Yoga is an ancient practice that many people associate more with spirituality than with sports. But yoga and running go well together!
While it certainly can be used for spiritual purposes, it can also be an excellent way of stretching and breath control that can help improve running performance.
If you haven’t tried it yet, perhaps now is the time to consider it. It doesn’t take a lot of time, it’s easy for people of all fitness levels to do, and it’s a great way of getting the blood flowing in an easy, low-impact way.
How Runners Can Begin Doing Yoga
It’s also not difficult to learn. Download a yoga app, learn from YouTube, or attend classes until you get the hang of it and can do the poses on your own.
Remember, maintaining proper form is as important in yoga as it is when running. Doing poses with the wrong form can result in injury. But working on them gradually while keeping your form right is guaranteed to build muscle and endurance.
When you do yoga is up to you. We recommend both before and after a run, both to warm you up and get the blood flowing beforehand and to cool you down nicely afterward.
Why Should Runners Practice Yoga?
Yoga can be a light form of cross-training. It consists of stretching and bodyweight exercises and does improve strength, flexibility, and stamina which improves running performance.
Here are some more specific reasons we believe runners should incorporate yoga into their training.
You may find it hard to believe that yoga builds strength, but it’s true! It may not be quite the same as lifting weights, but you’re certainly engaging your muscles by way of bodyweight exercises.
Yoga is considered to be functional strength training. This basically means building strength in the whole body rather than aiming to grow specific muscles by targeting them when exercising.
One of the great things about yoga is that it strengthens the muscles that do the supporting work when running. It’s superb for the core, which can be an under-developed section in runners.
Yoga also places emphasis on strengthening the quads and hamstrings. You may not notice it while you’re on the mat, but you may begin to notice that your running becomes slightly easier, or you can run further or for longer before you fatigue.
Note that yoga differs from strength training as it’s what we call isometric training or static strength training. Unlike weight training, which relies on the flexion and extension of muscles to build strength, yoga relies on supporting your bodyweight in a static fashion.
Strength and flexibility go hand in hand when it comes to performance. Without great flexibility, our range of motion is limited and the potential for injury is higher.
Flexibility is often lost because we spend most of our days sitting behind laptops and not moving very much. The body gets used to being cramped into a more restricted range of motion, so it settles into that and becomes harder and harder to be as flexible as we used to be.
Yoga can undo that stiffness and bring back mobility. Of course, a loss of flexibility is natural as we grow older, but regular yoga practice can also help us maintain a wider range of movement as we age.
Yoga poses are particularly great at loosening up the hip flexors, which can be problematic for many runners. Tight hip flexors can lead to bad running form or simply less effective performance. Have you ever seen a runner who looks like they’re cramped up and bent over instead of free and comfortable? That’s the result of tight ligaments and tendons!
Practicing yoga won’t automatically cause your flexibility to improve. You need to take care of the poses you choose and challenge yourself to hold the pose for longer or push yourself further every time.
In this way, your flexibility will slowly but surely increase and you’ll start reaping the benefits in your running practice.
In any form of sport, breathing is probably the most underrated thing, and yet it can make the biggest difference in performance!
You can just do the pose part of yoga without delving into the breathing. Some people consider breathing to be an inherent part of the spirituality of yoga and avoid it if they’re only doing it for health purposes.
But practicing yogic breathing techniques can dramatically improve your running performance.
Breathwork is designed to bring about different states within the body. Rapid breathing causes movement and heat within the body, bringing about alertness. Holding the breath increases the tension. Slow, deep breathing encourages calm, by increasing the amount of oxygen in the body. The more oxygen in your muscles, the better they’ll perform!
Yogic breathing involves drawing breath into the abdominal area, slowly and deeply. This effectively releases stress and tension in the body, which not only helps the body to move into poses more easily but also eases physical aches and releases anxiety.
There’s little tangible evidence that yogic breathing can improve your running performance, although studies suggest that it can positively affect one’s perception of their own performance.
What seems to be more accepted, though, is that conscious breathing (being aware of your own breath and how it affects you) can lead to better lung capacity, greater oxygen consumption, and therefore, increased performance.
The art of holding a pose comes naturally to some. For others, learning how to hold poses for a length of time may be difficult at first, thanks to bad balance.
As you strengthen your core and back muscles, your balance will naturally improve. If you struggle to balance while doing yoga, investing in a balance board could help to strengthen those muscles fast.
A large part of yoga is making sure you’re properly aligned during your poses. The more you do poses that require good balance, the more you’ll improve. Better balance also helps keep your form correct when you’re running.
Balance and posture go hand in hand. Bad balance will make for bad posture, and vice versa. Bad posture and balance lead to incorrect form, which increases the chance of injury (whether you’re running or doing yoga).
In today’s world, many of us spend our days behind a desk, often behind a computer. It’s incredibly easy to let your posture slip. Try to catch yourself during the day next time you’re at work. Are you slouching? Are you hunched over?
Often, we don’t even realize how bad our posture has become until we begin doing something like practicing yoga. When you get on that mat and begin your poses, you may suddenly realize that slouching is a normal, everyday thing for you!
Poses involving the upper body (shoulders and chest in particular) can help to realign the body and restore good posture, reducing pain and tension.
With improved balance and posture comes better back health. Bad posture can lead to muscle tension, causing pain in the upper and lower back.
Back pain can also be caused by improper running form, not warming up adequately, or the impact on the joints when running.
While there are many different causes of back pain, the most common is muscular strains or tension. This can easily be remedied by yoga!
Not only does the practice of yoga effectively stretch the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, but deep breathing can also have a pain relief effect by inhibiting stress hormones like cortisol.
Yoga is a low-impact, mindful activity. Part of it is physical, of course. But there’s a distinct mental element too.
Practicing yoga regularly helps to cultivate mindfulness. When you’re more mindful of how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way, it becomes easier to control those emotions.
For runners, this can be extremely useful. Pushing through those moments of fatigue or discomfort becomes easier when you can “turn off” those negative thoughts and tell yourself that you can get through them!
Yoga also teaches focus. You don’t need to be sitting on a mat in a room to be able to bring yourself into a particular state of being. You can practice deep breathing whether you’re lying down, sitting cross-legged, or running down the street.
It’s wonderful for stress relief after running, too. Loosen up your muscles by doing a yoga routine after your run. If you’re one who gets caught up in stats and takes it hard when you don’t hit your training goals on a day, yoga can help you to calm down and let go of those annoyances.
When you’re practicing yoga on a regular basis, you’re strengthening your body, improving your flexibility, becoming aware of your breathing, and improving your form (both yoga and running).
All of these factors contribute to your running endurance. Isometric training is particularly good for building endurance, and mindful breathing can be a great tool for improving your VO2 max and more effectively drawing oxygen into your body to be utilized by your muscles.
Because yoga is low-impact, it can be a great way to recover from injury and ease yourself back into running. Common running injuries include IT band injuries, Achilles strains, knee pain, hamstring pulls, and hip or back pain.
All of these can be improved by doing yoga. Muscle, ligament, and tendon issues can be improved by stretching and loosening of the affected part. Joint issues are often caused by tight muscles or tendons on either side of the joint.
An improved range of motion also means there’s less chance of injury when you do finally get back to your usual running routine.