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As runners we often approach our grueling sport with a one-track mind. Most runners have been told that incorporating yoga into their running regime can yield extreme benefits. Muscles that profit from a yoga practice include hamstrings, hip flexors, quads, abdominals, IT band, glutes, lower back, and even your feet. You could say the benefits are innumerable. But how can you bring yoga into your running routine if you’re new to the practice?
Here are some answers to common questions runners have when it comes to incorporating yoga into their weekly sweat sessions:
Why should runners practice yoga?
Not only does yoga elongate your muscles, it also aids in muscle recovery and helps prevent injuries (and helps tremendously with stiffness)—all crucial for runners. If you’re seriously into running, why not do all you can to reduce your risk of injury? It’s no secret runners are prone to injury.
What if I don’t have a lot of time for yoga?
If you already log a lot of miles during the week, finding even more time for yoga may seem impossible. This is a question Cari Merriam with CorePower Yoga gets a lot. If you’re short on time and looking to create more flexibility in your legs, hamstrings, quads, and calves, Cari suggests forward folds, half splits, standing splits with jivamukti squats, pyramid pose, extended hand to big toe pose, Lord of the Dance pose, and downward dog crossing one heel over the other—holding each for three to five breaths. Modify as needed.
You can also make time for yoga right when you wake up with these five morning yoga hacks.
Can you practice yoga and run in the same day? Is one better to do before the other?
Short answer: It depends. “This is dependent based on what type of yoga you are practicing,” Cari says. “A good rule of thumb is to do active yoga postures to engage your core and warm up large muscles groups prior to running. For example, if your routine prior to running includes active postures like crescent lunge, warrior II, chair, squats, or lunges, after you run you want to incorporate more passive stretching—think half splits, runners lunge, supine figure four, and forward folds.”
Other than stretching, how can yoga improve my runs?
April Jackson, co-founder of the fitness and lifestyle consultancy Sweat Everyday, gets this question a lot. “Yoga can benefit a runner’s gait through the balance and stability they work through in the yoga practice. Balance and stability improves the runner’s posture, allowing for a smoother stride and improved gait,” she says. “Yoga also helps runners improve their breathing by using diaphragmatic breathing, which helps runners improve aerobic endurance, allowing them to runner farther.”
Cara Gilman, a Massachusetts-based running coach and yoga teacher, agrees. “Yoga brings balance to your overworked muscles and provides the strength you need to support your running so you can do it more efficiently. Yoga is also strategic in helping you learn to meditate and focus yourself in the mental game of running, allowing you to challenge and push yourself,” she says.
How can yoga improve my mental endurance and keep me motivated?
“In yoga we create an intention or mantra, something to bring the mind back to when chatter erupts in the thoughts,” says Cari. “Utilize the same mindfulness in yoga and create an intention or mantra when you are running. When the mind turns on and tells you you can’t run any longer, conquer your thoughts by repeating your mantra. Maybe your mantra is something like, ‘I am strong, I am at peace, I am committed.'”
Is there a rule to balancing running and yoga?
It’s different for every athlete, but balance is key. Long runs should be balanced with a more relaxing type of yoga. “There are many styles of yoga to choose from to keep your body balanced and ready for more runs. To compliment your heavy training cycles, try a restorative yoga class for less intensive moves and more relaxed breathing and stretching. During the offseason, try a power yoga to build core strength, balance, and endurance,” explains Shahin Naghavi, owner of Yoga EaDo in Houston.
Overall, it’s about doing what feels good to you and treating your body with love. Try out some different poses, experiment with various run+yoga programs, and give your body time to adapt to this new practice. Yoga is all about being kind to yourself, so don’t worry if it takes a bit to settle into a new routine.
Jayme Lamm is a sports + travel + fitness writer based in Houston, TX. She lives for telling fun and unique stories, and when it comes to sports and athletes, she is always on the hunt for compelling human interest pieces. Her work has appeared in ESPN, CBS, Women’s Health, and many others, and she also founded the award-winning sports column The Blonde Side. Follow her many adventures on Twitter and Instagram @JaymeLamm.
This piece was originally published on Wanderlust.com on April 17, 2015.