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The Science of Mindful Running

The Science of Mindful Running

By: Stephane Marceau, Co-founder & CEO of OMsignal 

Research shows that women runners’ first priority is listening to their bodies. Smart bra technology makes this possible by enabling a healthier and scientifically-grounded approach to running.

The launch of OMsignal’s smart sports bra, the OMbra and OMrun, a companion  mobile app for runners,  introduces an apparel and digital technology duo which can help runners achieve an experience that we call “Mindful Running”.

The Wise Running Woman

Over the last two years, the same themes have repeated themselves during the thousands of research interviews, tests and run debriefs that we have conducted with women runners of all types and levels. These themes are distinctly different from those we found when developing  fitness apparel for men.

All members of the OM team, both women, and men, were surprised at how different the dominant themes were for each gender, suggesting a significantly different and unique female  point of view on running.

The verbatim feedback we heard most is:

“I want to listen to my body”.  

We also often hear:

“I wonder all the time if I am running correctly”

“Running is my “me” time”

“I want to improve my running, to better myself all the time”

“I am concerned I will hurt myself while running”

“Running helps with my weight”

“I find the app’s breathing information is so powerful for me”

Certainly, this isn’t to suggest that there aren’t women who approach running from a competitive standpoint.  There are and their voice was heard during our research, however, it was a minority. It is important to note that even though this minority prioritized performance, like the majority of women participating they also explicitly cared about listening to their body even as they sought higher levels of performance. After two years of conversations, testing and focus groups, we can confidently say that listening to one’s body is a very widely shared priority for women runners of all levels. Unlike the majority of men, the drive to compare, best their friends’ or colleagues’ time, or to discretely boast about their latest record time was conspicuously absent. We felt early on that the very distinct female perspective on running was a simple yet profound insight that we wanted to build on.

We also took stock of how the market for wearable tech came about. Early adopters of Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike counted more women than men. This is uncommon for new electronic tech. Women’s early adoption of wrist-trackers, in spite of the category’s very rough aesthetics and male-focused digital interfaces, suggests that women generally have a greater interest in listening to their body with tech-infused fashion products than men do.

Building on that, we created the OMbra, and OMrun for one and only one type of consumer: the woman who runs. We did not “pink-up” the type of smart shirts for men we developed for Ralph Lauren, or develop a generic mobile application and then add some shallow running features for women. From the onset, we set out to develop a deeply purposed and targeted smart fitness apparel  + mobile app experience.

To guide our development process, we were looking for an umbrella concept that would speak to the recurring themes and insights we heard in our research and development process. With a company name including the Sanskrit word OM, we naturally felt that the idea of Mindful Running was going to be our rally cry as it resonated on a profound level with the idea of listening to one’s body, as well as with our shared belief that the experience of running starts from within.

Mindful Running

Mindful Running and the OMrun application focus on a desire to run in harmony with your body, which concretely helps with i) maximizing personal progress, ii) running safely and sustainably, and iii) running in flow.

1) Personal Progress

Women runners of all levels seek to get the most out of every run, and to improve over time. While women tend to prefer beating their yesterday and men tend to want to beat their friends, the desire to progress is always there. OMbra/OMrun are designed to help women achieve their personal best while also staying true to the importance of progressing in a healthy way, and while honouring the simple pleasures of running.

Breathe Into Your Run

Breathing efficiently has a substantial impact on your ability to progress since over 15% of your energy is spent breathing when you run. At the beginning of our development process, we had three distinct groups test our shirt and bra prototypes; beginner, mid-level and advanced.   When looking at the raw data on a chart, one of the the most obvious insights was that breathing patterns of advanced runners were far more regular than those of mid-level, which were more regular than those of beginners. We realized regularity of breathing relative to cadence matters most and delivers a healthy and efficient rhythm to your running. OMrun helps give you insights to achieve more efficient breathing and maps a mile by mile post-run analysis of your breathing rhythm. OMrun also keeps you focused with a pre and post quick breathing exercise for a more mindful experience.  

Smartwatch makers realized breathing is becoming more critically important to runners. Running coaches have known this for a long time but have never had a tool to properly track breathing in a normal run. Apple and Fitbit are now emphasizing breathing as part of their smartwatch experience, but they don’t truly do breathing. At best, they guesstimate breathing rate when you are in stationary mode. They infer breathing from a directional heart rate and they can only do that when the user is completely immobile. This is obviously a fundamental limitation of smartwatches when attempting to develop running technology.

The OMbra is the only bra to offer a deep, continuous breathing signal whether you are stationary or in full movement. Breathing actually contains more actionable meaning for runners than heart rate. We focus on heart rate because we are used to it, and because that is all that has been available to runners in the past.  Acceleration in your breathing is the primary variable that yields a sign that you’re reaching your ventilatory threshold (VT) or anaerobic threshold (AT) during your run. Learn more about VT, AT and your running zones and on breathing by our lead sports scientist.

Personal Running Zones

Although you can already get running zones from a few of the sport watches out there such as  Fitbit and Garmin, they are based only on your heart rate. Since breathing holds much of the key to finding running zones based on your own unique physiology, they are only including part of the equation. Running the right proportion of time in each or your real personalized zones will help you maximize progress and burn more fat while helping to reduce the risk of injuries and unnecessary fatigue.

OMsignal’s personalized running zones are based on your heart rate, ventilatory threshold (VT) and anaerobic threshold (AT). The more you run with OMrun, the more it  learns about your body and the more precisely it guides you based on your own body’s signals.

OMrun categorizes your performance through three distinct zones:

  • Endurance: running below your VT
  • Race: running between your VT and AT
  • Peak: running above your AT

The majority  of your runs should be in your Endurance zone, which is probably a slower pace than you’re used to. Running nearly 80% of the time in this zone helps maximize fat burn (LINK) and lets your body build strength for long-term sustainability. Spending  20% of your runs in the Peak zone, you push your body to improve strength and stamina. By running in these zones that are personal to your body, you’ll find running more enjoyable and it will lead to better results. The science behind this approach is not new, and it’s clear this is best to achieve progress in a healthy way. Most of us never thought that running slower was the key to a breakthrough for greater progress - but it is.

Digital Advice You Can Trust Based on Accurate Body Signals

There are a lot of tools and devices for runners offering various data about their runs. Consumers have recently heard a lot in the news about the accuracy of data from smartwatches or lack thereof and have started focusing on the importance of getting data you can trust. At OM, we care a great deal about the quality and accuracy of the body metrics our smart apparel  reads from your body. The heart and breathing signals read by OMbra are consistently the most accurate in the consumer wearables market and we benchmark our signal against the best and most recognized lab equipment available. This is vital to runners in particular since poor signal quality may lead to running in a manner or frequency that prevents them from achieving performance goals or worse yet puts them at risk of injury.

Comfortable Bra Means More Running

We often hear from our beta testers that they run more often since starting to wear the OMbra and using OMrun. Clearly, progress in running, like most things in life, starts by showing up. Much of this added motivation to hit the ground more often comes from user engagement with the OMrun app. However, a great deal of the comments we receive about increased  running frequency since using OM have to do with the comfort of the sports bra itself. Most women underestimate how important a good sports bra is to their running experience.  This is why major brands like Nike, Adidas, Victoria Secret and UnderArmour are engaged in the battle of the sports bra.

OMbra was designed with top sports bra designers but also with a team of sports scientists from different fields. While OMbra was designed to optimize women’s unique shapes and with aesthetics and fashion in mind, it was also developed as a leading piece of fitness technology. The OMbra evolved through over 2000 prototypes, each of which was systematically tested and based on detailed user findings at every turn. The primary focus of the team was to make OMbra comfortable while running and to make a bra women would feel confident wearing.  As simple as it sounds, feeling both confident and comfortable with your bra clearly helps bring women back for another run.


OMbra is designed for optimal running comfort, from its overall patent-pending design and construction, to the selection of fabrics and to the hundreds of details that go into a great sports bra. It offers a great deal more fine adjustments than any sports bra in the market, making it more adaptable to the many unique shapes and sizes of women.

2) Healthy & Sustainable

 Most runners injure themselves regularly. Estimates are that up to 65% of runners get injured at least once in a year, mainly because they ran too hard or overtrained.  Many also periodically suffer from fatigue which impacts all areas of life. It is not always easy to “listen to your body”. This may be one of the biggest hurdles to developing a running habit that leads to the desired fit lifestyle. Women we interviewed and who participated to our beta trials are very conscious and mindful of the risks and tell us they are concerned they are running incorrectly which often leads to injuries.

OMbra Protects the Female Body

Running can be hard on the female body. Most women underestimate the importance of a high-quality sports bra. A sports bra is as much, or arguably even more important, than the right shoes for runners. The OM team conducted countless biomechanical tests to understand what movements are most harmful to a woman’s body and the OMbra was deliberately engineered in minute detail to absorb the strain and pressure from potentially harmful movements that come from running. Instead of having the woman’s back, shoulders and breasts absorbing the running’s strains, OMbra absorbs it. This protects the female body and also removes friction that stands in the way of comfort during running.

Control the Load on Your Body

By running the prescribed amount of time in your Endurance and Peak zones, you maximize your progression but also limit the risk of overloading your body when you run. Research has found that impact due to running is drastically decreased as one runs at slower speeds. Far too many people run at a pace that is too fast for ongoing sustainability, which causes their body to break down, and not provide enough time for repair during rest periods. The human body does not get stronger during training; it actually breaks down lean muscle tissue and gets weaker. The body gets stronger during rest and sleep in the days after a tough workout. Following a balanced running program informed by your personalized running zones is the best way to reduce risk of injury.

Reduced impact from running in the OMrun’s Endurance zone.

3) Running In-Flow

You may have heard of the notion of flow from the field of psychology. Athletes, musicians and technologists alike get into a state of flow when they perform an activity and are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.  We see runners as being Flow addicts of sorts. OMbra/OMrun aims to facilitate a running experience that is scientifically sound and based on proven physiological science, but also an experience that is enjoyable as it happens.

Simple and Beautiful

With OMrun, we did not want women to get bogged down in a complex, data-intensive experience. Instead, the app is designed to hide most of the raw data and uses the mobile screen to deliver interpreted and intuitive insights. The design philosophy is for the insights to seamlessly merge into the moment, and to avoid taking the runner into cognitive mode. The colors and design are optimized to avoid stimuli overload but with a care for aesthetics.  Over the coming months, we will continue to expand the biometric coaching intelligence powering OMrun, and insights will continue to be delivered through simple and aesthetically pleasing visual representations and contextual audio feedback.  

Running as a Ritual

Many women tell us that running is their own personal “me time” to de-stress, get away from the hustle and bustle of life, and forget about the long list of responsibilities that await them daily.With OMrun, your mobile phone becomes your inner mirror where you see and visualize your heart and live breathing. OM’s breathing ritual puts you in a mindful mode and takes you to your  “me-moment” at the start of each run. The ritualization of the activity not only motivates,  it’s also conducive to creating positive habits so that you keep on running.

Don’t Dictate! Gently Nudge

Beta testers were clear after several versions of OMrun that they were looking for coaching and clarification on whether they were running the right way. They were also clear they did not want to be told or dictated àto run in detail by any mobile app.

We then revised the design philosophy to a place of gently nudging our runners towards mindful running - rather than telling the runner specifically how to run. We achieved this through glanceable visual insights such as a changing screen background when you cross a zone to another, through visual representations of breathing on a map, or through occasional soft verbal notifications and suggestions (for those wearing a headset).

OMbra, OMrun and the data and insights they generate are designed to embed themselves into the “running moment” and don’t try to reduce running to a prescription. In his recently published biography “Shoe Dog”, Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, poetically defined running: “when you run [...] you have no real destination at least none that could justify the effort, the act itself becomes the destination. [..] Whatever pleasure you derive from the act of running, you must find it within.”  We also believe that running starts within. In fact, one of our explicitly formulated core beliefs at OM is that “greatness comes from within”. It all starts with listening to your body and OMbra and OMrun is the first smart apparel ever imagined and designed to help runners tap into their inner greatness. Now is time for a new generation of tech-infused active apparel that honors and enriches the running moment, while maximizing the concrete benefits the runner gets from every run.

For more on the future and on the technology of smart apparel click here.

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