I’ve heard other running coaches say yoga isn’t “running specific” because it doesn’t mimic running and thus might not be worth an athlete’s time for cross training. However, just like any strength training or mobility training program, a yoga practice can be created to enhance specific areas of an athlete’s fitness.
It’s true that not all asanas (static postures) may be beneficial to runners, but we can say the same of strength training exercises. The key is to identify what areas does a runner need to strengthen and what areas need to be lengthened. This will be different for everyone.
Here’s three ways a regular yoga practice can benefit runners.
Yoga’s physical side consists of moving the body through a series of asanas with the breath. These positions engage and target specific muscle groups and challenge the entire body. While most people who haven’t done a lot of yoga might think it only involves stretching, holding and moving through postures can actually build strength in key muscle groups needed for good running form.
You can find strength training exercises like planks or squats in a yoga practice, though they will definitely feel different from your usual strength training session. Instead of doing multiple reps in a row, depending on the type of practice, some postures will be repeated multiple times in a pattern and others will be held for several minutes or breaths only once. Runners can work with a private yoga teacher or on their own, identify key asanas to help them build strength in areas that are imbalanced and create a personalized sequence for better performance.
The most obvious benefit to including a regular yoga practice into a running program is increased mobility. Yoga can help loosen overly tight hips, IT bands and hamstrings that if left tight will lead to painful running and possibly injury. While you might see Instagram yogis casually resting in the splits or a crazy backbend, that level of flexibility doesn’t need to be your goal. Runners can focus on asanas that will meet their personal needs and benefit their running journey.
Runners have various methods of pushing through pain and boredom to run for long distances or intense speeds. A common method for distance runners is distraction and moving the mind away from the moment. Yoga is the opposite. During a yoga practice, the goal is to stay in the present moment and focus on one’s breath and inner self. You can’t do that if your mind is wandering or on another planet. A regular yoga practice can help runners increase their mental stamina and stay present and aware of their body and surroundings during a run.
Yoga can’t replace all of a runners’ strength training needs, but a regular practice two or three times a week can help keep things interesting. There are many kinds of yoga classes, it would be best for runners to work with a private yoga teacher or take a class with runners in mind, however, most classes will probably provide some of the benefits listed above.
(References: Felstead, C. (2013). Yoga for Runners (First ed.). Human Kinetics; Polsgrove, M., Eggleston, B., & Lockyer, R. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. International Journal of Yoga, 9(1), 27. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.171710; Tarma, J., Shaw, R., Girard, S., Gipple, P., Highfield, S., Ketabi, S. R., Viggiano, D., & Gourgy, A. (2016, May 5). 4 Ways Yoga Primes You for Running. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/cross-training/yoga-and-running/running-for-yogis/)