Yoga for Runners

31 August

We’ve all felt it – that little niggle in the ankle or slight strain in the calf as we’re halfway through a run. It can be deeply frustrating, particularly for new runners who find that their bodies aren’t keeping pace with their enthusiasm.

The problem, of course, is that running is repetitive, which means it puts strain on specific muscle groups. If you’re new to running your body needs time to adapt to that strain. Recovery time is important but it is also worth considering mixing up your exercise choices. That’s where yoga can come in useful.

Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India around 5,000 years ago, and since then has been adapted in different countries around the world. Today, there are more than 20 different types. All of them include specific postures, meditation and special breathing techniques, aimed at improving and maintaining physical and mental wellbeing.

While, it may look like everyone’s lying about on their mat relaxing, but regular yoga practice improves flexibility, strength and helps create a calm, more focused outlook on life. It can also be extremely useful for runners.

That’s because yoga helps to lengthen tight or strained muscles, stimulating recovery and restoring a natural range of motion, making it particular useful in helping runners avoid common injuries such as iliotibial band (IT) syndrome (where the ligament that runs down the outside of your thigh from hip to shin, is tight or inflamed) and plantar fasciitis. Yoga also strengthens your core, feet and ankles, especially helpful for road runners pounding the pavements.

Trail runners can benefit, as well, though, enjoying improved awareness of the position of their limbs in space – known as proprioception – thanks to balancing yoga postures, such as tree pose, eagle pose or half-moon pose.

Yoga can also improve running posture and breathing and can help you focus your mind to help you stay positive and be present in the current moment. This focus can be invaluable in endurance running when the thought of all those miles ahead of you can be overwhelming.

There are a number of simple yoga exercises that any runner can do to help stretch tired muscles and improve core strength. Take a look at our handy guide below:

 

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Leg stretches

POSE: Downward-facing dog

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Place hands and knees on the floor, making sure your knees are below your hips and hands slightly forward of your shoulders
  • Spread your palms and tuck your toes under
  • Lift your knees away from the floor, keep them bent at first and your chest close to your knees
  • Slowly straighten your knees (don’t lock them) trying to keep your chest in the same position to lengthen your back. You may be able to place your heels on floor, but only go as far as feels comfortable
  • Push through your feet and make sure your shoulder blades are pushed down your back. Let your head hang
  • Stay in this pose for a couple of minutes. If your thighs are stiff you can bend one knee and then the other to help loosen them. This is called ‘walking the dog’

 

BENEFITS:

  • Stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches and hands
  • Strengthens arms and legs
  • Can help relieve back pain and fatigue

 

POSE: Warrior II

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stand with your legs 3.5-4 feet apart, feet facing forward
  • Raise your arms parallel to the floor, palms down
  • Turn your right foot in slightly (so it’s pointing at eleven o’clock on an imaginary clock face) and your left foot out 90 degrees (as if pointing at nine o’clock)
  • Keeping your hips facing forward, bend the left knee – make sure it doesn’t go past your ankle
  • Stretch your arms long, still keeping your torso straight and facing forward
  • Turn your head to the left to look out over the tip of your fingers
  • Hold for up to one minute before repeating on the other side

 

BENEFITS:

  • Strengthens and stretches legs and ankles
  • Also good for stretching groin, chest, lungs and shoulders
  • Can help relieve backache

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Hip openers

POSE: Bound angle

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Sitting on the floor, pull bend your knees up to your chest. Let them drop to the sides and press the soles of your feet together.
  • Bring your heels as close to your pelvis as is comfortable or you. Either grasp the big toe of each foot with your hands or if easier clasp your hands around your ankles or shins.
  • Always keep the outer edges of your feet on the floor and never force your knees down.
  • Hold for up to five minutes (if your body allows)

 

BENEFITS:

  • Stretches inner thighs, groins, and knees
  • Stimulates heart and improves general circulation

 

POSE: Happy baby

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Lie on your back and bring your knees into your chest.
  • With your knees still bent, open your legs wider than your torso, places your arms on the inside of your thighs and grip your feet with your hands. If you can’t reach your feet, ankles or shins will work just as well.
  • Raise the lower half of your leg (knee to foot) so that your ankles are directly above the knee.
  • Flex your heels and gently push up through your feet and down through your hands. This helps create resistance.

