Do You Grimace When You Workout?

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When you work out, what kind of face do you make? Are you making a grimace, showing the effort you are putting in? Is this the most effective way to train? While the "grimace" look gives the appearance of hard work and determination, you may be robbing your body of the optimal performance you need.

In 1983, I watched Super Bowl XXVII in which the Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins. The game was evenly matched between two elite football teams. With Dolphins leading 17-10 with 10 minutes left in the game, Washington handed the ball off to John "The Diesel" Riggins who broke through the line of scrimmage and ran for a 43-yard touchdown. This run symbolically broke the "will" of the Miami Dolphins. Washington would go on to win 27-17. While I was only 11 years old, I remember the John Riggins run like it was yesterday. When he broke the tackles, it appeared that he "shifted" his engine to get ready for the explosive sprint he had to make to put his team ahead. The replays showed Riggins's "grimacing" face exemplifying how hard he need to push himself in order to win the game. After that game, I always referred to Riggins face as symbolic of how hard his team needed to work in order to be the best.

What I have learned through the years is quite the opposite.

It is impossible to perform optimally if your body is tense. Performance starts in your face. Your performance will then work through your shoulders and arms and down to your legs. When you are tense, you constrict your lungs and don’t get optimal amounts of oxygen flowing through your body. When you are tense, you constrict your muscles, which shorten your sprint stride thus not getting the most of your body’s potential. Finally, with tense muscles, your body will fatigue prematurely. When you fatigue, you are at the opposite end of optimal performance.

What does this mean?

When you grimace, you are compromising the oxygen flow or supply that your body needs to sprint faster, lift heavier weights, etc. When you watch an Olympic sprinter, their faces look as if the sprint was effortless. To truly witness the compromised oxygen with sprinters, simply attend any high school track meet. Watch the sprinters (100 meter, 200 meter, or 400-meter dash). You will see the sprinters take off out of the blocks for the 100-meter dash. 2 of them will be neck and neck with each other at about 60meters. One of the sprinters will truly push themselves by making that "grimacing" face. The other sprinter will be calm, cool, relaxed - as if no effort is taking place. Immediately once the sprinter makes the "grimacing" face, their speed will be compromised, thus catapulting the relaxed sprinter into first place.

While John Riggins was able to score on his sprint, he was not at optimal performance. Luckily for Riggins, his compromised sprint was enough for him to score.

What are you to do?

Relax when performing (sprinting, lifting, etc). Understand that you are compromising your body's ability to utilize oxygen when you are "grimacing". The tension is shortening up your stride length as well. While Riggins was able to score despite the "grimace", compromising your ability to sprint at the pinnacle of your sport is not my recommendation.


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified

Steve Zahn
Steve Zahn has been a Coach and Personal Trainer since 2000. He is passionate about extensive education in order to develop the skills that allow him to assist everyone. Implementation of his knowledge include; nutrition and food intolerances, recipes, innovative workout techniques, and much more in ways that have led everyone to see incredible results. With, he will provide thought-provoking articles which will educate every one of you how to live the quality life you want to live.
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