How Meditation Can Help Improve Your Running

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Do you meditate? If you do, why? And if you don’t. Why not? You may be surprised to hear that meditation can help improve your running (along with a whole bunch of other things!).

Don’t think we’re getting all wishy-washy, new-agey on you here. We’re simply looking at a tool that’s been used for millennia that’s freely available to runners the world over.

Meditation is all about mental strength. And we all know that mental toughness is a key element of running success.

You don’t need to change your entire lifestyle to fit it in, either. You can literally do it for 5 minutes sitting in your vehicle before your run.

Here’s what you should know about meditation, as well as how meditation can help improve your running.

What Is Meditation?

Simply put, meditation is extreme focus. You may have heard that you need to “clear your mind” during meditation. This isn’t quite accurate. Rather, you should be focusing hard on one particular thing.

This is why you often see meditation done with mantras, binaural beats, candle flames, or other very specific things. It’s all about focusing on that one thing and allowing thoughts to pass by as they will.

And why is this important for running? Well, if you can learn to shut out the negative thoughts, the pain of your burning quads, and the worries you have about not hitting your PB, then you can focus on the thing that matters – running.

How to Meditate Effectively for Running

So how do you use this focus tool to improve your running? Well, it’s no secret that running requires focus and discipline, so there’s a definite overlap between cultivating a running mindset and meditating.

Meditation isn’t difficult, but there are a few specific elements you should focus on in order to get the most out of your meditation session.

Firstly, you should settle yourself down in a quiet spot and close your eyes. Don’t lie down – you might fall asleep! Seated is the most practical way to be.

So let’s get into detail about how to meditate and how learning this can improve your running performance.

Breathing

Breathing is super important in running. In fact, if you aren’t breathing properly while you’re running, your performance can definitely be hampered.

And breathing is also an essential part of meditation. Slowing your breathing down helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and relaxation side of things.

In fact, the easiest way to start meditating is to place your focus on your breathing.

4-4 Breathing Pattern

Focus on breathing in all the way to your diaphragm, to a count of 4. Then breathe out to a count of 4.

For running-related purposes, we suggest breathing through your mouth on both the inhale and exhale.

Most meditation info you’ll find will recommend through the nose on the inhale and through the mouth on exhale. This is also effective, but inhaling through the mouth will allow you to get a bigger breath in.

Keep this up for as long as you can. Newbies, set a time for 5 minutes and focus completely on your 4-second in, 4-second out breathing for that full time.

If thoughts try to sneak their way in and distract you, simply brush them off. Don’t beat yourself up about it! It takes time.

As you get better at this, you can increase the amount of time you spend in meditation.

How This Helps Running

The more oxygen you can get into your body when you’re running, the better. Focusing on your breathing while you’re running will help you to fall into an effective rhythm, as well as to keep you focused on actually getting the air down to the diaphragm rather than breathing shallowly.

Using the 4-4 breathing technique also gives you a pretty good way to link your breathing up with your footsteps. Many runners find themselves breathing in on every 2 steps, and out on the following 2 steps.

This can work, but it often leads to shallower-than-normal breathing. Getting into the habit of the 4-4 breathing pattern while meditating can help you take advantage of it while running too.

This means you’ll be getting deeper, more controlled breaths, which ultimately fills you with more power as your muscles get all the oxygen they need to perform.

Visualization

This is the aspect of meditation that most people find to be a little weird and new-agey. It’s often linked to words like “manifestation”, which make many people uncomfortable.

If you aren’t into that kind of thing, don’t worry! We aren’t going down that route. We are, however, talking about the power of visualization in sports, which is well documented and a proven way of improving performance.

Meditation is the ideal time to work on visualization. Remember, it’s all about super focus. Well, when you’re super focused on the type of performance you want to have, it’s a type of mental rehearsal for your event.

What to Visualize

Often, if you unfollow guided meditations you’ll get instructions to visualize a beautiful place, or energy moving through your body, or something like that.

For running, we’re going to visualize… Well, you running. Now, research suggests that for the best results, you need to incorporate your 5 senses into your visualizations.

Imagine – and try to feel, smell, hear, and taste – everything around you as you take part in your event.

  • See the excitement on your supporters’ faces as you cross the finish line.
  • Hear the deafening cheers of the crowd as you come around the last corner.
  • Smell the fresh air as you breathe deeper.
  • Taste the beads of sweat on your lips and the energy gel you had.
  • Feel your legs pushing you forward, filled with strength and power.

