Whether you’re new to pounding the pavement, an occasional runner, or a seasoned fanatic, yoga can support you and improve your game dramatically. Preventing injury, improving efficiency of movement, or aiding recovery are all great benefits the practice has to offer. Here’s the top six ways yoga can work for you:
1. Injury prevention
Simple stretches and joint articulations before hitting the road or track can help prepare the body and ensure blood and fluids are flowing to the tissues and joints efficiently. Sun salutations, for instance, can ensure that the major muscle groups are already warm and moving through a good range before you run and add more weight and impact. Yoga also strengthens and stretches the many muscles of the feet and ankles, helping the natural architecture of these foundations work well, giving you more spring in your step.
2. Balancing overuse of specific muscles
Although arguably we evolved to run regular, long distance (check out Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run), these days we also sit for many, many hours a day. We’re not active from dawn till dusk like our ancestors may have been. As a result, our hip flexors, quads, and hamstrings can become especially tight or contracted. Running can compound this, and impact everything from bad posture to back pain and even shoulder and neck issues. Yoga is a way to balance this over-preferential usage out.
3. Muscular activation where it matters
Importantly, poses like chair, one legged bridges, and lunges with held glute squeezes can help fire up lazy glutes and hamstrings. This is a problem we’re seeing more and more in a sedentary population, so its important that before you run you activate these powerful muscles so they’re the ones you rely on, not smaller compensatory muscles that will tire more quickly.
4. Increased lung capacity
Yoga, like running and swimming, can help increase our available lung capacity. Partly by simply stretching and releasing the muscles and tissues surrounding the rib cage and spine, but also by encouraging efficient movement of the diaphragm, training us to breathe deeply with this primary muscle of respiration, rather than overly-relying on secondary muscles in the upper chest.
5. Stronger mental focus and resilience
Yoga increases body awareness, proprioception (our ability to know where our body and limbs are in space), and cultivates concentration and focus. Focusing on the breath and doing tricky balancing poses can help to sharpen the mind whilst long held, strong postures (think boat pose or side planks), teach us to stay with discomfort and therefore increase our mental resilience.
6. Speeds up recovery
After running, lactic acid can build up in the muscles, particular the thighs and calves. Stretching and moving in slow controlled ways, like we do in yoga, helps speed up recovery and re-lengthens muscles that have become tight, contracted, or overly activated due to the repetitive action of your stride. This improves our ability to switch from effort to release. Muscles that can release and relax can be more easily nourished by the other functions of the body which the parasympathetic nervous system regulates.
So get out there and on to your mat, not just the road or the treadmill. Get started with our yoga for runners video series here.
This article was written for Warrior Addict by the amazing James Rafael. For more about James, click here
We would like to give credit to Explore Inspired and Nick Nacca Photography for the images used in this article