How Yoga Can Improve Your Running and Prevent Injuries
June 21, 2023
Are you a runner looking to balance your exercise routine? Or perhaps you have been laboring with nagging running injuries that keep flaring up again and again? Adding yoga to your exercise and well-being routine is the answer.
By supplementing running sessions with breathing exercises and certain yoga poses, you can improve your running performance and prevent injuries. Here is a closer look at how yoga and running complement each other.
How Yoga Supports Running
Running – or jogging, if you’re getting started or simply prefer a slower pace – is good for you. As a weight-bearing exercise, running helps you maintain strong bones, strengthen muscles, and it contributes to cardiovascular fitness and heart health. But running can also cause discomfort.
Every time one of your feet strikes the ground, the impact is equivalent to three or four times your body weight. If you combine that with less-than-perfect running technique, it’s no wonder that many runners develop back pain, sore feet, tight hamstrings, or knee problems over time.
Should you stop running? Not necessarily. First, let’s look at the cause of these issues. In many cases, the discomfort runners feel is due to imbalances that are either caused or exacerbated by running. Adding yoga to your routine will help address some of those imbalances, but there are other benefits, too:
- Yoga poses can help release the physical stress of running on the body, improve mobility, and strengthen specific muscle groups. For example, strengthening your core improves your posture, which translates into better running technique.
- Yoga stretches actively prevent and treat tightness in your hips, hamstrings, and feet. Running involves a lot of repetitive movement which can cause muscles and tendons to become rigid. Balancing your running routine with yoga stops muscles from tightening excessively and increases your range of motion.
- Pranayama, or breathing exercises, benefit runners physically and mentally. Breathing exercises improve your awareness of your body, allowing you to spot those niggles sooner and release them before they become a problem. Focused breathing also helps increase the oxygen supply to every cell of your body, which may help improve your running performance in the long term.
Yoga Poses for Runners
If you’re new to yoga, consider joining classes aimed at beginners or book a few private yoga sessions to familiarize yourself with the practice and build a foundation before transitioning to yoga for runners.
Seasoned yoga practitioners, on the other hand, benefit from refocusing their time on the mat to support their running routine. Choosing hip-opening asanas or integrating more stretches as well as breathing exercises can be extremely useful.
Here are five yoga poses and breathing exercises for runners:
1. Downward-facing dog
Downward-facing dog stretch your hamstrings, calves, and the arches of your feet. The pose lengthens your lower back and strengthens your shoulders. If you’re new to this pose, begin by your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
Spread your fingers and press into your hands, then tuck your toes and lift your butt and knees off the ground. If your hamstrings feel very tight, try ‘walking the dog’ until they relax and soften. Stay here for five to ten breaths to allow your muscles to relax.
2. Low Lunge
Lunges help stretch your hip flexors. They also strengthen your quadriceps muscles, help prevent injury, and support your hamstrings.
From downward-facing dogs, you simply step one foot forward in between your feet. With your right foot forward, keep your knee aligned over your ankle and slide your left knee to the ground and back. Bring the top of your left foot to the mat and lift your torso. Raise your arms overhead and drop your tailbone. Stay here for five to ten breaths, trying to sink deeper into your left hip for a stronger stretch. Then return to downward-facing dog and repeat on the other side.
3. Reclining Pigeon
This asana is excellent for relieving tension in your back and hips. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and thighs hip-distance apart. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Cross your hands behind your right knee and pull it toward you. Flex your feet to keep them active and try to keep your head on the mat. Hold this stretch for five to ten breaths, release, and repeat on the other side.
4. Reclining Spinal Twist
This asana relaxes the lower back and stretches the glutes. It offers an excellent stretch not only for runners but for anyone who feels discomfort in their back from time to time.
Lying on the floor with your knees bent, roll to one side, placing your knees on top of each other. Extend both arms out to the sides. If you rolled to your right, turn your face toward your left hand and see if your shoulder will drop on the floor. Stay here for five to ten breaths, then repeat the pose on the other side.
5. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Earlier in this blog, we touched on the potential effects of imbalances in the body. Alternate nostril breathing helps you balance your male and female energy, and increase your focus and your awareness of what’s going on in your body.
Check out our blog on yoga and anxiety for a detailed description, but here are the basics: Sit comfortably, straighten your spine, and close your eyes. Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in from the left. Now close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale again on the right, then close your right and move back to your left and exhale. Inhale again on the left and continue like that.
Integrating Yoga into Your Running Practice
Yoga and running are ideal companions for building mental, physical, and emotional fitness. Some of the best ways to integrate yoga into an existing running regime include:
- Practicing yoga on rest days
- Using yoga poses as part of your warm-up and cool-down
- Starting with short yoga sessions and gradually building on them
Practicing yoga on your rest days allows you to give your body a break from running while still staying active. Compared to running, yoga poses have a lower impact on your joints but help improve their flexibility and suppleness. You can also use yoga stretches to support the recovery of your muscles.
Try to integrate yoga poses in your warm-up and your cool-down routine. Loosening hamstrings with poses like downward-facing dogs not only prepare you for your run but can also prevent injuries. If your back feels tight at the end of your run, spinal twists help release tension.
Especially if you’re new to yoga, don’t push yourself too hard. Add 10 or 20 minutes of yoga to your running practice and try a longer session on rest days. As you become more familiar with poses, stretches, and breathing exercises, integrating them becomes easier, and you will find your sessions extend naturally.
Where to Find Yoga for Runners
Very few yoga studios offer specific classes for runners, don’t let that deter you. The slow flow, restorative, and stretch-focused classes at Uptown Yoga work very well for runners, but you are also very welcome at an all level flow class. In fact, all level flow classes are a great choice for your rest days from running.
If you’re looking to work on specific poses or need help recovering from an injury, consider taking a private class. Working one-on-one with our experienced instructors will help you integrate running and yoga faster and see the benefits of combining the two practices sooner. Contact us to learn more.