. “This kind of breathing starts a chain reaction of positive physiological effects, stimulating the brain stem, releasing feel-good endorphins, and decreasing stress hormones and allowing you to take in more oxygen while expelling more carbon dioxide,” says Mindy Solkin, running coach and founder of The Running Center. “You can practice belly breathing by lying on your back and placing your hands onto your stomach, which should rise and fall with each breath, as opposed to your chest rising and falling. Picture your stomach filling up as a balloon would. Every time you breathe in your stomach fills up and the balloon rises. Every time you breathe out your stomach flattens.”
Hold off from cranking the music.
There’s no denying that listening to music enhances your overall exercise experience. However, waiting to crank up the sound until you’re tuned into your run can help incorporate more mindfulness, experts say. Backe recommends pressing play about five minutes into your run or finishing the last five minutes of your run without music. “Use this time to really zone in on everything around you. Leaves rustling, cars driving past, birds chirping, whatever it is, allow your mind to take it in. Then bring your mind back to your movement,” he says. While music is beneficial when working out, social distractions that totally take you out of the exercise at hand are not. When possible, put your phone on airplane mode so that you can maintain proper focus.
Blow off steam and get the absolute most—mentally and physically—out of your runs by employing mindful running. Tune into your body and your form and everything else will tune out.