09 Sep 5 Ways How Yoga Will Improve Your Running
I’m 19 kilometers into a half marathon. It is raining like crazy. It feels like I am floating towards the finish line at an incredible pace. I feel AWESOME. 2km later I had my medal in hand and a personal best of 1:35:05. But it didn’t start out like that. Over the years, pounding the pavement day in and day out took a serious toll on my body and caused injuries. I thought I was just getting older, but I just needed other exercises to increase longevity in the sport and improve my performance. Let me tell you about the secret weapon I use to supplement my training: YOGA.
The Journey Begins…
Getting into yoga after a foot injury caused by long runs was definitely one of the best things that ever happened in my fitness life. I was always reluctant about yoga – seeing it as a boring, slow and steady set of exercises that you are forced to repeat for at least 90 minutes. But after I was left without a choice, I joined my first yoga class and got hooked – because once you find the right teacher you will soon realize that yoga is so much more that just “chilling”.
If you are a runner, you probably know the importance of a good stretch – skip your stretching routine for a few days and you will find yourself getting out of bed, stiff and with sore calves, thighs and back. And that’s exactly how most runners get into their yoga practice – they are looking for an exciting alternative to their normal stretching routine. Some, like myself, will turn toward yoga because we are looking for a quicker way to recover from an injury, and prevent future injuries. Nothing wrong with that – but there is so much more in yoga practice for runners than just getting a greater mobility in legs and hips.
1. Breathe it in, love it out.
ASANA - a yoga pose or posture or position of the body.
Have you ever experienced that short, stabbing sensation under your ribs that hits you in the middle of the run? I bet you did – most runners know exactly what I’m talking about. This “stitch’ comes from the lack of oxygen caused by short, shallow breaths So, of course, learning how to breathe in a harmless way is one of the most important issues for runners.
And what does yoga have to do with all of it? Well, yoga is primarily a breathing exercise. It’s not a workout, it’s not a gym session – it’s an exercise done through asanas. During yoga practice, you learn to hold a special type of long, steady breath called Ujjayi Breathing. Each movement in yoga is linked to a breath. Inhale, you move into a pose, exhale you move out of it. Through conscious breathing, we will increase oxygen intake and can help reduce performance anxiety. As runners, we can train ourselves to breathe calmly through physical struggle.
2. Keep it strong
``Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must. Just never give up.`` - Dean Karnazes
Building a strong core is one of the foundations of being a faster runner who can tackle longer distances. Strong core comes from doing poses that require balance and stability and those that challenge all the muscles in our torso. A well-planned yoga practice should include a series of balancing poses.
The main benefit of core strength for runners is increased stabilization within the torso. Your chest, lower back, abs, and obliques are your core muscles and that’s what keep your torso upright while you run and decrease “wiggling” when moving your arms & legs. If you have a strong core, your pelvis, hips and lower back works together smoothly while running, resulting in less rocking and less excess energy expended. Remember, it’s not the legs that are the foundation of your run – it’s definitely your core. Regular yoga practice will strengthen your core, help improve your balance and posture and will reduce the risk of developing injuries.
3. What Pain?
``I really regret that run`` - Said no one ever
When we run, we get microscopic tears in our leg muscles, which within days become sore and tight. If you forget about stretching, your muscles will become prone to more injuries.
Yoga is an excellent way to release tension and ease cramped muscles, promoting healing and giving us a better range of motion. Injuries are also commonly caused by the imbalances in muscle strength – for example, if your left calf is a bit stronger than your right one, a good yoga practice will immediately reveal and address these imbalances.
Runners who start practicing yoga will very often unexpectedly discover that they have a weak core and upper body, which can also contribute to injury. They might also realize that their legs are strong for running, but certain muscle groups are still weak – yoga will help to balance it out and strengthen the muscles that need strengthening.
4. The Muscle Doctor
``Part of a runner’s training consists of pushing back the limits of his mind.`` - Kenny Moore
There is nothing more important to keep your running form at top-level than appropriate recovery in between runs. You can use yoga asanas to recover faster and more efficiently from your runs. Incorporating a yoga practice after your run will help you feel less sore and certainly less tired the day after. Poses you do will help to prevent buildup in scar tissues around micro tears that happen in your muscles when you train.
Long runs will result in tense muscles – tense muscles don’t receive enough blood rich in oxygen, which is important for the recovery. A solid yoga practice can help you to recover faster between by increasing blood flow to your muscles.
5. The “Movement Diet”
“If specific movements were nutrients, most runners would be on a severely unbalanced diet” - Nick Ortego
In the same way it’s not suitable for the body to get 80% of its calories from one food source, it’s not optimal for one motion pattern to provide most of your movement. Our bodies need a very large movement variety to thrive. Overdoing one movement pattern without enough variety will eventually lead to imbalances and injuries. Yoga practice offers a complete movement practice, exploring the many options of movement the body can perform. This exploration helps your entire body’s muscles and connective tissues remain strong and elastic.
Just Do It
When I began my journey, I would have killed to get advice from someone who had already been through what I have and achieved their goal in the end. If yoga is not a part of your running routine, you should really consider starting now. I’m on a mission to help runners run faster with the help of yoga, so I’ve created a 3-day yoga for runners challenge. It is a free challenge that will help you breathe better while running, relieve tight hips and hamstrings, and recover quicker after runs. Only 10 minutes per day for 3 days and instructional videos are delivered to your inbox. If you haven’t joined this challenge yet, you can sign up here.