By Nicole Kwan
The only thing standing between you and longer, stronger, faster runs is your yoga mat…
Yoga might not offer the heart-pounding high your routine run does, but it helps you improve your strength and flexibility in ways that a trail or a treadmill never could. Still not convinced you need to work it into your routine?
We took five common running goals and asked the experts to devise yoga routines to help you run longer, stronger, and faster.
YOU WANT: Total-Body Fitness (not just strong legs)
You need: Upper-body strength
The repetitive motions of running can lead to a lot of tightness in the neck, shoulders, hamstrings and hips. “Yoga brings more movement into your body, much more movement in the hips and a more relaxed face and shoulders (than running does),” says Barbara Ruzansky, owner of West Hartford Yoga in Connecticut. Yoga will also help develop your upper body to balance your already-strong legs. Try the following pose to give your legs a break and build arm strength. If anyone asks, you’re practicing a stealth spy move…
Try this: Side plank pose (vasisthasana)
This beginner version will help develop upper-body strength and awareness while also working the abs, says Sandy Blaine, co-director of the Alameda Yoga Station in California. Start in plank pose. With palms flat, push yourself away from the floor. Keep your shoulders away from your ears, and engage your abs. Then turn the left side of your body up toward the ceiling, bringing your left hand to rest on your left hip so your right hand supports you. Bend your left leg, placing your left foot flat on the floor in front of your right knee. Push your hips and right leg up away from the floor, trying not to sink. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Then switch sides. A strength move like this is best done two to three times a week to see improvement.
YOU WANT: Pain-Free Running
You need: Increased strength and flexibility
Yoga will eliminate the tightness that leads to pain by opening up your joints. But remember, safety first. “The tighter people are, the safer they need to be, especially with runners, who tend to be goal-oriented,” says Christine Felstead, owner of Yoga for Runners. “The muscles you use for running are strong but (running) doesn’t use all your muscles. A yoga pose requires all the muscles work in tandem.”
Try this: Cross-legged seated position (sukhasana)
Try sitting quietly in this pose to wind down after a run. “Sitting cross-legged is the simplest way to start opening up hips and increasing the lateral (outward) rotation of your hip joint,” says Felstead. Check to see if your hips are higher than your knees when you sit. If they’re not, sit on a rolled-up towel, folded blanket, block, or phone book. After a while, you may feel fatigue in your spine but engaging your abs will add some core work while you stretch the arches of your feet, ankles, knees, and quads. Sit for as long as you feel relaxed and be sure to switch the foot that’s in front every few minutes. You might stay there for only three minutes to start but you’ll be able to sit longer over time, says Felstead.
YOU WANT: Injury Prevention
You need: Perfect posture
“If you run and don’t do anything to maintain flexibility, chances are almost 100 percent that you’ll end up with a running injury sooner or later,” says Beryl Bender Birch, owner and director of The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute in East Hampton, New York. “It’s just critical to maintain a range of motion and stretch out the muscles that get tight from running.” Besides keeping you off the bench, that extra flexibility and movement comes in handy other places too (think: the bedroom). So stand up – you’ll look taller too.
Try this: Mountain pose (tadasana)
This simple-but-challenging stance will create better awareness of your body and improve your posture. Stand against a wall to find your postural alignment. This means you have to properly line up your body to the wall, which is harder than it seems. Bring your heels to the wall and tuck your chin slightly under. You’ll have two pockets of space at lower back and neck where your body does not touch the wall. Stretch your body gently upwards; you should feel taller. Then step away and try to maintain your posture. By stretching your spine from your tailbone through the crown of your head, you can lengthen your body, ward off shoulder pain, and keep your joints healthy. Apply this posture when you’re waiting to cross the street, to pay in the checkout line, or anytime you find yourself slouching (like now). Straighten up!
YOU WANT: Agility
You need: Correct stretching
You stretch before you run, but practicing a few yoga poses afterward when your muscles are warm will make you feel a whole lot better the next day. “Think of yoga like a clay pot,” says Mark Blanchard of Mark Blanchard’s Power Yoga Centers. “If you just try to bend it, it will break. If you add warmth, you can bend into anything. When it relaxes and cools off it stays in shape.” You actually strengthen muscles by making them soft. “The definition of health in a muscle is not hardness. Even though a muscle may feel hard it’s actually weak,” says Jean Couch, owner and director of The Balance Center in California. Tense muscles don’t receive blood, so use yoga after you run to keep your muscles open for movement-enabling oxygen.
Try this: Legs-up-the-wall pose (viparita karani), variation
Lie down with your right foot through a doorway and left leg up against the wall. Extend your legs without locking your knees. Hold for five to 10 full breaths for a good hamstring stretch, says instructor Sandra Safadirazieli. As you loosen up, bring your upper body closer and closer to the door until you can put a strap around your foot for a stronger stretch. If you don’t have a strap, use a belt or sturdy scarf. The ultimate goal is to hold onto the big toe with your second and third fingers, but work your way up slowly.
YOU WANT: Faster Recovery
You need: Consistent yoga practice
Yoga can help you recover faster by preventing a buildup in scar tissue. “Yoga uses the elastics of the body and breathing to move oxygen, which moves scar tissue so it doesn’t coagulate and settle in one spot,” says Blanchard. He recommends alternating days of running and yoga but practicing sun salutations every day. The flow makes for a good pre-run warm-up to energise and focus your mind and body. But don’t cheat – it’s not a substitute for a full yoga sequence. Take 15 to 20 minutes for sun salutations pre-run, working at your own pace and following your breath.