Why is Yoga important for Runners – By Kyrin Hall PhD
Running has become increasingly popular as a sport of choice. Often described as the world’s most accessible sport. People run to lose weight, stay in shape or simply to get an energy boost.
With several million people engaged in the sport, often with no formal training, it comes as no surprise that runners can be challenged with injuries.
According to RunnersConnect, 79% of runners (8 out of every 10 runners) get injured at least once during the year.
In order to run effectively and enjoy this sport, a lot of experienced ± elite runners incorporate a stretching (yoga) routine as part of their training.
Why is yoga important for runners
Sports, such as cycling and running, have very repetitive movements; thereby you develop certain muscle groups while ignoring others. Over time, this can lead to overuse injuries due to imbalances in the muscles and joints.
Yoga becomes your ally because it works the body through all ranges of motion activating little-used muscles that support your primary movers.
Yoga therefore is valuable for injury prevention as well it enhances recovery, because stretching helps the removal of post training circulating lactic acid out of the muscle tissues.
5 ways yoga benefits you
1. Increased flexibility & range of motion
Yoga incorporates movements that work the muscles and joints around their axis, allowing the muscles to lengthen.
A lack of flexibility especially in the hip flexors and hamstrings prevents adequate range of motion. The more tension around a joint, the more energy is required to facilitate movement and this can result in early fatigue and the potential for injury.
2. Corrects postural alignment
Musculoskeletal imbalances can occur because many sports and habits [how we sleep, carry a bag, stand] have specific movements that dominate one side of the body. Yoga can be beneficial in reducing joint loading and imbalances.
3. Improve core strength
The slow, focused and controlled movements of yoga postures require a strong core for correct execution. As a full body, full range of motion training method, yoga strengthens supportive and under-used muscles creating a more balanced and optimally functioning body.
4. Master breathing technique
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is emphasised with every movement in yoga. Slow, deep, consistent and rhythmic breathing slows the heart rate and reduces feelings of tension and stress.
Breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system by sending a message to the Vagus nerve to calm the fight-or-flight stress response.
5. Improve mindfulness and concentration
Athletes call this mindful, present state ‘The Zone’. By tuning in, you become more aware. You notice the connection between your thoughts and the feedback your body is sending out.
As a yoga practitioner-teacher and 8-time marathon runner, I find combining standing on the mat with pounding the pavement an effective training strategy.
My favourite 3 yoga postures for running are:
- The pigeon (glutes and groin stretch)
- The down dog (compound posture for upper and lower body stretch)
- The warrior or low lunge (psoas and quadriceps stretch)
When is stretching most effective.
The jury is still out on this one. However more research points to stretching after running. To warm up pre-running, it’s perhaps best to lightly jog or move your body through various ranges of movement, such as arm swings and leg/hip rotations.
Do remember that when you embark upon a yoga programme, it’s important to start slowly, and always listen to your body.
From the pavement to the mat… Namaste