Running is one of our most favourite activities. The freedom, the fresh air, the gentle, rhythmic pounding of feet against the soil. Much has been written about the almost hypnotic joy of running, and we are true advocates; finding running both a challenge for the heart and soothing to the soul, not to mention a great way to meet people (COVID-allowing) and socialise; it really doesn’t matter whether you are road running, trail running or completing interval training on a track. The camaraderie synonymous with almost any running event is super special and we can’t wait for that to all start up again later this year.
But running isn’t known for being kind to the joints (we’ll come back to this theme – but yin yoga for runners can help relieve knee pain as it helps hydrate the joints). It helps you get fit, for sure, and it is a great all-round (and cheap*) form of exercise, but one thing runners know is that it puts a lot of stress on the body. Upping mileage is a sure-fire way to exacerbate any imbalances or weaknesses you may have been happily living with. Previously small muscle strains can quickly escalate to annoying and debilitating injuries as you increase your distances, which is deeply frustrating. Even without underlying injury, running can readily tighten muscles and cause soreness and inflexibility.
*Running-related gadgetry notwithstanding
The good news? There’s an activity which will help keep you running injury free – simultaneously improving mobility, balance, and releasing muscle tightness. Moreover, runners from the level of very beginner to the most elite of elite are using it as the ultimate compliment to their running training as it has wide-ranging benefits for all types of runners. You guessed it: it’s yoga.
So how, exactly, does yoga help runners? Let’s take a look.
Running’s repetitive movement means that specific muscle groups are regularly overtaxed and can cause a reduction in the range of movement – or mobility. These groups include the big guns: the hamstrings, hip flexors and calves, but also the stabilising muscles of the outer hip and thigh, including the often troublesome iliotibial (IT) band.
Yoga poses help lengthen out these tight spots, which speeds up recovery and restores a natural range of motion. Yoga hip stretches for runners, as well as the hamstrings, calves and quads help you prevent those major muscle groups from shortening and reducing the risk of picking up a running injury; something that is key to all levels of runners.
Runners do put themselves into the more competitive category may also want to look including yoga sequences to do more than restore the length in their muscles. Significantly improving flexibility does take some commitment, you really need to sign up to a regular yoga practice and stick with it. We recommend a gentle or yoga for beginners class for initially lengthening your key running muscles and easing out soreness, but also, with time and patience, for increasing your flexibility and range of movement which can help with any stride-length issues you may have, and thus make critical improvements to your pace.
Whatever level of runner you are – please remember that yoga ISN’T competitive, do the yoga sequences whilst being mindful of how your body feels; don’t over do it, there’s no point injuring yourself!
Some yoga poses put gentle pressure on the joints which produces more synovial fluid, essentially lubricating the joints. The joints suffer wear and tear through lots of running training, but yoga can help keep them healthy by ensuring they stay hydrated.
Both Vinyasa Flow and Yin yoga will help ensure that your joints stay happy, and make sure you don’t have any excuses to miss a run.
On the strength side, yoga stretches for runners will help boost potential weak spots such as the core, and muscles of the feet and ankles (which absorb up to three times the body weight on every stride – yikes!). The great thing about yoga is that it works on strengthening these important areas without adding more hours of impact or intensity. This is particularly crucial for road runners who are regularly pounding the pavements. For trail runners, improved strength in the ankles an core will also provide improved balance when moving over uneven terrain.
The live classes at the yoga studio in Cookham or watching our recorded online yoga classes provide the opportunity to build strength whilst also maintaining a good range of movement. Most Vinyasa Flow classes will strengthen your lower back and core muscle group, which ultimately stabilises your limbs. You can search our library of recorded yoga classes by area of body focus and duration, so you can find the yoga class that fits the time you have and the area of body you want to focus on.
Trail runners can also benefit from yoga’s balancing postures as these improve proprioception – the awareness of the position of our limbs in space (think of hopping nimbly from rock to rock like a mountain goat). Good balance is essential in improving the agility required to be a happy, hoppy and, hopefully, uninjured trail runner.
You will find that strength based yoga with its extended standing series of poses is the perfect way to work on your balance, upping your mountain-goatiness (yes, that’s a thing!?) considerably.
A regular yoga practice can also help you train your brain for running – a powerful tool in any runner’s arsenal. Especially when it comes to endurance running, where arguably most of the battle occurs in the mind. Becoming a faster and stronger endurance athlete comes with focusing on how you feel and staying present, keeping calm and moving forward despite any discomfort you may be experiencing. Many yoga poses require the sort of focus and mental endurance that help train the mind for this very purpose.
The best yoga to elicit this particular benefit is Yin yoga where poses are held for 2 -5 minutes and help build inner strength, resilience and perseverance. Yin teaches you that staying with whatever comes up one breath at a time will help you grow and overcome. Yin classes also teach us how to be patient and gentle and non-reactive – an immensely useful skill for any endurance event.
A relaxed runner is a better runner, and a rested racer is a faster racer.
Yoga can train the body to relax. Sleepless nights are pretty horrible, but they are particularly frustrating for runners who are preparing for a race. Yoga helps athletes learn to relax by teaching them to concentrate on the specific yoga pose, which ultimately leads to the mind and body learning to understand the difference between effort and relaxation. Essentially it means that when trying to sleep, and focusing on relaxation, the muscles will be able to respond to the command to relax, translating to the bed for more restful sleep.
If you want better, more restful sleep, and you want to work on your ability to switch off and relax, we recommend a gentle flow class or Yin yoga before going to sleep.
If you are new to yoga as a runner, we suggest adding yoga to your training on your rest or easy days, and to begin with up to two sessions per week. A yoga class doesn’t have to be long – a 10 minute yoga for runners class is a great place to start.
We offer a specific Yoga for Runners package which has an array of different styles to find out what is best for you. We’ve created our yoga for runners online as we understand it can be hard enough finding the time to train as well as finding a local yoga studio that offers yoga stretches for runners at a time that works for you.
You may find – if you are an active person (and runners are often “do-ers”) – that you experience some resistance to the more gentle or static yoga classes like Yin yoga or meditation. The mind won’t be quiet, and all that “being still” rails against our deep-seated need to be moving and busy. Our advice is to stick with it – it may be that the benefits that become apparent when next you time your run will add as extra motivation to keep coming back to the mat!
Lastly, be patient with yourself and don’t expect too much too quickly. Some yoga poses require a certain degree of flexibility which running doesn’t help attain. Don’t cause yourself an injury by pushing too deep into a pose and pulling a muscle. Listen to those muscles and modify where you need to – you can still reap the benefits of yoga while learning the poses and flows.