Whether you’re a marathon runner hell-bent on beating last year’s time, or a weekend runner who maxes out at 2 miles, you’ve likely felt the soreness of a tight muscle or the frustrating drain of your fading mental strength as a monstrous hill comes into view.
Aches, pains, and battles of willpower come with the territory when you’re pounding the pavement or tearing up trails. But interestingly enough, there’s a yin to running’s yang that can provide relief across the board: yoga!
Yoga is an ancient practice that works by elongating the muscles that are often shortened and overworked from activities like running. This can help to increase range of motion, build strength from head to toe, and do away with muscle tension.
“Yoga improves flexibility, eases tightness, and can aid in recovery after a long run,” says Laurie Eagle, founder of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Office Meet Yoga.
The discipline can also fine-tune the mind of a runner. “Runners don’t always listen to their bodies,” explains longtime and equally devoted runner and yoga instructor Nicole Thompson. “Yoga also allows runners to tap into breath control and body awareness.”
Nicole goes on to caution that runners shouldn’t look at yoga as a mere series of stretches. “Yoga is an active engagement of the muscles…if you stretch the muscles without active engagement, you are actually just pulling at the attachment of the muscles to the bones, the tendons. This is where you can get injuries.”
1. Standing Side Stretch
This simple, classic side stretch not only increases the flexibility of your spine, arms, and rib cage, it also releases the all-important tensor fasciae latae and outer hip muscles.
- Stand in the center of your mat.
- Cross the right leg over the top of your left leg, keeping both feet on the floor.
- Put your left hand on your hip.
- Press your right hip to the right.
- Lift your right arm up and over to the left.
Tip: Increase the outer hip/side body stretch by using your left hand to press the underside of the left hip to the right.
2. