Yoga and running often seem like they’re on opposite ends of the exercise spectrum. The average runner likes to cover some serious ground, so an exercise routine that keeps you stuck in one place may not seem like an appealing option. Many runners also feel that they’re simply not flexible enough to practice yoga.
But before you decide that yoga is simply not for you, take into consideration all of the benefits that you are leaving on the table. Yoga can actually help to improve your running!
Yoga for runners is a highly complementary practice to the sport. Running can put a lot of impact on the body’s joints and ligaments and is limited in the muscle groups that it strengthens directly. Yoga, on the other hand, is a total body balancing and strengthening exercise that also helps to improve joint and ligament health. When you add in the contribution to balance and mental strength, yoga can be the secret sauce behind good running. There is also some indication that incorporating yoga into your training practice can help lead to more consistency with your other workouts.
Yoga Can Help to Point out Imbalances in Muscle Groups
One of the risks that running poses is the over-development of certain muscle groups over others. For instance, the quads in the front of the thighs are often weaker than the corresponding hamstrings in the back. Core muscles versus the muscles in the small of the back are two other areas of the body that can experience an imbalance due to running.
By moving through the different yoga postures, most of which require you to engage opposing muscle groups, you will start to observe which muscle groups are stronger than others. You will even notice if you have a stronger side. This enables corrective strengthening which will improve your form and reduce the risk of injury.
Yoga Helps Increase Bodily Awareness
Noticing imbalanced muscles is just one thing you will begin to notice. The slow controlled movement of yoga will force you to become hyper aware of how your body is feeling on any given day. This can help you to identify issues sooner both on the yoga mat and on your runs. The various yoga poses can also help you to track pain. For instance, a common one is knee pain that is actually caused by a tight hip. Being able to identify root causes will help to eliminate chronic pain.
Yoga Can Improve Mental Fortitude
Have you ever had the experience that your mind gives up on you before your body, sometimes as early as mile three? Yoga provides the mental training needed to cope with a brain that wants to give up before you do. By holding complex, sometimes tedious poses for many breath cycles in yoga, you will learn how to tap into your breathing to go the extra mile (literally).
Yoga Improves Your Breathing
Speaking of the breath, the deep breathing practices taught in yoga help to expand lung capacity. This means greater oxygen delivery to your muscles while you run, resulting in increased stamina.
Yoga Improves Flexibility
This may seem like an obvious one but it is important since flexibility, while overlooked, does help runners. Greater flexibility means greater mobility and has ramifications for your stride and agility. Overly tight muscles are essentially weak muscles. Flexibility coupled with appropriate strength training will make you a more efficient runner and greatly reduces the risk of injury.
Yoga Increases Core Strength
A strong, stable core is essential for optimal movement of the legs. Core strength also prevents the runner from holding too much tension in the lower back and associated back pain. Core strength also contributes to balance, reducing the risk of accident-related injury.
Yoga Reduces Chronic Pain and Risk of Injury
While many are drawn to yoga for the increased flexibility, these are the two hugely positive outcomes from a regular yoga practice. All of the benefits mentioned above help lead to a reduction in chronic pain and the risk of injury. You run because you love to and any time spent rehabilitating is likely painful to you. So, give yoga a try—your body will thank you.
How to Start a Yoga Practice
There are so many options when it comes to yoga. When you look at your training schedule, you can incorporate a yoga routine on a cross-training day or even on a rest day. If you have a running buddy, enlist them as an accountability partner! Most people say they don't have the time. However there are some great online resources where you can indeed do yoga from the convenience from your home. There is a great 3 week yoga retreat program by Beachbody (owners of P90X) that will be sure to get you up and running.
There are many different types of yoga. If you are interested primarily in increasing flexibility and bodily awareness you might try a yin yoga or hatha yoga practice. Those interested in gaining greater strength with their flexibility may wish to try a more active vinyasa practice.
Whatever you choose, remember that you can experiment with different classes until you find the best fit.
To truly complement your training regimen, you might focus on gentler types of yoga when you are in peak training and try some of the more strengthening practices during lower intensity periods of time.
You also have the option of practicing at home. Many yoga instructors now offer some free classes on YouTube, providing a no-cost way for you to try yoga at home. Some even feature routines developed specifically for runners. These routines focus primarily on stretching the hamstrings and opening the hip flexors.
As mentioned above, yoga is very different from the running that you’re used to. It may take some time for you to be able to fully drop in and enjoy a yoga class. It will also likely take some time for you to be able to see the benefits of yoga on your running firsthand.
A minimum of one to two times per week is recommended for optimal results. With home practice options, you can even practice daily for just thirty minutes. Whatever works for you, commit to at least one month before making your decision. Your improved form and focus will have you coming back to the mat between runs!