 

BENEFITS:

  • Stretches inner groin and good for the spine

 

Core muscles

POSE: Plank

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Place hands and knees on the floor, making sure your knees are below your hips and hands are forward of your shoulders
  • You want them far enough forward that when you come up they are sitting directly underneath your shoulders
  • Tuck your toes under and lift up as if doing a press up
  • Make sure your back is straight and your neck is in line with your back. Do not drop the head
  • Keep your shoulder blades moving down your back
  • Push down through your arms and away through the balls of your feet
  • Hold for up to a minute at a time (if your body allows)

 

BENEFITS:

  • Strengthens arms, wrists and spine
  • Tones abdomen

 

POSE: Boat

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Sitting on the floor, legs straight, place your hands just behind and to the side of your hips, fingers pointing towards your feet
  • Keeping your back straight, lean back until you feel as though you are sitting on your tailbone
  • Bend your knees and lift your feet
  • If that feels comfortable, slowly straighten your knees (although it is perfectly fine to remain with bent knees)
  • Stretch your arms out along your legs parallel with the floor. If this is too much, you can leave your hands by your hips
  • Keep your shoulder blades down and drop your chin slightly to lengthen the neck
  • Hold for 10-20 seconds, building up to a minute

 

BENEFITS:

  • Strengthens abdomen, hip flexors and spine

 

Balance

POSE: Tree

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stand up straight and shift the weight slightly into your left foot
  • Bend your right knee and lift the sole of your foot, placing it against the left thigh. If this is too high for you, anywhere along the left leg will do. If you need to, you can clasp your right ankle to help ease it into place. The centre of your pelvis should be over your left foot
  • Keep your hips straight and facing forward
  • Press your hands together in prayer position and gaze softly at a fixed point in front of you to help with balance
  • Hold for up to one minute if your body allows and then repeat with the other leg

 

BENEFITS:

  • Strengthens thighs, calves, ankles and spine
  • Stretches groin, inner thigh, chest and shoulder
  • Can help relieve sciatica

 

POSE: Warrior III

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Start in a forward bend and then step your left foot back into a lunge
  • Holding in your tummy, lift your torso and place your hands on your right (bent) knee
  • Make sure your body is over your right leg
  • Carefully lift your left leg, straightening your right until your back and left leg are in a straight line
  • Bring your arms up in line with your back and leg and parallel to the floor. You should look like a T
  • Hold for up to a minute if your body is comfortable
  • To come out of the pose, return to the lunge position and then bring your left foot back to join your right
  • Repeat on the other side

 

BENEFITS:

  • Strengthens shoulders and back muscles
  • Tones abdomen

 

It’s important when doing any kind of yoga to listen to your body and to only push it as far as feels comfortable on the day. Some of these poses are quite strong and some days you will find that you can stretch farther than others. This is perfectly normal. If you feel pain, either reduce the stretch or stop.

If you’re interested in taking up yoga as a regular practice, it is worth investigating what type would suit you best. Classic Hatha yoga is a good place to start, focusing on postures and breathing, or you might try the gentle Iyengar style (a form of Hatha). If you’re interested in something a little more dynamic that builds more of a sweat you could try Ashtanga, which involves synchronizing your breathing with a progressive series of poses, or Bikram yoga – also known as hot yoga – which concentrates on the same 26 poses and is practised in a hot room, typically 40 degrees Celsius with around 40% humidity.

For more information on yoga, check out the main UK yoga associations, which provide lists of teachers and classes in your area:

• British Wheel of Yoga (BWY), the Sport England-recognised governing body for yoga - www.bwy.org.uk
• Independent Yoga Network - www.independentyoganetwork.org
• Yoga Alliance UK - www.yogaalliance.co.uk


You can also search for a local class or teacher using the following websites:

www.localyogaclasses.co.uk

www.yogaclassnearyou.co.uk

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