Runners, it’s no news that aches and pain, muscle tension and stiffness are common occurrences during or after a run. Mostly around the back, knees, legs, ankles & hips, this is common to those new to running, but also seasoned runners.
When running, muscles like the quads, hamstrings and glutes tend to take over. Regular practice of yoga will help in strengthening those muscles, and will also make your smaller, underused muscles, tendons and ligaments stronger. This ultimately reduces your risk of injury.
Why should runners practice yoga?
To enhance muscular strength and endurance
Yoga helps condition the muscles that act as a precursor to big movements like sprinting or charging uphill. It is, therefore, an ideal form of cross-training for running. Yoga before or after running helps you build strength and stability using your body weight. Runners stretch yoga poses that require standing, lunging and squatting can help you develop required lower body strength.
Speed up recovery time
Your body replenishes its energy, stores and repairs damaged tissues on rest days. Recovery is essential because it actually helps build strength. For this, runners yoga like restorative and gentle practices help the mind and body relax. It improves blood circulation and oxygen to your muscles, which aids recovery. Yoga poses for runners that include stretching tight hamstrings and calves feels great. However, always listen to your body and don’t force anything.
Improves range of motion
It is important to have good mobility in the hips, knees and ankles. Yoga will improve flexibility and mobility and support the joints. It will also stretch muscles like hamstrings, glutes, quads and calves. With increased mobility, they can better support your joints to move freely on a run.
Breathing right during a run is important. If you’re huffing and puffing during a run you’ll lose pace. Pranayama or breathing exercises can help send oxygen to your muscles during workouts and soothe your nervous system during recovery. Many of us breathe through our mouths very often. Yoga will help you breathe mindfully and allow you to change that pattern and breathe through the nose. This improves stamina, relaxes the nervous system and helps during recovery.
Yoga Poses for Runners
Uttanasana or standing forward fold
The standing forward fold stretches the hamstrings and quadriceps while also elongating the spine to provide a good, intense stretch.
How to practice standing forward fold:
- As you inhale, lift the arms upwards towards the sky/ceiling.
- As the biceps touch the ear, start bending back, keep the position of the head and arms intact, stretching the sides and the abdomen.
- Exhale and pull the stomach in, and start hinging forward from the hip, trying to bring the chest closer to the thighs.
- Place the hand next to your feet, or on the ground in front of you, keeping the elbows slightly bent. Inhale, and look ahead.
- As you exhale, bring the face closer to the Knees, relax the head and neck.
Ustrasana or camel pose
The camel pose is very beneficial for those with rounded shoulders. It opens the chest and brings mobility to the spine. It also helps in stretching the hip flexors that often gets tight due to running.
How to practice camel pose:
- Kneel on the mat and place your hands on the hips.
- Your knees should be in line with the shoulders and the sole of your feet should be facing the ceiling. Keep the knees hip-width apart.
- As you inhale, gently lengthen the spine and bring the pelvis in line with the thighs.
- Now slowly, arch your back and bend backward. Now place the right hand on the right heel and as you exhale, drop your head back, circle the left hand from forward, up, and back to the left heel.
- Gently drop your neck. Do not strain it. You can also keep it in a neutral position.
- Your toes can either be tucked or softened based on your flexibility.
- Stay here for a few deep, slow breaths.
Setu Bandhasana or bridge pose
In addition to the benefits of being a backbend, Bridge pose strengthens the knees and opens up the chest and hips.
How to practice bridge pose:
- Sit on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Lean back on your elbows, and as you lie back stretch each vertebra away from the one below it.
- Place your shoulders and upper arms on a firmly folded blanket, Roll your shoulders back and down, and place your arms along the sides of your body, palms down.
- Lift the head and move the base of the skull away from the shoulders as you place the head back on the floor.
- Keep your throat soft and your face parallel to the ceiling. Keep your feet parallel to each other, in line with the outsides of your hips.
- Exhale, press your feet firmly into the floor as you lift your pelvis.
- Lengthen the outer thighs toward the knees and the inner thighs toward the torso. From two inches below the navel, move the pubic bone down, and from above that spot, stretch the spine up toward the head.
- Let the throat rest back into the neck, and allow the back of the skull to stretch away from the shoulders.
Baddha Konasana or cobblers pose
Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) is excellent for the health of the pelvic region. It also stretches the inner legs and increases the mobility of hips.
How to practice cobblers pose:
- Sit with the spine straight and legs wide apart.
- Now bend the legs and bring the feet as close to the groin as you can. Join the soles of the feet together.
- Grab the feet or the toes tightly with the hands. You can place the hands on the mat, below the feet, if you need more support. Ensure your back remains straight.
- Now slowly try to bring the feet closer to the groin if you can.
- If you are comfortable, you can also try to slowly push the thighs and knees towards the mat. Remember to be gentle and do as much as possible.
- Engage the core so you are able to hold the posture. Keep your attention on the stretch in the groin, inner thighs and back.
- Stay here for a few slow, deep breaths. This will help you relax in the posture.
The low Lunge stretches the groins, and strengthens the legs and back. It also stretches the hip region and gives your thighs a good stretch. Furthermore, it will improve blood circulation and strengthen the muscles.
How to practice low lunge:
- To practice low lunge, take your right foot between your hands. Make sure your right knee is directly above your right ankle.
- Now gently drop your left knee to the floor. You can also keep a blanket or a small cushion below your knee for comfort.
- Bring both hands to your waist and gently push your hips forward till you begin to feel a nice stretch.
- Keep facing your right leg. Don’t let your shoulders round. They should remain open.
- Stay here for a few deep breaths or as long as you are comfortable.
Adho Mukha Svanasana or downward facing dog
Downward-Facing Dog Pose is a perfect pose for runners, both before and after running. It stretches the entire backside of the body, especially the hamstrings, calves, and Achilles tendons. It also strengthens the upper body, opens the chest, and improves breathing.
How practice downward facing dog:
- Inhale, Look Up, take the right leg back, and the left leg back
- Exhale, push the hips back towards the ceiling, trying to place the heels on the ground.
- Inhale, press into the palms, pushing shoulders away, exhale, push the chest towards the thighs, keep the spine straight, not rounding the back.
- Keep the neck and head relaxed, and position the head between the hands.
Viparita Karani or legs up on the wall
This posture relieves tension in the legs, back, and feet. And practicing this will also stretch the glutes and hamstrings.
How to practice legs up on the wall:
- Lie down with your buttocks close to a wall and legs falling to one side. Now slowly lift the legs up along the wall. Adjust your position to make sure you are as close to the wall as possible. Make sure you are comfortable.
- Now relax the throat and head. Keep the arms on the side of the body or above your head - whichever is comfortable for you.
- Stay here for a couple of minutes. Try to take slow, deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, slowly drop the legs to one side and push yourself away from the wall.
Apart from this, practice breathing exercises regularly to improve stamina. Practice like right nostril breathing, bellows breathing and ocean breathing improve energy and stamina. Alternate nostril breathing calms the nervous system and balances the body.