I am a huge proponent of yoga for runners. I started practicing yoga as a supplement to my running and it has completely changed my running and it has completely changed my life. In fact, I’d say that going to my first yoga class was one of the best things that I have done to improve my quality of life. And, my experience as a runner-yogi is what ultimately led me to become a yoga teacher, and eventually a running coach. Here, I compile the top reasons why runners should try yoga and how it will make them better runners.
Benefit #1: Flexibility
I’ll start with the most obvious benefit, the one most people associate with yoga: flexibility. The #1 question I get from my students and followers is how they can become more flexible. They just feel their tight muscles from running in their bodies, and know that they’d feel more comfortable if they were a little looser. Even just a little can help you feel a lot better—no need to become a crazy pretzel or get into some of those insane poses you’ll see from yogis on Instagram.
If you’re really tight, improving your flexibility can really increase your range of motion. That, in turn, can help you run more efficiently and easily. (If you’ve ever gone for a run with a muscle that’s really tight, especially if the tightness was just on one side of your body, you know what I’m talking about.) Making sure that muscles aren’t too tight ensures that an overly tight muscle isn’t pulling on surrounding muscles, tendons, and tissues, which could lead to injury. Stretching sore muscles can just feel good, too. And that good feeling is a great reason why runners should try yoga.
Benefit #2: Strength
The second benefit and reason why runners should try yoga, strength, is so incredibly important, in my opinion. Yoga will work your overall body strength, including core strength, which is really important to maintain proper running form.
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I trained for but was unable to complete the Chicago Marathon in 2012 because I injured my hip flexor. I was so busy between training and writing my dissertation that I gave up my yoga practice for a few months. When I had to go through physical therapy to recover from the injury, I found out that a major cause of my injury was weak muscles in my hips that weren’t directly involved in running, muscles that I had been working when I was going to yoga classes.
When you’re holding crescent lunge or warrior II or many other poses, you’re working those stabilizing hip muscles. The same goes for all of the joints of the body. What’s great about yoga is that you’re able to work on flexibility, and strength, and your mental focus (Benefit #4) all at once.
Benefit #3: Overall Injury Prevention
The third reason why runners should try yoga? Keeping their bodies healthy.
Combine Benefit 1 and Benefit 2 and you’ll see that yoga really helps you prevent getting injured. I know that injuries are one of the biggest things that runners dread, right up there with coming across a mountain lion on their morning run. Yoga will help you reduce your injury risk by helping you get stronger, helping you keep good form as you run, and helping you to make sure that your muscles stay balanced.
Benefit #4: Mental Focus
I think a lot of runners forget how important having good mental focus is to having good running performance. Having good mental focus is incredibly important to being a good runner and racer. Learning the skills to breathe through discomfort and to push aside thoughts of doubt can help you whether you’re racing or just doing a hard workout.
These are the skills you’ll learn in a vigorous yoga class. When your quads are burning and you want to come out of a pose but you stay because you know you can give a little more, you’re building more than physical strength, you’re building mental fortitude. You’re learning how you can stay focused in the last few miles of a half-marathon or full marathon, or during your last set in speedwork. (I’m so passionate about this benefit of yoga for runners that I wrote an entire book focusing on it, Mat to Pavement: Lessons from Yoga That Can Make You a Better Runner. – affiliate link)
Benefit #5: Learn to Listen to Your Body
Runners spend a lot of their time trying to block out signals from their bodies. And let’s be honest, to some extent you need to, especially if you’re trying to get a PR or run a distance race like a marathon. You’re going to be uncomfortable and you’re going to feel the burn in your muscles. To push through that discomfort, many runners teach themselves to ignore the signals their bodies send them.
The trouble comes from ignoring all of the signals your body sends you. For example, your body almost always sends you signals that it’s about to have a bigger injury. You’ll feel little twinges in a muscle or joint. Things will feel off, and the soon-to-be-injured part of your body just won’t feel right. But, if you’re so used to ignoring everything your body is telling you, you’ll miss those signals. You’ll wind up really injured, and sidelined for days, weeks, or even longer as your body heals.
Runners should try yoga because yoga teaches you how to listen to and interpret the signals from your body. You’ll learn what discomfort feels like that will make you stronger. When you’re simply pushing yourself a little further so you can be faster or stronger, that’s a totally different feeling from when you’re doing too much. That’s a difference you’ll learn to feel on your mat. Yoga teaches you how to dissociate yourself with the discomfort of getting better, and it teaches you how to pay attention to the twinges and pains that are signs you’re about to develop a big injury.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to try adding a little yoga into your routine. Many yoga studios and running stores are beginning to offer yoga for athletes or yoga for runners classes, so look for those in your area if you’re looking for a class that’s suited to your needs as a runner, or just try a standard yoga class! If you prefer to practice from the comfort of your home, pick up a copy of my book, Yoga for Runners, or check out my extensive Yoga for Runners Program!
Have you tried adding yoga to your workout routine?
Did it help your running?