Staring straight ahead while running may negatively affect your performance because doing so slows optic flow and increases visual impressions of spatial displacement which may influence fatigue.
Evidently, visual perceptions of the surroundings in front of you reflect the speed of optic flow, which may interfere with your pace strategy.
Avoid Staring Straight Ahead While Running
A slow optic flow during running may produce visual sensations causing a runner to think they are running slower than they actually are. As a consequence, a runner may persistently apply more effort than needed, thereby interfering with the preferred pace strategy. Not only that, distant visual cues may be mentally exhausting:
- looking up at the horizon when running elongates the perception of distance, resulting in a slower optical flow, and increases your risk of fatigue –constantly staring at all the distance in front of you plays on your mind, especially during a marathon!
Look Up and Down, But Look Down More
Staring down at the ground increases optical flow which may provide accurate feedback about pace during running.
- Staring at the ground during running also leads to compressed perception of distance relative to actual running distance.
In other words, staring at the ground removes the overwhelming information about distance covered as well as the proportion of the distance remaining during running.
The Take Home Message
Most coaches will tell you to keep your head up and look straight ahead at all times. Yet, most of the best runners in the world (Ethiopian runners) stare down at the ground while they run.
From a performance perspective, perhaps the issue here is optic flow as well as the visual impressions of spatial displacement. One promising approach in this case would be to look at the ground and not straight ahead during running. This may allow you to adopt a new cognitive strategy that reduces the rate of perceived exertion.
More on How to Improve Forefoot Running Performance:
Casasanto D, Boroditsky L. Time in the mind: using space to think about time. Cognition. 2008;106(2):579–93.
Parry D, Chinnasamy C, Micklewright D. Optic flow influences perceived exertion during cycling. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2012;
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.