Q&A: How Yoga Can Help Your Running—And Which Types to Try
What are the benefits of doing yoga while I am training for a race?
There are a number of benefits your body will receive if you include yoga into your routine while training for a race of any distance. When we run, we tend to use the same muscles over and over again. Most runners love to run and often do not set time aside for other types of training. If we do not train our muscles to do things other than power us through our run, we can eventually set ourselves up for running related injuries.
Running injuries are often located from the knee down, which tend to involve smaller muscles that compensate when our larger muscles in our hips and core fatigue. Here are some ways yoga can help you stay healthy during training.
Yoga Helps with Stretching and Flexibility
Yoga is considered a form of cross-training for any runners training for an endurance run. During most yoga classes, your body is asked to perform various postures both typical and atypical of running form. Many of us sit for hours at work often with suboptimal posture, which can cause a lack of flexibility in the muscles we need to use during running (think quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles).
When yoga is performed on a regular basis, it allows your body to stretch the muscles that tend to get tight both in daily life and when running. Flexibility in your muscles can help improve and/or maintain good joint flexibility, which can keep your body efficient when you run.
Running is essentially jumping from one foot to another. Both feet are never on the ground simultaneously. In a yoga class, there is often an opportunity to practice balancing on one leg during various postures. This not only helps to get you stronger in the muscles used to fight gravity, but it can also train your nervous system to improve your body’s ability to balance.
We often think of yoga as just the physical postures, however, breathing—or pranayama—is a big part of yoga practice. Research shows that if you can train your breath, you can actually improve your cardiovascular economy, which can make you a more efficient runner. Some yogic breathing can help with this.
Running is a type of moving meditation. Many of us use running as way to decompress or to clear our minds. As we fatigue, we tend to move into our sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight or flight” system. Living in the sympathetic nervous system can lead to an increase in stress and/or anxiety. The gentle rhythmic breathing attached to posture transitions (ujjayi breath) in some yoga classes (like vinyasa style) encourages breathing through your ribs and diaphragm, which helps tap into your parasympathetic nervous system—the rest and digest part of your nervous system which helps decrease heart rate, respiratory rate, and pain.
As most of us live our day-to-day lives in a heightened arousal state. Parasympathetic activation can have a positive impact on our mood and overall well-being, and it can keep us calm and in the zone before our race begins (minimizing the pre-race jitters).
There are many different types of yoga, so before starting a yoga practice, you may want to ask the studio what type of yoga they teach. Vinaysa, Anusara, Restorative, Yin, and Iyengar are a few types of yoga I like to recommend to runners.
You may be drawn to the more physical types of yoga, like power yoga or yoga in a very hot room, as we often like to feel a sweat during our workouts; however, I would encourage you to go outside of your comfort zone and allow your body to experience slow mindful flows and other more calming types of yoga.
I hope you give yoga a try while training for your next race! Namaste.
About the Author
Cara Ann Senicola is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedics, certified yoga teacher and a USA Track and Field level 1 Certified Running Coach with HSS Rehabilitation. She enjoys using yoga as a tool to help patients reach their goals. Her clinical interests include orthopedics and sports medicine, with a special interest in treating runners.
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