Yes, runners are fit! Great aerobic fitness, leaner muscle mass, lower resting heart rate, and more mental clarity are just a few hallmarks of a dedicated runner. But, running is also a one-dimensional sport, bringing with it some strength and flexibility issues. A repetitive, high impact sport like running stresses muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Fortunately, yoga is a perfect cross training option that provides many benefits to any runner.
Personally, I’m midway through my 50’s, and I plan (hope!) to keep running for the rest of my life. Yet, I know that my muscles are becoming a bit “crankier”. My posture and balance need work as well. I’m game for more mental clarity, and calmness in my daily life. Add to the list my propensity to be inflexible, and limited range of motion in my hips, and shoulders! In other words, as a runner and a human, I NEED the benefits of yoga.
It seems, though, that most runners need a lot of convincing to get on the yoga mat. A Runner’s World survey claims that 73% of runners don’t practice yoga. Given that, let the convincing begin.
IF you’re already convinced, but need some tips on how to best get started with yoga as a runner, here’s the info you need!
FIVE REASONS YOGA BENEFITS ANY RUNNER
Yoga STRENGTHENS muscles often ignored with running.
And, fortunately, not just the ones you rely so heavily on to run. Yoga uses muscles in varying positions that are different from running – which is perfect for cross training. Plus, it helps to stabilize and strengthen essential muscles for running within the trunk and hips. Yoga also lengthens chronically shortened muscles, whether from running, or a sedentary/sitting lifestyle.
According to Denise Thompson, a certified yoga instructor and owner of Yogirunner.com, “Unlike lifting weights, the practice of yoga engages major and minor muscle groups synergistically through a broad range of motions, and also creates space within the body by lengthening muscles and ultimately improving flexibility,” Thompson says. “Poses require focus and full body engagement, creating a strong sense of balance from head to toe.”
Yoga helps PREVENT runner INJURY.
Yoga benefits a runner by simultaneously strengthening and stretching muscles while on the mat. The strengthening of yoga not only benefits the muscles and tendons of a runner, but improves the flexibility ligaments, too. So what? That means you decrease your risk of tears, or strains that can set back your running progress.
You don’t need to have gymnast-like flexibility to run with fewer injuries. Yet, the stretching within yoga brings additional blood flow to your muscles, and greater range of motion within your joints, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dan Carbonell, a yoga teacher at Yoga Pod in Boulder, Colorado states, “Yoga helps runners access greater range of motion and joint mobility. More mobile joints impact stride length and running economy, which helps runners become more efficient as body mechanics improve.”
VARIETY for every need and season.
There is certainly not a one size fits all yoga practice. There is a wide variety of yoga. Plus, you can choose routines to focus on certain body regions (ie: core, arms, quads, etc.). I use the Peloton app. I love the variety it provides in body regions, degree of difficulty, and class length.
Regarding the variety of yoga, power yoga and hot yoga are more intense versions of yoga. They’re great for improving overall fitness by getting your heart rate up, and building muscle. That can translate into a faster pace, or improving your endurance for a long run.
Conversely, restorative yoga (sometimes called gentle yoga) can be a good option for runners logging high mileage/high intensity workouts each week.
The key is to use yoga to complement where you are in your running schedule/program. Meaning, high intensity yoga (ie hot yoga) paired with a high mileage or intensity run week/period is not a great idea. The goal is not to over-tax the body (or mind), but the opposite!
BRAIN training for runners
It’s no secret that running is a highly mental sport, where your outcome often is correlated to your mental outlook. Alas! Yoga benefits a runner in building mental focus as well.
With yoga, you can develop better focus and concentration. For example, when in the midst of a challenging pose, you focus on your breath to stay calm. Or, you’re aware of the difficulty of the pose you’re in, but muster the strength and calmness to maintain the pose.
Harness this practice, and apply it during a run. The awareness of your body’s sensations, environment, and negative thoughts that occur without caving into them is a valuable skill. Allowing yourself to have those thoughts/observations without an emotional response can certainly keep your run on track.
Plus, outside of running, yoga is just plain good for the brain. A 2019 review in the journal Brain Plasticity focused on the relationship between yoga and brain health. They found those who practice yoga have more gray matter volume in their brains! Essentially, that means better overall brain function, when it comes to aging, and even higher intelligence.
Helps to REST and RECOVER
There are times when I want to move, but gently, with the intent to relax, and feel calm. (After a wild day at work, for example!) An easy paced yoga session is just the ticket. It allows you to rest and recover while gently addressing some muscle imbalance, flexibility, and range of motion.
Fortunately, I’ve had no major injuries since I started yoga, but for those coping with an injury, it can provide a path to recovery while remaining active. “Injuries often need to rest, but doing restorative yoga, breathing and meditation are beneficial to improve healing and help with the emotional issues surrounding the injury,” notes Laura Covill. “As the tissues heal, yoga is a great strengthening activity.”
OK, I’m convinced — but how OFTEN?
A runner reaps these benefits from yoga with just two, or three sessions a week. And, the sessions don’t need to be hard-core, or lengthy either.