Have you ever wondered if yoga can support your running practice? I have many runners in my yoga class and specifically, one took up yoga to help them complete a half marathon. Common downsides to running can be a decreased flexibility, sore muscles and tight hips and shoulders.  Yoga can be an excellent way to counteract the negatives that come with running regularly or for long distances. Pounding the pavements can have a negative impact on your joints so care needs to be taken to make sure they are looked after as we get older. Mobilising the joints daily can support the health of the joints that are impacted by running. Practising yoga asanas can help strengthen and improve flexibility in targeted areas of the body. Yoga flows that elevate the heart rate can also help with endurance and stamina in cardiovascular exercise. 

It may look easy but yoga is actually quite demanding (see our Isn’t Yoga Easy?  blog). It requires lots of smaller muscles to work hard which usually just go along for the ride in other fitness disciplines. This hard work helps to strengthen these smaller muscles which in turn help to support the larger muscle groups when performing other exercises like running. The core is also used in a lot of yoga asanas which will help to strengthen the abdominal muscles. This will benefit runners as the core muscles help to stabilise the pelvis, hips and lower back ensuring they work together. A strengthened core can also aid balance.

This strengthening and stretching of muscles can help to increase your stride length when running. You can cover more ground in less time as you naturally place one foot further ahead than you used to.

A key aspect of yoga is breath work. In yoga, a lot of focus is on connecting the breath to movement to help create a sense of calm in the body. This can be a beneficial practice for running too. Most runners agree that regulating ones breath is key to finding a rhythm in their pace and ensuring they have endurance to push through the mental barrier to keep placing one foot infront of the other. The debate about breathing through the mouth versus the nose is still raging on with supposed benefits of both.

The argument for breathing through your mouth is that the heart is pumping faster as you run demanding more oxygen. Breathing through the mouth can take in more air than through the nostrils. This means that more oxygen is being taken in by the body and more carbon dioxide being expelled.

Breathing through the nose can bring a sense of calm, just like it can in yoga. Think about it, when you are stressed or after a hard workout how do you breathe to make it feel less laboured – through the nose. This could be the key for running as well. Do you really want to encourage a rapid, ragged breath while exercising or would it be more beneficial to keep a steady rhythm when inhaling and exhaling? Breathing through the nose could encourage this calmer state and actually use economy of oxygen – only using what you need. Other posed benefits include the air being filtered in the nostrils before entering the body as well as the air being warmed on entering meaning the lungs won’t dry out as easily. Initially, you may find that your pace decreases as you adapt to breathing through your nose but over time, your pace can match that of when you breathed through your mouth. Practising yoga can support this adaption of breathing through your nose as this is focused on in yoga classes.

Personally, I always found my mind to be the hardest thing to overcome when out for a run – it wanted to give up way before my body needed to. Another skill that is cultivated in yoga is a meditative state. This is nurtured in Savasana (relaxation at the end of the class) but is encouraged throughout as the body and mind connects. This calmer state could translate over into your other fitness disciplines if harnessed meaning you can use the skills honed in your yoga practice to keep a zen state of mind while running. Next time you are running, try to clear the mind and focus on counting your breaths if you get intruding thoughts. 

Here are some key asanas that can help you mobilise, strengthen and stretch key areas of the body that can take a beating when you run.

 

  1. Supta Padangusthasana (reclined big toe pose)                                                                          

This asana is great for stretching the hamstrings and calves. You can do this with a strap (or tie) round the ball of the foot or with your hands on the leg. You can also increase the strength in this pose by making it an active hold instead of it being passive. Can you remove the strap or your hands and hold the leg in position using just your leg strength. You won’t have as much range of motion as in the passive hold but you will be increasing the mobility of the joints.

2. Janu Sirsasana (head to knee pose) 

This is another great asana for increasing the flexibility of the hamstrings and calves. The quads are used a lot during a run so strengthening the hamstring can help even out the imbalance and hopefully help to prevent injury. You can use a strap round the ball of the foot if your foot is too far away to reach with your hands or you could progress this by laying your chest along your leg and holding a yoga brick beyond your foot if you are super flexible. This is a great asana to stretch out at the end of a run.

3. Utthan Pristhasana (lizard lunge) 

You may recognise this as very similar to the classic runners’ lunge. It has particular benefits for the hip flexors, hamstrings and quads. After a run, you should be able to feel this one! This asana can be practised in a high or low lunge variation (back knee raised off of or kept on the floor) and both hands are placed on the inside of the bent knee. For an increase in flexibility, you can lower onto the forearms to really feel it in the hip

4. Virabhadrasana II (warrior 2) 

Asanas that are great for opening the hips and making you feel strong and powerful are any of the Virabhadrasanas – they are literally translated as warrior poses so how could you not feel strong in them? These are asanas which are great to stay in for as long as possible as you encourage the body to work harder and deeper the longer you hold it for. Arms can be lowered if it is too demanding on the shoulders. Just ensure you can see the foot beyond the bent knee to keep it safe.

5. Parsvottanasana (pyramid) 

Another strong standing asana, this is great at strengthening the hamstrings. Take this one at your own pace and use a wall or chair to support the forward fold if you feel particularly tight. Make sure both feet are parallel as the back foot can have a tendency to flare out to the side and ensure you square off the hips before folding forward. 

6. Ardha Kapotasana (half pigeon) 

This is a personal favourite of mine as I can really feel this one working my hip and opening it to its full capacity. Again this one can be quite a passive stretch using the support of the hands on the floor or to really spice it up and improve your active range of motion, lift those hands off the floor and use the strength in the legs to hold for as long as possible. Feel the burn!

7. Balasana (child’s pose)

This asana is just beautiful and a perfect way to finish any exercise. If you can’t get your head to the floor or your buttocks to your heels, pad it out with a yoga block, cushion or blanket. This should be restful while still working your ankles, hips and thighs. Enjoy!

So can yoga make you run faster?

As you can see yoga can really benefit your running practice and in time, I really think these can have an effect on your speed. Give some of these techniques a go and see how it improves your time.

For a handy summary of these key asanas, look out for and save the post coming soon to my Instagram page for your future runs.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming yoga class for runners at strengthpoweryoga.com or sign up to our mailing list to be first to hear when it is released.

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