Smile running, also known as Niko Niko running, is a form of slow running that emphasizes running at an extremely low heart rate. The concept was pioneered by Hiroaki Tanaka, who improved his marathon time from 4:10 to 2:38 at the age of 50 through this method. The primary focus is on form and mindfulness, aiming to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce the impact of the sympathetic system.
Intensity and Target Heart Rate #
For inexperienced runners or when you’re first starting to use smile running the intensity can be determined by a heart rate that’s around 138 minus half your age. For example, if you are 40 years old, your target heart rate would be around 118 bpm (138 – 20).
For experienced runners focus on breathing which should be comfortable and unnoticeable. If you find your breathing becoming deep and regular, you’ve likely crossed your comfort threshold. Adjust your pace to stay just below this point, which is typically around 75-80% of your Lactate Threshold.
Physiological Goldilocks Point #
Physiologically speaking, the Niko Niko Pace is at a Goldilocks point where:
- The stroke volume of the heart (volume of blood pumped per heartbeat) is the largest.
- Lipid metabolism (fat) is at its highest.
- Catecholamine accumulation begins, which is an indicator that the stress response is just beginning—allowing for training adaptations to happen.
How to Do Smile Running #
As Mindful Runners, our approach to this style of running aims to achieve several key goals:
Good Form #
- Foot Landing: Aim for a mid-foot landing and make it as light as possible.
- Cadence: Strive for a cadence of 180 steps per minute.
- Upper Body: Maintain a taut upper body. Think of your body as a pogo stick, with your feet, Achilles, and calves acting as the spring.
- Core Engagement: Keep your core lightly engaged.
- Stride: Imagine your feet landing on either side of an imaginary line extending from your center onto the road ahead. Keep your stride short to maintain posture and achieve your target stride rate.
- Posture: Visualize your body being gently lifted by the crown of your head, keeping your spine long and your feet acting as powerful springs.
- Inhale: Expand your diaphragm downwards to create space for your lungs and draw air in to fill this space.
- Exhale: Start by drawing in your belly and squeezing the air out.
Mindfulness While Running #
- Nervous System: The goal is to reduce sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous activity and increase parasympathetic (rest and recover) activity.
- Stress Hormones: Running at low heart rates helps to lower the levels of stress hormones in the body, making the run more meditative than stressful.
Always keep a smile on your face during these runs. Smiling has been scientifically proven to reduce the perception of effort, which will help to keep the heart rate down.