Create your mental picture of the race. From start to finish. You don’t need to do this full visualization every time, but keep the triumphant, victorious, and strong feeling alive throughout your visualizations.

How This Helps Running

The same research linked above shows that visualization as a form of rehearsal can increase confidence, focus attention, decrease anxiety, and even improve motor skills and muscle strength.

Imagine if you could do twice as much training as you do for events, without the risk of fatigue or injury? With meditation and visualization, you can!

Patience & Consistency

Meditation truly only works when you’re consistent with it. Don’t expect startling results in a day or two, or even a week.

But push past the 3-week mark, and you’ll start feeling different.

How This Helps Running

In this sense, running and meditation are exactly the same. Like anything that’s truly worthwhile, you’ll need to put in the work and do it consistently to really see results.

Working on this kind of consistency in something other than running is an excellent idea. The discipline you build during your meditation will serve you well during your running training.

Where to Meditate

Meditating in the wrong place can negate all the good effects. Choose somewhere where you’re unlikely to be interrupted, but still safe and can close your eyes comfortably.

Indoors

Find a quiet room (or a closet!). Anywhere is okay as long as you can have some time and space to yourself and you’re unlikely to be interrupted.

Make sure the space is quiet. If you can’t find somewhere quiet, consider using binaural beats to focus on.

Set out a yoga mat or a cushion to sit on. Sitting on a hard floor even for 5 minutes can be taxing on the body!

Remove distractions as much as you can. That means no TV, no other people (unless they’re meditating with you!), and no distracting noises.

Outdoors

Meditating outdoors can be an amazing option. If you’re one of those runners who enjoys the nature part of running, you may get a lot out of meditating in nature.

Again, try to choose a spot where you won’t be interrupted. Your own backyard is a good idea, as long as the dogs aren’t going to be barking or jumping on you and the kids aren’t going to be screaming as they play.

Make sure you have a comfortable blanket or yoga mat, some water, and stay out of the sun. If you want, you can focus on the sounds of nature around you, or the feel of the grass under your hands. Just don’t forget your breathing!

How Long Should I Meditate?

This is really up to you. Beginners should aim for 5 minutes when they first start off. It may seem long at first, but if you stick with it, you’ll soon be able to move up to 10 minutes, then 15, then 20, and so on.

In the end, you can meditate for however long you want and however much time you have. There’s no upper limit.

The beauty of meditation is that you can fit it into any schedule. Only got 5 minutes before your lunch break ends? There’s a quick meditation there. Have 2 hours before the kids get home? You can go for as long as you want.

How to Meditate While Running (yes!)

Chandresh Bhardwaj, creator of the Break The Norms meditation program, says “When you are deeply involved in any activity, you become meditative.”

Running is all about rhythm. Rhythm in breathing, rhythm in your footsteps. It’s the ideal time to meditate.

Interestingly, a 2016 study suggests that combining meditation and aerobic exercise can have extremely beneficial effects, including reducing depression symptoms.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to have your eyes closed to meditate. All you need to do is focus closely on one particular thing; in this case, it would be the rhythm of your running.

Here are some tips to get in a good meditation while you’re running:

  • Use a mantra: Choose a short, rhythmic phrase that means something to you and repeat it throughout your run.
  • Count your footsteps: You can count on the trot, or in groups. ie. up to 8 and then start again.
  • Focus on your breathing: Remember the 4-4 breath? Try doing that in conjunction with your footsteps.
  • Come to your senses: Pay attention to every one of your senses and what you’re feeling/smelling/tasting/hearing/seeing in the moment.
  • Express gratitude: What better time to be grateful than when you’re doing something you love?

Summary

Both meditation and running improve mental health. Imagine if you can get into the habit of using one to improve the other?

Meditation can improve your running if you consciously choose to work them into each other. But that’s not all it’s good for.

It’s been proven to lower stress, boost the immune system, bring the body into a better state of health, and calm a racing mind, amongst other life-changing effects.

Who wouldn’t want a tool like that in their lives? Now is the perfect time to start building a meditation habit. If you do it right, you may just see startling improvements in your running performance, your relationships, and your inner peace.

Have fun!

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AUTHOR

Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.