If you've noticed that your neck gets stiff and sore after a long run, you might want to work on relaxing during your run to combat that delayed onset soreness. Maybe you thought it was just your husband being a pain in the neck, but your neck pain may be related to the tension that you are carrying in your shoulders and upper back during your run. It's less fun to blame the run, but if the neck pain continues after making some modifications to your running form, then you can blame him, anyway.
Release Tension With Chi Running
The chi running technique was developed by Danny and Katherine Dreyer, who were interested in running in a way that reduced stress on your body. The focus of chi running is to engage your core while leaning slightly forward and relaxing your limbs, creating a soft landing on your midfoot to help release tension and prevent injury during your run. Chi running will force you to release your shoulders and back so that you wont build up tension that can manifest itself as neck pain later on.
Widen Your Upper Back
The Balanced Runner's Jae Gruenke recommends that you consciously release the muscles that pull your shoulder blades close together so that you are wide in your upper back. Learning to run with a wide upper back will help release tension for the longer term, versus just pulling your shoulders back or releasing your arms during a run, which only release tension momentarily.
Don't Forget to Breathe
The foot striking the ground as you begin to exhale is subject to more impact-related stress than your other foot, according to a study by University of Utah Drs. Dennis Bramble and David Carrier. Rhythmic breathing patterns, such as those developed by Budd Coates and Claire Kowalchik, the authors of "Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter," enable you to exhale on alternate footstrikes, thus evening the impact-stress between your feet. Try inhaling for three footstrikes and exhaling for the next two. This rhythmic breathing pattern will help you relax and release the tension in your neck, shoulders and back while you run.
Stand Up Straight
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Your mother always told you posture was important, and it turns out she was right. Proper running form helps you to run more efficiently, prevents injuries, and helps prevent soreness later, including the soreness in your neck. Keeping your head up with your gaze forward, your shoulders low and loose, and your hands relaxed and slightly opened will help release the tension you carry in your upper body.
Ari Reid has a bachelor's degree in biology (behavior) and a master's in wildlife ecology. When Reid is not training to run marathons, she is operating a non-profit animal rescue organization. Reid has been writing web content for science, health and fitness blogs since 2008.