Why Is Yoga Good For Runners?
Believing more miles equals better performance?
Why isn't my running improving?
These could be the kind of doubts circling your mind about your running routine. But improving your running skills involves more than just running and yoga is a good one to add into your routine!
So, should you ask yourself the question Why is Yoga Good For Runners?
Well, yes… yoga can offer multifaceted benefits to runners, regardless of their expertise level. Incorporating yoga into your regular cross-training routine can amplify your running capabilities, expedite recovery, fend off injuries, and enhance your general wellbeing.
For instance, yoga can augment your metabolism, resulting in improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It can also boost heart efficiency and artery relaxation, thereby lowering blood pressure.
Exploring Yoga's Origins
Originating approximately 2,000 years ago, Yoga was consolidated into the Yoga Sutra by an Indian sage, Patanjali. Yoga signifies the integration of body, mind, soul, and spirit. In Yoga philosophy, human suffering stems from the illusion of separation between our individual and Universal Consciousness, or Brahman. This Hindu metaphysical concept pertains to the eternal, uncreated, infinite, transcendent reality that is the source, foundation, and objective of existence. The Yoga Sutras serve as a pragmatic guide on your spiritual journey to realize this unity.
Yoga unites physical postures, breathwork, and meditation, but its original intention wasn't fitness—it was mental focus. It was only when Yoga began to gain traction in the Western world during the 1920s and 1930s that its physical fitness benefits were emphasized.
There's a variety of Yoga styles, with the most popular ones being:
- Ashtanga yoga: Connects breath with movement through six standard sequences of postures.
- Bikram (or "hot") yoga: Performed in rooms heated to nearly 40 degrees Celsius with 40% humidity. It involves a sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises.
- Hatha yoga: Encompasses any yoga practice focusing on physical poses.
- Power yoga: An athletically inclined yoga style rooted in ashtanga yoga.
Unlocking Flexibility, Balance, and Coordination
Yoga might seem placid or "not challenging enough" but it employs many lesser-used stabilizing muscles, often overlooked in sports like running.
Consider a basic balance pose, like Warrior One or Triangle pose. You'll notice your feet straining to maintain your balance. This activates your ankle muscles, along with your calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads, core, back, and shoulder muscles. All these muscles work in unison to help you hold the pose effectively without toppling.
This becomes exceedingly useful for runners, aiding in improved balance and coordination—a boon for trail and fell runners!
How Yoga Helps Prevent Runners' Injuries
Yoga promotes flexibility in hamstrings and hip flexors, which can lengthen your running stride. Maximizing muscle engagement to generate more power in the running cycle can help you cover more ground faster. This efficiency is crucial for success, particularly over long distances and challenging terrains.
Regular runners often experience tightness in their hips, hamstrings, quads, and calves, especially after strenuous training runs or races.
Yoga poses like Downward Dog and Warrior help expand your range of motion, particularly in the hip complex. This allows for more free movement, enabling efficient operation of the muscles connected to your pelvis without discomfort or restriction—a significant advantage for your running!
Humans often have muscular imbalances, leading one side of the body to compensate for the other. These imbalances occur due to our lifestyles, excessive sitting, repetitive manual handling tasks, carrying a child, or driving.
If part of our body isn't functioning fully, we humans adapt. However, these adaptations are not always beneficial.
Through yoga, poses encourage your muscles to work in harmony, contracting and relaxing evenly throughout a flow. This increases your muscles' resilience to changes in length and tension. If one leg is weaker than the other, you will struggle to maintain balance or might have to modify a stretch or pose. This, however, is not a setback, as making these adjustments to your body requires time and patience.
What Role Does Yoga Play in Enhancing Your Running Posture?
Often, you may have heard or read the advice, "maintain a good running form" or "always ensure good running posture".
Posture is of paramount importance not only in your everyday life but also when it comes to running. A good posture bolsters the effectiveness of your running, enhances your breathing, and optimizes the usage of your arms.
Yoga is widely acknowledged for its potential in strengthening the core - the combination of your abdominal, back, and pelvic muscles - a critical component for runners.
By bolstering your core strength and the ability to engage your core, especially towards the end of a run or race when fatigue begins to set in, you can maintain an upright posture. This enhances running efficiency and mitigates injury risks.
A remarkable benefit of yoga lies in the way it enriches your breathing awareness, control, and aerobic capacity. Yoga often employs breath to direct movements and flows, proving invaluable in maintaining poses and tapping into muscular strength and endurance. It helps you to master mindful breathing during discomfort and control your breath to keep pushing your limits. This can be extremely beneficial for runners!
The kind of yoga you choose to practice will be influenced by factors like your level of experience and whether you seek a relaxing or intense session. However, it's a great idea to try different types to see which suits you best and is the most enjoyable for you.
Recommended Yoga Poses for Runners
Now let's look at some yoga poses that are perfect for runners: low lunge, tree, child's pose, and butterfly!
Low lunge, known for opening up the hips, offers an excellent stretch to the hip flexor complex and quadriceps. As many runners deal with tight hips leading to underactive gluteal muscles, this pose helps in avoiding potential knee or lower back issues.
The Downward Dog pose opens up and stretches your arms, back, and legs. It provides a much-needed stretch to your calves and hamstrings while opening up your feet and Achilles tendon - perfect for runners.
The triangle pose stretches multiple areas: hips, groins, hamstrings, muscles around the knee, calves, ankle joints, shoulders, chest, and spine. Plus, it strengthens your abdominal muscles, obliques, back, legs, knees, and ankles.
The tree pose strengthens various parts of your body, including calves, ankles, thighs, and the spine, while simultaneously stretching the shoulders, groin, chest, and inner thighs.
Child's pose offers a gentle, comforting stretch while allowing rest. It stretches the hips, knees, thighs, lower back, and ankles, and aids in blood circulation to the brain and spine.
The cobbler’s pose is a great addition for runners. It opens the inner thighs, knees, and groin, boosts mobility in the hips, releases tension, and strengthens the muscles of your back.
In conclusion, yoga isn't just about finding inner peace or supplementing your meditation routine. It's a vigorous workout that could significantly enhance your running performance. By enhancing balance, muscular strength, and flexibility, reducing muscle imbalances, and improving posture and breath control, yoga offers a comprehensive approach to bettering your running experience and overall fitness.
While it might seem serene, yoga demands a great deal from our bodies. Poses like the Warrior One, Triangle Pose, Downward Dog, Tree, Child's Pose, and Butterfly not only augment our physical abilities but also bolster mental fortitude.
No matter your level of experience or the intensity you're seeking, there's a type of yoga for you. Give it a shot and discover how this age-old practice can rejuvenate your running regimen and help you break through performance barriers.
Patience and consistency are key when integrating yoga into your routine. The improvements may take time to appear, but once they do, they'll undoubtedly be worth the wait. Get your running shoes and yoga mat ready and prepare to take your running to unprecedented heights.
Written by Faye Johnson, UK Athletics Licensed Running Coach at Maximum Mileage Coaching, Level 4 PT and International Fell Runner