When the going gets tough...smile?
For those that watched Eliud Kipchoge break the 2 hours in the Ineos 159 on the weekend, would have noticed an occasional smile across his face. Was he just enjoying himself tearing around 42.2kms at 2:50min/km pace? No, Kipchoge’s smiles were a deliberate tactic to relax and work through the escalating pain, and there is research to support it.
A 2017 study from Noel Brick had 24 runners complete a series of four six-minute runs and measured their running economy and perceived effort. During the runs, the volunteers were instructed to smile, frown, relax their hands and upper body or just think their usual thoughts.
The results showed a surprising 2.8% improvement in running economy when smiling versus frowning. What makes this improvement even more significant, is this amount of change is often seen after months of undertaking plyometrics or heavy weight training.
To put this improvement in terms of times, if you run a 10K in 60 minutes, you can shave over a minute off your race time, and if you’re covering 5km in under 25 minutes, smiling can cut 30 seconds off our time.
So next time you are out on your hard track session, or pushing to the limit in a race, SMILE :)
Brick, N. E., et al. (2018). "The effects of facial expression and relaxation cues on movement economy, physiological, and perceptual responses during running." Psychology of Sport and Exercise 34: 20-28.