Whether you’re jogging around the block, hitting the treadmill for 20 minutes or training for the marathon, running is an amazing workout for the body and the mind. Not only will running strengthen your muscles and boost your happy-hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, researchers have also established strong links between cardio exercise and stress-reduction, improved memory function and cognition.
Like most forms of intensive exercise, running puts a strain on your muscles, ligaments, joints and tendons. Without any other form of movement or release, running will lead to tightness and reduced mobility, especially around the hips, whilst tightness in the hamstrings and IT-band are big causes of cumulative wear-and-tear on the knees, leading to injury.
Using yoga to compliment your running will not only help you to recover and protect yourself from injury but also improve your overall running performance. By focussing on postures that strengthen the core, lengthen the muscles of the hips, and create strength and stability around the pelvis, yoga can help runners to reduce the imbalances that cause injury and keep a stable and centred running form.
Practicing yoga will create some fatigue and relaxation in the muscles immediately after practice, so it's best to use yoga as part of your post-workout routine rather than as a warm-up before doing intense exercise. Check out these 7 yoga postures below that are essential for runners:
Start your routine by coming into child’s pose. This is a nice way to relax your whole body into the practice and immediately reduce pressure across the lower back, hips and knees. Rest the forehead onto the yoga mat, sit your bum back as far as it will (comfortably) go and focus on lengthening your spine. Rest here for a few minutes and concentrate your attention onto your breathing, aiming for a slow, deep and regular rhythm.
Perhaps the best all-round yoga posture for runners, downward dog will stretch out your hips, hamstrings, calves and foot arches. This posture will feel like a great relief after churning out a few miles on the road or treadmill. Begin in a Plank position and check that the tops of your shoulders are directly above the back of your wrists (if you’re using a Yogaline mat then you can use your tailor-made alignment markers). From this position lift your hips up to the ceiling and allow your chest to draw down and back towards your feet. Press the fingers and the knuckles down into the mat to help maintain a good shoulder alignment, relax your neck and allow the head to hang. It's ok to bend your knees in this pose if this feels comfortable.
Tight hip-flexors are the scourge of the modern age. Endless hours sat behind a desk cause the hip flexors to shorten over time, which causes the pelvis to tilt forward when we are standing. Add running into the mix and we have a potent cocktail for hip and lower-back strain, which can cumulate into injury over time. Coming into a low lunge position is one of the best ways to counter-act this effect. Start in either Downward-dog or Plank pose and from here bring your right foot forward to place on the mat between your hands. Lower the left knee down to the mat and point your left toes. Keeping the right foot down, raise up your torso and lift your hands above your head. Keeping the abdominals engaged and your right knees tracking above your right ankle, slowly sink down into the posture. You should feel a comfortable stretch across the left hip flexor. Repeat on the opposite side.
This posture adds length and strength to the key stabilisation muscles of the hips and legs. It is also great for building your balance and core proprioception, which will help runners to maintain good form as they rack up the miles. Begin in Downward-face Dog and bring the right foot forward to rest between your hands, sole flat on the mat. Turn your left foot out by 90 degrees so the toes are facing out to the side and raise your torso up to vertical position. Keeping your hips pointing to the side of the mat, keep the left leg strong and sink your hips down by bending the right knee on top of your right ankle. Extend both arms out and keep your gaze focussed on the fingers of the right hand. Hold the posture for a few breaths and then repeat on the opposite side.
Pigeon pose is an essential addition to the runner’s repertoire. Running any distance longer than a sprint usually requires that the legs are constantly moving back-and-fourth within a limited range of motion. This lack of full extension and flexion contributes to a shortening of the gluteals and muscles of the hips. Pigeon pose is a great way to relieve tension and lengthen any muscles that have tightened up. Start in Downward-facing dog and move your right leg forward so that the knee is just behind the right writes and the foot is tucked just above the left hip. Extend the left leg backwards, pointing the toes, and allow both hips to sink into the mat. If you have space you can allow your upper body to fold forward over the right leg and relax into the posture. Ensuring that you have no pain in the knee, rest in this pose for 1 minute and repeat on the opposite side.
Seated Spinal Twist
It's not all about the legs and the hips – running also requires your upper body to remain relatively fixed with limited motion over a long period of time, leading to tightness in the muscles of the back and neck. Loosen everything up with Seated Spinal Twist: from a seated position, bend your left knee bringing the left foot up to the right hip, then cross the right leg over the top of the left, placing the right foot on the mat outside of the left knee, making sure that both sitting-bones are in contact with the ground. From here, place the palm of the right hand flat on the mat just behind your back, inhale and straighten the spine, then exhale to twist around to your right-hand side. You can use the left hand to hold on to the right knee, or if comfortable you can move your left elbow to the outside of your left knee. Keeping a straight spine, slowly deepen into the pose for 1 minute. Repeat on the opposite side.
Finally, it's time to stretch out the big muscles of the back of the leg. Standing straight with feet together, inhale and stretch the arms up to the sky, then exhale and fold forwards from the hips. Without straining yourself, allow the torso to fold forward as far as is comfortable, relaxing the neck and letting the head hang. You can place your hands on the floor, on your knees or fold the arms and relax. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.