One thing you quickly learn when you start running is that running can require more than just running. Running puts a lot of stress on our bodies and can tighten our muscles, limit our flexibility, and cause muscle soreness. Additionally, running exacerbates any existing muscular imbalances and weaknesses, which can put you at a higher risk of running-related injuries.
Clearly, though, the answer is not to cut back on running. Rather, to improve mobility, balance out your muscles, and release any tightness, you should look to supplement your running through yoga.
Lots of runners love yoga, and there’s a reason why: yoga brings balance to the pounding of running through providing a good stretch and realignment for the body. I know when my hips are feeling tight or hamstrings feel inflexible that a good yoga session will stretch out my muscles and provide that satisfying “pop” to my hips and other joints.
I used to teach yoga and Pilates at the fitness center at my undergraduate, and since then I have included yoga as a supplemental exercise to my running. While I am not a certified yoga teacher (yep, teaching at a university allowed me to teach uncertified, right or wrong as that is), I want to offer a short and simple guide to yoga for runners in this post.
Yoga also can strengthen many of the muscles that you use while running, such as your core, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hip flexors, and back, without adding additional impact or too high of intensity to your workout routine (meaning: yoga won’t leave you too sore to run the next day).
That said, not all yoga is created equal, so you should be selective when choosing a yoga practice to supplement your running.
Restorative yoga (sometimes also called gentle yoga) may be a great option for runners who log high mileage and do a lot of speed work each week. Restorative yoga involves mainly poses done on the floor with an emphasis on restoring the mind and body. That said, many runners (myself included), find restorative yoga to be boring (because we runners love to move!). A boring yoga practice is not a sustainable yoga practice; so I’m not saying you shouldn’t do restorative yoga, but you may do better off in a different type of yoga if you prefer to move.
Power yoga is a wonderful choice for runners since it can double as a strength training workout and flexibility/mobility work. Power yoga is also known as Ashtanga or vinyasa yoga, which refers to how the alignment and breathing transform statics asanas (still poses) into dynamic movements. Poses such as Warrior I, II, and III strengthen the legs, chaturangas tone the shoulders and arms, and most poses will engage the core and glutes. Especially when I’m spending a lot of time running, I like power yoga to save time while still strengthening my body and stretching out my muscles. Additionally, the strengthening and stretching of running specific muscles such as the hip flexors, glutes, and core helps prevent injury and can help you run more efficiently and with better form. My favorite power yoga video is this one from Runner’s World—it provides a total body workout while also stretching any tight muscles and improving posture!
Finally, yoga can also help you train your brain for running, especially endurance running. As I’ve talked about before, part of becoming a faster and stronger runner means focusing on how you feel, keeping calm in the present moment, and moving forward despite discomfort. Many yoga poses require focus and mental endurance; I know I have to really focus on my breathing and work to hold poses such as three-legged dog, chair, or wheel. Not crumpling when you have to hold demanding poses in yoga will build your mental fatigue resistance and help you move forward when you hit similarly arduous moments in running.
When you start adding yoga to your fitness routine, try to add it either on rest days or easy days, and begin with one or two sessions per week. Try different types of yoga to find what is best for you: you may love Bikram yoga or prefer a more restorative class. Most of all, be patient with yourself and start small. Many yoga poses require a high degree of flexibility and can take years to master. Don’t injury yourself by pushing too deep into a pose and pulling a muscle! Many of the poses have modification that will allow you to still reap the benefits while learning the poses.
While there are definitely many benefits to attending a yoga studio, such as having an instructor to correct your form, I personally love to practice yoga at home. It allows me to practice yoga on my schedule, with privacy, and if a pose feels really good, I can pause the video and hang out in downward dog or pigeon for a bit longer. Also, there are several great free online yoga videos, which means more money for races and running shoes!
Here are some links to free yoga videos:
Yoga for Runners: Injury Prevention (doyogawithme.com)
Recovery Yoga (Runner’s World Yoga Center)
Yoga for Runners (PopSugar Fitness)
Questions of the Day:
Do you include yoga in your running routine? How often do you do it?
What’s your favorite yoga pose?