Annoyingly, muscle tightness, soreness and the occasional injury are all part and parcel of being a runner. We might have a pair of killer toned calves and feel 21 in a pair of skinny jeans, but when it comes to getting up from our desks after a nine-to-five day, we feel as stiff as our 91-year-old grandmothers!
Running results in muscle tightening which, in turn, can lead to injury. On top of this, as many of us spend much of our lives sitting at our desks, our hamstrings naturally shorten, also increasing our risk of injury. Yoga is the perfect way to increase flexibility as a runner. Often spending little (if any) time stretching before or after our runs, attending regular yoga classes is a great way to fit that all essential stretching routine into your training plan, helping you to develop flexibility. As well as loosening out tight muscles and reducing the risk of injury, yoga is great for improving strength and even helping develop a runner’s breathing control.
Teaming up with leading physiotherapist Keith Hall, sports physiotherapist Tim Allardyce, and personal trainers Ashton Turner and Tyronne Brennand, we investigated some of the benefits.
The poses held in yoga strengthen the core, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors. Weak hamstrings not only put runners at risk of injury as a result of frontal loading, whereby the quads are much stronger than the hamstrings, but will result in a much slower running speed.
A strong and balanced core is also vital to one’s running posture. “A strong core is vital for your posture as well as the transfer of energy between the upper and lower body”, says personal trainer Ashton Turner. “If your core is strong and your posture perfect”, he says, “you will become a much more efficient runner, saving energy”. Celebrity personal trainer Tyrone Brennand agrees. “Holding poses in yoga helps increase balance and strength in your core and legs”, he says. ‘This will transfer into your running increasing speed and endurance”, he adds.
If you’re looking to increase your strength through yoga, Keith Hall recommends trying “popular power” and “flow yoga” for a full body strength and control workout.
Develops flexibility and loosens out tight muscles
With so much bending involved in yoga, two areas benefit – the hamstrings and the lower back. Tight hamstrings cause problems for lots of runners and are the route of many running related injures. By flexing and loosening these out, the risk of injury, particularly in the form of hamstring tearing, is significantly increased.
“Yoga has certain focus points in lengthening through the posterior chain and opening up the hips which helps relieve tension in the hip flexors, TFL and hamstrings”, says Keith, “all of which are commonly responsible for injury in those runners who are tight”, he points out.
Sports physiotherapist Tim Allardyce also advises yoga classes for increasing a runner’s stride length. “Loose hamstrings tend to give more during running, but can also help with an increased stride length”, he says. “Yoga is fantastic at improving flexibility to the hamstring muscles, making running more efficient and also less prone to injury” adds Tim.
Good for stretching
Many of us are guilty of not stretching enough before or after our runs. Integrating yoga classes into your training sessions ensures regularly stretching – essential for lengthening those muscles tightened by running. As such, Keith Hall recommends a weekly yoga classe as part of a runner’s routine.
“Runners who stretch individually, typically do it for 30 secs or less on an inconsistent basis”, he says. “Most yoga classes will be at least 60 mins long, which gives an opportunity for those participating to slowly explore movement and gain flexibility through repetition.”
Reduces the risk of injury
Yoga is a great way to relieve the muscle imbalances instigated by running. Yoga classes allow runners to discover different degrees of flexibility in the different sides of the body and ultimately balances these out. Equally, by developing strength in all muscle groups not just the legs, this balance of strength and flexibility will not only reduce the risk of a number of injuries but will lead to an improved efficiency of movement.
Teaches correct breathing control
Holding poses in yoga teaches controlled breathing when under pressure. When a runner’s lungs are under strain, breathing can become fast and shallow. Better breathing allows a larger delivery of oxygen to the muscles, consequently increasing performance. “Holding poses in yoga and controlling your breathing will benefit and transfer over to running”, says Tyronne, “it will help increase lung capacity and teach deep controlled patterned breathing, especially under pressure.”