Many runners are hesitant to add yoga to their weekly workout schedule. They feel like they don’t have any time for it given how many runs they do each week, or they don’t see the benefits of adding yoga to their routine.
In reality, yoga is the perfect complement to running. And practicing yoga regularly can help improve running performance.
Wondering about the benefits of yoga for runners and how runners can easily add yoga into their routine? Read on to find out everything you need to know.
Benefits of Yoga for Runners
Practicing yoga is beneficial for both the body and the mind. Anybody can benefit from adding some yoga into their weekly routine. Runners who are looking to improve their performance, prevent injury, take care of their bodies, and gain more mental focus should definitely do yoga a few times per week.
Here are a few specific ways that yoga running can help you run faster and longer than ever before.
Better Breath Control
The foundation of yoga is linking breath with movement. While this sounds like an easy task, it’s harder than you’d think. In our mile a minute world, we rarely slow down to focus on our breath.
Runners are more aware than most of how breath powers movement. If you’re struggling to breathe during a run, your performance tanks quickly.
Yoga teaches you how to pay close attention to your breath and how it feels in your body. It also teaches you how to keep the focus on your breath as you move, and use your breath to power you through pose transitions or hold a pose when it feels tough.
The breathwork practices that accompany yoga also train you to breathe more deeply than you normally would, which brings more oxygen to your muscles. This increased oxygen allows for better muscle performance and less fatigue.
Learning more about how breath impacts movement through regular yoga practice can help improve any runner’s breath control, which leads to better runs.
Build Strength in Different Muscle Groups
Running requires a lot of strength in many muscle groups, but also very specific muscle groups.
When you run frequently, you’re using and often overusing a very specific set of muscles. If these muscles are overused frequently without focusing on strength in opposing muscle groups, our bodies start to overcompensate. This overcompensation can lead to injuries.
Yoga is a total body exercise that helps build strength in all your muscle groups. Through yoga, runners can build strength in muscle groups that they don’t use when running.
Building strength in these underused muscle groups provides more balance and stability. It also ensures that the muscle groups used in running are properly supported so that overcompensation doesn’t occur. This helps prevent injury.
Runners who are looking to keep their whole body strong and prevent injury can achieve these goals by adding a few yoga practices into their routines.
Keep Muscles Loose and Limber
Every runner knows that running multiple times per week leads to some pretty tight, sore muscles. Most avid runners know that stretching before and after runs is essential. Some do and some don’t. The ones who don’t eventually pay for their lack of stretching with an injury.
If you’re not great at stretching on your own around your runs, yoga is the perfect opportunity to give your tight, sore muscles the attention they need.
Yoga stretches out all your major muscle groups. And many of the poses focus on stretching muscles that are particularly tight in runners – hamstrings, quads, and hips.
When you hold yoga poses for extended periods of time, the fascia (the connective tissue between the muscles) lengthens. This leads to looser, more limber muscles.
The heat that you build by doing poses in quick succession, such as when you do sun salutations, also helps improve the stretches because your body is warm while you stretch.
Any runner who struggles with tightness and soreness will feel better if they take the time to really stretch their muscles. And practicing yoga is the perfect opportunity!
Runners are very prone to overuse injuries. These injuries occur because running creates imbalances in the body by overusing specific muscle groups. When those muscle groups become too tight from overuse, injury occurs. When those muscles groups aren’t supported by the surrounding muscle groups, injury occurs.
Practicing yoga regularly ensures that both muscles don’t get too tight, and that the muscle groups not used by running are strong enough to support the muscle groups that are used by running.
Yoga also teaches you how to be acutely aware of how your body feels and what it’s telling you. Runners are often trained to shut off what their body is telling them so they can push through a tough run.
But not listening to your body when it’s trying to tell you something important — like you’re about to get hurt — can lead to injury. Learning to tune in and listen to your body while maintaining movement, the way you do in yoga, can help runners listen to and respect their bodies’ signals.
So, yoga can be an essential part of injury prevention for runners.
