Yoga Tips For Runners
Interview with Betsy Kase, Owner of Yoga Haven, Tuckahoe & Scarsdale, NY
What are the benefits of adding Yoga when training for a race?
Physically, yoga can help counteract some of the tightness that is common in many runners. That is probably what most people think of when they think of yoga as “cross training” for sports. And it is definitely true, deliberate, thorough stretching is important, but yoga also helps to strengthen some of the smaller stabilizer muscles that are often neglected in strength routines that focus on the big muscle groups. Staying injury free is a balance of both strength and flexibility.
What about mental benefits?
What makes yoga different from throwing your leg up on a park bench to stretch your hamstring after a run? Yoga is a form of mindfulness. It challenges us to be present with ourselves in the moment and notice the sensations in our bodies. This is helpful in our daily lives of course, but also to quell those pre-race jitters. Breathing is also an important component of both running and yoga! Most people walk around not realizing they aren’t taking full, deep breaths. Don’t you want to be using your full lung capacity in the last half mile of that race!?
Is there a style of yoga more suited to runners?
The “right” type of yoga depends a lot on the person. Most importantly, whatever the style, you want to start in the appropriate level class. Just because you’re in good shape, if you’ve never done yoga before, don’t jump into a level 2 class. It is important to start with the fundamentals and learn the poses and alignment so you don’t risk injury.
How are props helpful for runners while doing yoga?
Props are you friend!!! People sometimes don’t like using props because they think it is cheating or doing the pose “wrong”. It’s not. Especially for people who are tight, props like blocks and straps and blankets help make the poses accessible. If you are struggling so hard to stay in the pose, you are working against your body. Plus, it not so enjoyable!
Are there specific areas that are of concern when training that a runner should focus on?
Runners usually have tight hamstrings, but we are seeing more commonly now that it isn’t just a matter of stretching the hamstrings, but also making sure the gluteal muscles are strong to balance the work of the hamstrings. Some other often cranky places are the calves and hip flexors. And just like most everyone in our desk/car/text centered world, it is important to open the chest by stretching the pectorals and strengthening the upper back muscles.
Are there any poses that runners should target?
Yes! Here are some poses that runners can do to help in their training. These can be implemented in a daily practice as well.
1) Supta Padangusthasana
Supta Padangusthasana and its variations are good to work on mobility of the hip in different directions. First, stretch the leg straight up. Then holding the strap in the hand of the lifted leg, open the leg out to the side to stretch the inner leg. Work on keeping the opposite hip on the floor. Bring the leg back up, switch hands on the strap and take the leg across the body until you feel a stretch in the outer hip/leg.
2) Tree Pose
This pose strengthens the outer hip and as a pose that requires balance, it activates stabilizer muscles. The tendency when we stand on one leg is to let the standing leg hip sag out to the side. Being conscious to avoid that will build outer hip stability, which is important in preventing many running injuries. If you can’t bring your foot to your inner thigh, you can place the foot on your calf.
3) Downward Facing Dog
An excellent pose to help lengthen the calves and hamstrings. If the backs of your legs are tight, keep the knees bent. And don’t worry about getting your heels all the way down to the floor.
4) Legs Up The Wall
This pose aids in relaxation, increases circulation, relieves lower back tension and soothes swollen feet and cramped legs.
5) Bridge Pose
This pose helps to strengthen gluteals and hamstrings, muscles that are vital to keep healthy and strong for running.
Hip flexors tend to get tight when running and tight hip flexors can mean back pain, stiffness, poor posture and a host of other issues. Lunges are a great way to work on hip extension which is important for a fluid running stride. You can always rest the back knee on the ground or put the hands up on blocks if this stretch is too intense as pictured.