by Allie Cooper
While runners have some serious stamina, they are often lacking in other areas which could improve their performance. Upper body strength, range of motion, and proper form are just some of the problems that runners experience, while others struggle with the right mindset during long running sessions. Incorporating yoga into your training schedule can help address some of these issues. Here are some of the ways that runners can benefit from adding yoga to their weekly workouts.
An earlier blog post addressed the importance of cross-training for endurance athletes. Runners may have strong legs that can withstand different terrains, but many of us are weak when it comes to our upper body or core strength.
Yoga, on the other hand, targets all muscle groups, which makes it a great cross-training exercise. It’s especially effective for building core strength, which runners need for better stability. A study in the Journal of Biomechanics also found that a strong core is the key to preventing back pain. Researchers explained that running increases the load on the spine and superficial muscles tend to compensate, which leads to a higher injury risk. Exercises like planks, which are performed repeatedly during a single yoga session, challenge a runner’s core stability and in turn, enhance spinal stability.
If you look at sprinter Andre de Grasse’s running form, you’ll notice that he tends to keep his right arm stretched while he runs, instead of keeping it bent like most sprinters. He attributes this effect to a hip imbalance from an earlier injury. Increasing awareness of similar functional disparities can help the biomechanics of your running. One of the many things you’ll learn from practicing yoga regularly is how to listen to your body. Yoga is about bringing symmetry to our bodies and we often don’t realize that we have a muscular imbalance—until we step on a yoga mat.
Rather than flexibility, runners should focus on increasing mobility while practicing yoga. Many runners develop tight hip flexors, which can cause runner’s knee and lower back pain. Former British Olympian Kelly Holmes revealed that she used to receive anti-inflammatory injections to counteract tight muscles in her lower back and glutes. Her advice for marathon training is to incorporate yoga as a way of taking care of one’s body. Runners will be pleased to discover that yoga boasts some life-changing hip-opening poses, which can loosen tight hips, improve range of motion and greatly reduce pain.
While the value of stretching before a workout is still debatable, no one doubts the benefits of a cool-down. Yoga is the perfect post-run recovery technique to relieve any tension that may have developed during a run. Step on a mat after training and your hamstrings will thank you.
Yogis and runners share a love of breath awareness—at least they should. Pranayama, a breathing exercise done in yoga, can be a valuable pre-race exercise, as it trains the mind to be conscious of breathing at all times. It’s a great way to soothe the nervous system, deal with pre-race jitters, and improve pacing.
Running and yoga are both forms of moving meditation. Even if the body is capable, most of the time the biggest roadblock is the mind. Yoga trains the mind to manage distractions, boredom and self-doubt. Tapping into a yogic mindset on the trail can do wonders for your running and help you break through that mental wall.
The next time your running pals mention that they’re heading to a yoga class, ask if you can tag along. From strength building to mindfulness, the physical and mental health effects of yoga can be incredibly rewarding for runners.