Increased Mental Focus and Toughness
When a run doesn’t feel good, when it gets really hard, it takes a lot to push through that and continue the run. It takes a lot of mental focus and mental toughness to push through like that.
Runners who choose to race, especially long distances, really need mental focus and toughness to succeed. But even runners who don’t compete will need to call on that mental focus and toughness at some point.
Yoga is as much a practice for the mind as it is the body. When you practice yoga, you turn the focus inward and learn to calm the mind. And you learn how to take that calmness into your movement.
When a pose feels really hard during practice, yoga encourages you to use the breath and mental focus to maintain the pose. Yoga challenges you to use the power of mind and breath to push through, which builds mental toughness.
Runners that are looking to improve the mental aspect of their running will learn a lot from practicing yoga regularly.
How to Add Yoga into Your Weekly Routine
If you’re now convinced that yoga will benefit your running, you’re probably wondering how you can add some yoga practice to your weekly routine.
The good news is that you can see benefits by adding a yoga practice to any part of your weekly routine. It doesn’t really matter if you practice yoga before or after you run. And if you choose a gentle yoga practice like Hatha yoga, Yin yoga, or Restorative yoga, you can practice on the days that you run too!
Yoga really fits anywhere in your weekly routine, as long as you choose your practice well. What does that look like?
On your cross-training days, you can add a Power Yoga class to build both strength and cardio. Or you can choose a Vinyasa class that focuses on holding poses for a long time to build strength.
On days when you have runs scheduled, choose a slow class that focuses on holding poses to stretch the muscles. Hatha, Yin, and Restorative classes are a great way to prepare for a run or recover from a run.
On rest days you can choose a slow class that focuses on meditation and breathwork, so you can mentally and physically prepare for your next run.
Start by adding one or two classes to your weekly routine on cross-training or rest days. When you get more used to practicing, you can add as many practices as you want to your weekly routine.
Yoga Poses That Help Runners
Any of the poses you encounter in a yoga sequence have some benefit for runners. Poses that stretch the muscle groups you constantly use when you run are the ones that will provide the most benefit initially.
Here are some of the best stretches for after running that focus on stretching your hips, hamstrings, and quads — since these are probably the muscle groups that need the most attention.
Pigeon pose is perfect for stretching your inner and outer hips, your glutes, and your back.
Bring one leg forward, with your shin parallel to the top of the mat and your leg bent. Your other leg stretches out straight behind you. Slowly fold forward and hold the pose for 10 to 15 breaths.
When you complete one side, switch to the other.
Saddle pose is a great pose for stretching out your quads and your back.
Sit upright on your heels. Slowly reach behind you and plant your hands with your fingertips pointing toward your butt. Slowly fold your torso backward until you feel a big stretch in your quads.
Hold for 10-15 breaths.
Forward folds are wonderful for your hamstrings and your back. And they can be practiced in many ways to stretch these muscles in a different way.
While sitting, extend your legs out in front of you. Fold over your legs, reaching for your toes. Hold for 10-15 breaths.
Or you can stand with your legs wide apart and slowly fold forward, reaching for the floor. This wide-legged standing forward fold has the additional benefit of stretching your hips as well as your hamstrings and back.
Lizard pose is the ultimate pose for runners because it hits all your sore areas – hips, back, hamstrings and glutes.
Step one foot forward and leave the other leg long behind you, coming into a runner’s lunge. Lower the knee of the extended leg. Step the front foot out to the edge of your mat, creating more space. Plant both hands inside the front foot and lean into the pose. If you have the flexibility you can come down to your elbows.
Hold for 10-15 breaths.
Yoga and Running – The Perfect Pair
Runners who want to improve their performance, care for their bodies and minds, and feel better will see awesome benefits from adding yoga practice to their weekly routine. Regular yoga practice offers runners the opportunity to cross-train, rest, and recover — which makes it the perfect complement to any running regimen.
For more information about yoga for runners and other benefits of yoga, check out our blog.