Running is just plain amazing. Some of my fondest running memories include runs within Central Park, in New York City.
Unfortunately, tight hamstrings, shin splints, and general stiffness are common by-products of running due to repetitive training and overuse. The result is a slower, less enjoyable run, or worse, an injury.
Want a solution? Add yoga to your running routine.
Yoga prevents injury in the body by sending oxygen rich blood to overworked muscles, which promotes healing. It also increases the runner’s range of motion and endurance through poses that encourage strength and flexibility, which can lead to a better race time.
While many yoga poses are great for runners, here are 4 of my favorite:
Downward Facing Dog
Injured or not, everyone should do this pose to improve their performance. It relieves shin splints and tight hamstrings, which can improve speed. Downward Facing Dog also opens the shoulders, which greatly assists with improving endurance because the runner has an easier time breathing.
1. Standing upright, with your feet hip-width distance apart, hinge at the hips to fold forward, taking the option to bend the knees as your head moves below your heart.
2. Place your palms down (on the ground or your yoga mat) and walk them forward until you are in the shape of a pyramid.
3. Give yourself a good foundation by spreading your fingers apart. Make sure your pointer fingers are pointing at twelve o’clock or turn the fingers, on each hand, toward the outer edges of the mat. In other words, don’t turn the hands to face each other as doing so will hurt the wrists.
4. Keep the head relaxed and press the shoulders away from the ears. Allow gravity to push the heels toward the mat (the heels do not need to be on the mat).
5. Stay for 3 - 4 long breaths.
This pose is powerful on its own or as part of a flow. If you feel a lot of pressure on your shoulders or if your hamstrings are tight, add a bend to the legs (look at the second image).
Eagle pose is great for relieving tight hips and shoulders while strengthening the ankles and calves. As you incorporate this pose into your routine, you might find that it is easier to develop speed and momentum in your runs.
1. Standing upright, reach your arms up, toward the ceiling or sky. Breathe in through your nose.
2. Exhale and take your arms down, wrapping the right arm under the left.
3. Begin to sit as if there is a chair behind you. Bring your right leg high above the left, and over the leg.
4. Take steady breaths in and out. With each breath, move your right hip toward the back while your left hip moves forward.
5. To release, unwind the arms and legs.
6. Repeat the pose with the left arm under the right, and the left leg over the right.
If you are unable to clasp the hands, for eagle arms, you can place the palms on the shoulders.
Usually the elbows remain at shoulder level in this pose. However, I adjust my elbows up or down when my shoulders are really tight and when I want to maximize the stretch.
If balance is a challenge, you can lightly rest your toes down, on the ground, rather than hooking the foot to the calf.
This pose gets EVERYTHING the runner needs, from the hip to the toes. It stretches the feet, calves, groin, and low back. Not everyone can drop the hips low, which is why I show another example. Don’t worry about the look of the pose. Enjoy how it feels!
1. Stand with feet hip-width distance apart or more. Look down at your big toes. Imagine yourself standing on two clocks, one under each foot. Turn the big toe, on the right foot, toward one o’clock. Turn the big toe, on the left foot, to eleven o’clock.
2. Sink the hips down as much as comfortable. Try to keep the heels down.
3. Take up to 10 steady breaths.
Press your elbows against the inner thighs to assist with the hip opening effect of the pose.
Try not to round the back. Rather, open the chest and give yourself a better opportunity to breathe!
Another great pose! This version of low lunge releases the hip flexors and groin. You could also feel a lovely stretch on your calves.
Add this to your running routine, and you should experience an increase in stride length over time.
1. Begin on your hands and knees. Bring the left foot forward, between your hands.
2. First ensure the left knee is stacked above the ankle. The knee should not be in front of the ankle.
3. Adjust the right knee (on the ground) backwards until you achieve a desired stretch. The idea is to feel a stretch or release primarily on the right side (hip flexor).
4. Allow gravity to assist you with sinking the hips/sit bones down. Press down with your left foot, which gives you access to shifting your left hip back while moving your right hip forward (squaring the hip).
5. Take 5 to 10 steady breaths, allowing your body to adjust and relax into the pose.
6. Repeat, with your right foot in front and left knee down.
Feel free to get curious with where to place your hands or arms. To adjust the intensity of the lunge you can move your fingertips or palms to the thigh, as pictured above. You can also place the palms on your low back (boney part) or reach the hands above your head.
For additional questions or if you are interested in private yoga and fitness sessions, please contact me. Skype and Facetime are always available when in-person interaction is not.
Disclaimer: I am a certified yoga teacher, however I am not your personal yoga teacher. Therefore these poses are for informational purposes only and are also based on my experiences. Exercise good judgement, and, as always, consult your physician prior to beginning any new exercise.