Yoga can help you cross the finish line faster, better and fitter

What we know plain and simple is yoga helps runners with balance, injury recovery and agility.  The question you, as a runner, is asking is how and why?

You might not think of yoga when you think of cross training. Think again. Practicing yoga benefits your other athletic activities, particularly running.

When most people here the word yoga, they think stress reduction and stretching.  The second thing they most often say is “I’m so inflexible.”  Firstly, you do not have to be to touch your toes to practice yoga and secondly, yes it is great for stress, but it is also strength building and will enable you to become a bit more flexible in a safe environment.

During the course of an average 2k run, your foot will strike the ground 1,000 times. The force of impact on each foot is about three to four times your weight. It’s not surprising, then, to hear runners complain of bad backs and knees, tight hamstrings, and sore feet.

Marrying Strength and Flexibility

The pain most runners feel is not from the running in and of itself, but from imbalances that running causes and exacerbates. If you bring your body into balance through the practice of yoga, you can run long and hard for years to come. Although yoga and running lie on opposite ends of the exercise spectrum, the two need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, running and yoga make a good marriage of strength and flexibility.

A typical runner experiences too much pounding, tightening, and shortening of the muscles and not enough restorative, elongating, and loosening work. Without opposing movements, the body will compensate to avoid injury by working around the instability. Compensation puts stress on muscles, joints, and the entire skeletal system.

Yoga’s internal focus centres your attention on your own body’s movements rather than on an external outcome. Runners can use yoga practice to balance strength, increase range of motion, and train the body and mind. The yoga asanas, or postures, move your body through gravitational dimensions while teaching you how to coordinate your breath with each subtle movement. The eventual result is that your body, mind, and breath are integrated in all actions. Through consistent and systematic asana conditioning, you can engage, strengthen, and place demands on all of your intrinsic muscle groups, which support and stabilize the skeletal system. This can offset the effects of the runner’s one-dimensional workouts.

Words from a Real Runner and Yogi

I had a chance to get speak with Philadelphia based marathon runner Cathy Smith (who is also one of my best friends) to ask her how yoga has helped her complete, 10 full marathons across 6 continents, 3 half marathons and 6 ten milers. Cathy says one of the major benefits of her yoga practice is lean muscle strength, particularly in the arms, shoulders and core.  “Having full body strength keeps you running in good form, which is really important for breathing, fatigue and injury prevention.  Some runners take the time to do actual weight training or strength workouts with push-ups, crunches, squats, etc.  Those exercises are great, but you also tend to bulk-up and build more rigid muscles.  Muscle strength definitely makes you run better but additional weight can set you back too.  Yoga helps me build lean muscles that give me a strong upper body and core without gaining muscle mass,“ says Cathy.

Body Intuition

In addition to physically counteracting the strains of running, yoga teaches the cultivation of body wisdom and confidence. As you develop a greater understanding of the body and how it works, you become able to listen and respond to messages the body sends you. This is especially important in running, where the body produces a lot of endorphins. These “feel good” chemicals also double as nature’s painkillers, which can mask pain and the onset of injury or illness. Without developed body intuition, it’s easier to ignore the body’s signals.

No matter which type you choose, your running will benefit. Yoga realigns the body and releases tension from connective tissue.  The musculoskeletal realignment comes from stretching and an emphasis on proper posture.

Cathy told me there can be two types of runners – those that tune in to how they feel and what their bodies are telling them with every breath, every step and those that get into “the zone” and almost meditate.  Interestingly, yoga helps with either method.  “I tend to be a “zone out” runner and prefer to be more in my mind than my body.  Yoga helps me center my thoughts and work through problems.  It also motivates me through tough runs, like the last 10k of a marathon, by using mantras.”

The result of Yoga and Running

More flexibility (misaligned muscles are stiffer and less efficient) and reduced injury risk.

As for strength, many people think yoga amounts to a lot of sitting around and meditating. Not so. It’s more like modern dance. You’re continuously striking poses that resemble leg lunges, squats, pushups, handstands, and the like. After 30 minutes of these movements, you know you’ve gone through a total-body strength workout. And better overall strength can only help your running.

Mentally, yoga is a lot like running in that it requires you to focus on the present. Like a beautiful trail run, yoga is great at silencing the endless chatter in your brain. Yoga teaches you to be in a graceful place, an effortless place. It isn’t about competition at all.

See you on the mat!

~Z

 

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