Balance your training with yoga
Sara Eve Alarie
Yoga can help you balance external running goals with inner mental focus. It can also strengthen your core and increase muscle flexibility.
Whether you’re training for a road race or you’re a recreational runner, adding yoga to your routine can help you tune in to your body and build balance, strength, and flexibility.
Running and yoga can both be forms of meditation. Both activities encourage our minds to clear through repetitive motion and focusing our eyes on the present moment. Yoga teaches us to tune in to subtle cues from our bodies. Listening to aches caused by running and having these pains treated can help prevent injury. Knowing how our body works and how pairs of muscles work together can help with our running form.
Spending time in a yoga class focusing on breathing is thought to help with mental focus and tenacity on longer runs. You can use simple breathing techniques learned in yoga class to mentally prepare for a long run or to calm and centre yourself before a race.
Our mental and physical balance can improve through a regular yoga practice. While running, we may pay attention to personal records, the distance we’re running, and other external factors. Yoga can be a way to balance this external focus with internal attention. Yoga also develops our physical balance and alignment—this may improve our running form.
Without sufficient strength, proper running form can suffer during longer runs. Having a strong set of core muscles can help us maintain good running form when our leg muscles begin to tire.
Runners can experience tightness in their muscles, particularly in the hamstrings, quads, and calves. Yoga asanas (poses) can be considered cross training in a running program and used to stretch our muscles after a run. Research suggests that yoga might help lessen muscle soreness after exercise. Yoga can also help maintain and increase our range of motion and flexibility.
Try these poses after a shorter run when your muscles are warm, or use them to design a brief cross-training session on a non-running day. Remember to warm up your muscles with 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity before stretching.
This posture helps to stretch the leg muscles, soles of the feet, and ankles. It also helps strengthen the ankles; this may be helpful for runners to prevent rolling on them.
This posture opens the hips, bringing more mobility into this part of your body. You may also feel a deep stretch in the backs of your legs and glutes.
The iliotibial (IT) band runs from the hip to the outer side of the shin, below the kneecap. One of its functions is to stabilize the hips and knees when walking and running. Keeping your IT band in good shape will help you maintain your running schedule. This pose is helpful for stretching your IT band.
This series of movements helps improve balance and, when done with proper form, helps build core muscle strength. Using your core effectively while running will help with your form, particularly when your legs tire on longer runs.
This posture can help prevent lower back pain, stretches the hips, and stretches and strengthens the thighs. Only come as deep into the posture as feels comfortable for your body.
Out of the many yoga classes to choose from, Yin yoga and Vinyasa yoga are two popular styles you’ll see studios offering.
Yin classes typically hold postures for longer than a Vinyasa class and tend to focus on alignment and proper form, so Yin classes are great on rest days. More active Vinyasa-style classes flow in and out of poses more quickly, and are a great option for cross training.
If you are new to yoga, consider joining a class to learn proper form. Some yoga studios are beginning to offer yoga classes specifically for runners. Use props to help you, and try not to judge your “performance” in a yoga class. Be gentle with yourself.
If you are trying to increase the distance you run, consider training with a running group in your community to learn how to increase the intensity and frequency of your runs without injury.
As always, consult your health care practitioner if undertaking a new activity. If not practised carefully with safe alignment, yoga can add strain on the knees (as can running), so be especially mindful of your knees.