Whether you’re an avid runner or brand new to the sport, you might want to think about the last time you got your ‘om on. Yoga boasts a ton of physical and mental benefits, such as reduced stress, better balance, more strength, and greater flexibility. And these yoga benefits for runners makes it the perfect cross-training workout.
Running impacts your joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons in a big way. If you only choose to run for exercise, it can lead to injury and imbalance. Yoga, on the other hand, increases your range of motion and helps you build mental focus, endurance, and mobility. Here are seven major yoga benefits for runners.
Yoga strengthens all the muscles in your body.
“As far as the physical practice, running is a repetitive activity using similar muscles over and over,” says Laura Covill, D.P.T., OCS, COMT. “Yoga’s use of all muscles in positions very different from running allows for cross training. It also develops stability and strength within the trunk and hips, which is essential for running, and can lengthen chronically shortened tissues.”
The muscles of typical runners can be regularly stressed and tightened. Without any opposing movement, the body will try to compensate, which puts extra stress on the entire skeletal system. Eventually, imbalanced muscles get weaker and become vulnerable to injury or chronic pain. Runners are also consistently moving in a forward direction, whereas yoga forces your body to move along different planes: side-to-side, top-to-bottom, front, and back.
Yoga will likely improve your running.
Aaptiv trainer Jennifer Giamo says yoga may actually lead to better overall running performance, because core strength gained helps stabilize your body, and strengthened lower back and abdominal muscles aids in proper running form.
“Yoga can strengthen any muscle, but the emphasis on hip stability in many of the yoga poses is very good for running,” agrees Covill. “Yoga classes, especially ones targeted to runners, have goals of flexibility to the trunkd, pelvis, and lower extremity. Many runners hold the upper body in contraction as they pump their arms and breathe deeply. So, yoga can help runners elongate and relax their upper trunk.”
Yoga teaches you to use your breath as a tool.
Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden calls running and yoga the “perfect combo” because they’re both based around breathing.
Though most people hear “yoga” and immediately think about the physical postures (called “asana”), Covill says breathwork serves as one of the greatest benefits for runners. “The pranayama (breath) practices and the teaching of mindfulness through meditation or asana benefits runners the most.”
And it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Simply being aware of your breath during exercise can reduce tension, and conscious breathing exercises soothe the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Staying tuned into your breath helps minimize anxiety before a long run, or pre-race jitters. It also helps you use and conserve energy, as you practice pacing alongside each breath.
Yoga helps with flexibility.
“Yoga is not only a great compliment to running, but stretching is crucial for runners and yoga is a perfect way to get the recovery your body needs,” says McFaden. “It helps to increase flexibility, which can improve stride length and speed.”
However, Giamo and Covill warn against overstretching, especially right before a run. Instead, stick to post-run yoga, which will help elongate muscles and tissues. And even though many runners rely on yoga for flexibility, studies indicate strength and range of motion matter more for runners.
Yoga reminds you to rest and recover.
Most running-related injuries are due to muscle imbalances, says McFaden. This is why yoga’s ability to increase stability in the body helps runners stay injury-free. All yoga poses employ major muscle groups plus any complementary muscles, so yoga can help runners pay attention to weak spots before an injury happens.
For those dealing with an injury, yoga may provide a great path to recovery while helping you remain active. It also serves as a gentle reminder to take it easy every now and then.
“Depending on the injury, gentle yoga with an experienced instructor is a great way to rehab,” says Giamo. “Running performance can be improved and injuries can be prevented with regular stretching of the lower body and proper breathing techniques.”
“Injuries often need to rest, but doing restorative yoga, breathing and meditation are beneficial to improve healing and help with the emotional issues surrounding the injury,” notes Covill. “As the tissues heal, yoga is a great strengthening activity.”
Yoga trains your mind.
Aside from the physical body, yoga benefits for runners extend to mental focus, too. This trains you to deal with negative thoughts and unexpected distractions that may pop up during a run.
“Running, particularly competitively, is a mind game,” says Covill. “The mind and body are saying, ‘stop!’ and you must continue on. You can develop better focus and concentration with yoga practice. You can use that during a run by focusing on the sensations of the body and the surrounding environment. Allow extraneous thoughts to enter without emotional response. The running becomes meditation. It takes practice, but can be very effective.”
Runners can also use yoga to develop intuition and pay attention to bodily signals. For example, your body produces endorphins during each run, and those “feel good” chemicals can mask pain. Yoga, in turn, helps you discern between true pain, which comes from injury, and the discomfort of exerting yourself, which is normal while working out.
Yoga can be customized to match your running style.
There are lots of styles, studios and teacher options with a yoga practice. So, it’s important to try various options to figure out what works best for your running style. If you’re increasing mileage and pushing through challenging workouts, explore restorative or gentle yoga sessions. But if you’re more of a casual jogger, you can certainly play around with more intense, frequent vinyasa workouts.
Now that you know the yoga benefits for runners, check out “Release Tight Hips and Hamstrings,” “Run Recovery,” or “Yoga for Runners 2.0.”