Running challenges the body in its own, specific way. Yoga is the perfect companion to your runs because it balances them out in the best possible way.
Many runners use Yoga as a recovery strategy because even just a simple routine releases tight areas, strengthens the weak ones and makes you less injury-prone. Counterbalancing your running training is key to injury prevention – around 80 % of running injuries happen because of repetitive stress, in other words, because we overuse certain parts of our bodies and we don’t always have the best technique. Improving your running technique is key to preventing injuries but so is recovery and how you complement your running.
When you run, every time you land on your foot, the impact is absorbed by your muscles, joints, spine, and connective tissue. This creates stress that may be stimulating for your body but if you repeat a certain movement thousands of times during your training, some muscles and tendons are inevitably going to get tighter. If this tightness reaches a point where it limits your range of motion, you’re facing a problem – a limited range of motion can shorten your stride and this may have a knock-on effect on your technique. Over time, it can lead to knee, hip and back problems as well as injuries.
But of course, it doesn’t have to be that way!
What muscles work when you are running?
Even though your whole body is moving when you’re running, some muscles work a lot more than others. Your quads, glutes, hamstrings, TFL (tensor fasciae latae), IT band, calf muscles and foot flexors all propel you forward and stabilize your body, while core muscles are holding your posture. All these muscles get an intense workout but their movements are limited to a fairly narrow range of motion. At the same time, your chest, upper back, shoulders and arms are moving but their movement doesn’t require much strength and is also helped by the dynamics of the running motion.
Then, there’s the hard-working and often forgotten muscle – the psoas. It’s a strong muscle running from your lumbar spine, through your pelvis all the way to the upper part of your inner thigh bone. Every time you lift your knee, the psoas contracts and every time your leg swings back, the psoas lengthens. If your running pace is 180 strides per minute, each psoas contracts 90 times per minute! A tight psoas can cause all sorts of issues, such as back, hip or groin pain, and can even tilt your pelvis out of alignment. To find out how your psoas is doing, lie on your back with both legs straight, then bend one knee and pull it to your chest. If the other leg either lifts off the floor or you feel a strong pulling sensation deep in your belly on the straight leg side, then your psoas is too tight. Switch sides to find out how the other one’s doing.
In a nutshell, when you run, your lower half and core works a lot harder than your top half, and in general, everything’s getting a little tighter.
“In the sport of running, it’s common to have injuries all the time, often due to the lack of proper mobility. Most runners, myself included, know that Yoga helps them prevent those injuries but don’t like the esoteric side of the sport. This is exactly the reason why I love SkillYoga. It helps me improve my flexibility and reduces the possibility of injuries.”Eugen Schiller – Athlete
What’s Yoga got to do with running?
All those muscles that are being worked hard in your running training can regain their length with Yoga – it can help open up your hips and hamstrings, lengthen your stride, help you maintain good posture, prevent back and joint pain, and avoid injuries.
Try this Skill Yoga practice if you’re a runner!
Your hip flexors – the quads, psoas, inner thigh muscles, and tensor fasciae latae – tend to be shortened not just by running but also by sitting so they are always in need of lengthening. Lunges with the knee on the floor and the back upright, warrior poses and twists are great for hip flexor release. If your muscles are so tight you cannot hold the pose, use a prop, such as blocks to gain some extra space for your body.
Glutes, hamstrings and calves – the back of your legs – are also in serious need of stretching to prevent stride limitations, overuse injuries and pain. Yoga takes care of them with forward bends, twists, and hip releasing poses, such as the pigeon pose.
Those muscles that are not working so hard when you run, such as arm and chest muscles, are very much needed in Yoga so they get the extra workout there. All the arm balances train your upper body and core, but even a good old downward dog is excellent for runners!
Yoga and running go hand in hand! It’s best to do Yoga after your runs – right after your training or the next day to help your recovery. Practicing Yoga before you run has its benefits but all the muscles that get tightened by running are best served if you do Yoga afterward.
READ MORE: HOW TO BEST WORK ON TIGHT HIPS AND HAMSTRINGS
Any Yoga will serve your body but runners have specific needs – the lower body needs lengthening while the upper body needs strengthening. We have a great, 30-minute Yoga practice to get you started.
Feet, calves and Yoga
Your feet are amazing in that they can absorb huge impacts and do it over and over again. However, they deserve some special attention, so you can avoid serious issues down the line. In Yoga, kneeling with the tops of your feet flat on the floor, and leaning backwards until your knees lift helps to release foot flexors.
Kneeling with your toes tucked under then helps to stretch out your sole muscles and fascia – if you do this on a regular basis you’ll feel a huge difference! At first, you may not be able to even put your weight down on your heels but over time, your feet muscles and fascia will release their tension and you’ll feel amazing. This type of footwork also helps to prevent issues such as plantar fasciitis.
Speaking of healthy feet – well-fitting running shoes are a must and so is a good running technique! It’s worth investing some time and money into making sure you run well and that your feet are getting the protection they need.
Another problem area for runners is the Achilles tendon – it’s a super-strong tendon at the back of your calf, attaching the calf muscles to the heel. It can cause a lot of trouble and get inflamed, so you’d better stretch your calves really well! Downward dog and deep squats in Yoga are excellent for Achilles tendon and help to keep it at its natural range of motion.
For me as an athlete, Skill Yoga balances me. I train for the triathlon and had already done yoga occasionally before. Through Skill Yoga, I found a complete package. Through the workouts, I have stability, strength, and agility in one. That’s why I chose Skill Yoga and I’m thrilled. Skill yoga is also ideal as a supplement to fitness training. Skill yoga is ideally suited not only for experienced but also for yoga beginners.Marcel Fuchs – Triathlete
Yoga for IT band recovery
The IT or iliotibial band is a thick sheet of fascia running along the outside of the thigh, from above the hip to just below the knee. It connects muscles from all those areas, helps to stabilize the hip and the knee, and helps to move your thigh. It’s the largest piece of fascia in the human body! When it works well, you don’t even know it exists but when there’s a problem, it can stop you in your tracks and make running impossible.
The IT band syndrome is a term for a number of issues caused by an overuse of the IT band resulting in pain in the hip, outer thigh or knee area, inflammation, tightness and even difficulty walking. Runners often have IT band problems, particularly when they change the intensity of their training faster than the body can adapt to, or if they train on uneven surfaces requiring more stabilization action from the IT band.
If you have issues with the IT band, you’ll have to ease off or stop your running training to recover but that’s where Yoga comes in super handy. It can be a crucial part of your recovery. Yoga positions in which you twist your upper against the lower body or open the hips will be helpful because the IT band has a tendency to shorten and these poses help to lengthen it again. Be patient because the IT band takes a while to recover but you will get there!
One more benefit
Yoga has countless physical benefits for runners but there’s more. Yoga also teaches you to be mindful, to focus and work with your breath – priceless for improving your runs! Being more mindful helps you to be more aware of your body and what’s going on but it also helps you to focus on the here and now and leave your worries behind for a while. That in itself can improve the quality of your training and help you with pre-race nerves.
The breathwork you learn in Yoga helps you breathe deeper and slower, and that’s another benefit that translates into your running because by breathing deeper you’re bringing more oxygen to your muscles.
See? Yoga and running are the perfect match!