This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
He knows what he’s talking about
If you watched the US Olympic Trials coverage on NBC, you may have noticed Ato Boldon repeatedly say that the fastest sprinters would "relax and let the speed come out". I was hoping he would use that line again in the Olympics but I didn’t notice it the way I did at the Olympic Trials.
Why was I hoping for the repeat? Because that advice Boldon was offering to any sprinters who were watching is also great advice for distance runners.
What does advice on sprint mechanics have to do with distance running? A lot.
Boldon’s advice is universal. When you tense up, your opposing muscles are working against each other, requiring more energy to do the same amount of work.
A simple way to think about this is to think of the opposing muscles of the upper arm, the biceps and triceps. If you’re trying to bend your elbow to lift something, you need to flex your biceps muscle. However, what you don’t always think about is that you also relax your triceps muscle. If you don’t, your triceps muscle is pulling to straighten your elbow and working against your biceps.
What does this have to do with relaxing to let the speed come out?
When you’re tense, your muscles are contracting. When you’re relaxed, as the term suggests, your muscles are relaxed. Only the working muscles are contracting.
When you’re tense, your contracting muscles are fighting against each other. When you’re relaxed, only your working muscles are contracting to do the job. There are no opposing muscles contracting to work against your working muscles.
In short, when you relax, you’re not spending energy to work against yourself. You can save energy and deliver more power into the work you want to get done (like propelling your body forward).
So what do we do now that we recognize how important it is to relax in order to let the speed come out? Practice, practice, practice. I see a lot of runners, myself included although I’ve been working on it in recent years, who strain and get very tense when working hard. Whether in workouts or races, you can see the strain in their faces and, many times, throughout their bodies.
In training, try to focus on fighting the urge to tense up and strain. Work on staying loose when the going gets tough.