Why Smile When Running?

Hacks. They’re all the rage. Life hacks, cooking hacks, mechanic -- what -- hacks for everything, running hacks included. You may have tried to look up how I do something simple, where it doesn’t mean I’ve got to do a lot of work to get better.

Hacks. They’re all the rage. Life hacks, cooking hacks, mechanic -- what -- hacks for everything, running hacks included. You may have tried to look up how I do something simple, where it doesn’t mean I’ve got to do a lot of work to get better. There aren’t a lot of them. I’ll tell you that. But the one we want to talk about today is smiling, and why exactly it is that smiling can make you run faster.

Of course, if you haven’t been with me here on the channel before, I’m Jesse Funk. This is a show I call Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running. Comes out on Tuesdays and Thursdays every single week, where I’m here in my sunroom talking to you about anything running related. So, if you love running, you want to learn more about running, hit that subscribe button, the bell, you know the deal. You’ve heard it 100 times from all the YouTube videos you watch if you’re a YouTube junkie like me.

So, let’s get on to why we’re talking about smiling. And the trick here is that I’m not trying to make you look like a maniac where you’re just smiling like the Joker running around going crazy. That’s not the point of smiling here. There’s a number of different studies that have been done on this, where it’s shown that smiling has this positive effect on running. It means that we end up being more efficient or economical in our running. And consequently, that means we go a little bit faster, which is what we want, right? We want to go faster without really doing any particular work.

But why is it that this is working? Well, it has to do with what’s going on in your brain. If you haven’t been on the channel before, you don’t know that I also do another show called the Smart Athlete Podcast where I get to talk to really awesome people anywhere from amateurs, to pros, to Olympians who have a sport and do something else that’s pretty cool. One of those really cool people that I got to talk to is pro cricket player from South Africa, Lwandiswa Zuma. And I bring him up because I talked to him about smiling during our interview. If you want to check that interview out, which you should, we’re going to link to it at the end of this video. So, stick around to the end, it’ll be on the screen, you can click on it and go straight over.

But Lwandiswa’s problem is that he is a bowler. So, if you don’t watch cricket, you don’t know anything about cricket, he’s basically a pitcher. If you know anything about baseball, he throws the ball. Which means that he’s doing a lot of standing around. He does have some moving around to do, but running is not his primary job. However, it is important for him to have endurance fitness because of how freaking long cricket matches take. They can take days to finish. So, he does go out and he runs and gets his conditioning in. However, it’s not his favorite thing to do. So, I offered him the suggestion, go out and smile when you’re running.

And the thing is that you go, why? Well, as mentioned, this has to do with what’s going on in your brain. So, if you think about why we smile normally, socially, it’s a signal that we’re pleased or enjoying ourselves or happy or something like that. But we do it when we feel good, when things are going well. But you can kind of reverse engineer that situation, even if, hey, you don’t feel great and are smiling automatically, we know that if you just smile, it will also make you feel good. Your brain releases these neurotransmitters when you smile that gives you these kind of uplifting feelings and that has an effect on your running. So, we have to talk a little bit about why it would even matter, right?

So, if we think about what’s going on when we’re running, what makes us slow down, it’s another kind of principle or innate, I don’t know. I don’t want to call it -- like an innate behavior that we do, a pain avoidance, right? So, I get near a fire, fire hot, hot means pain, pain is bad, so I move away. It’s that kind of thing. So, when we’re running hard, we become uncomfortable. Why? Something hurts, it’s painful. There are different kinds of pain. We can talk about all the different kinds of pains another day. It would be good to -- That’s why if you go to the doctor and they say describe your pain, there’s burning, itching, stabbing, piercing, throb; there’s so many different kinds of pain. So, we can talk about pain another day. But we don’t like any of it, pretty much.

And that’s where the whole thing where I’ve said before being comfortable being uncomfortable comes from. You have to learn to deal with that pain. Well, one way to short circuit that situation is to smile. Because when we smile, again, release those neurotransmitters, we have these positive feelings, and it doesn’t make things go away, it doesn’t ameliorate the entire situation. However, it’s better than nothing, right? Some positive feelings are going to be better than just sitting in that discomfort. Again, this doesn’t mean that you run around, like the Joker with a smile on your face the entire time and people think you’re a maniac. No.

There’s an easy trick to remember how to do this in a couple of ways you can accomplish this. And it has to do with something you’re going to take out when you’re running anyway. I should say you’re taking it out when you’re running anyway, unless you’re like me, but I assume you and probably most of you watching, take a watch out with you for most runs. I don’t and we can talk about that for other reasons. It has to do with rate of perceived exertion which is not the focus of this video. But if you take a watch out with you, you can set timer reminders, five minutes, something like that. Just remember to smile every five minutes. Or if you have a GPS watch that beeps every mile or half-mile or whatever, you can set it to do that. And remember to smile.

It’s especially going to be important when you’re going out for harder runs. So, if you’re on the track, maybe it’s at the top of a lap. So, you finish a lap, you smile at the start of every lap. Or maybe it’s two laps, I don’t know. It depends on your workout. But pick an interval so that you’re remembering you’re getting a little bit, just that little kind of drip of those endorphins, those chemicals in your brain that make you feel good so that you’re getting a little pick me up as you go along, but you’re also not looking like a maniac. Because then it becomes a strain to try to hold the smile for the whole time and that’s not going to help you either.

So, if you want to check out my interview with Lwandiswa, check that out. It’ll be on the screen here coming up shortly. Even if you don’t know anything about cricket, that’s fine. Because if you don’t know anything about my show, also fine. On the Smart Athlete Podcast, we often talk about things that have nothing to do specifically with a sport. It’s things that can apply to anybody. And that’s the thing I love about talking to these people and my conversation with him in particular, really get to the heart of motivation and why we do things as athletes and how we stay motivated to continue forward. He went through a huge issue when he just became a pro. He basically broke his back, he didn’t think he’d ever play again.

[00:08:06 So, it’s an absolutely wonderful conversation to check out. That’ll be coming up on the screen here shortly. But if you have any questions for me, I can do a video for you in the future here on this channel, leave them down in the comments below. Otherwise, I greatly encourage you to check out that conversation I had with him here on the screen. And I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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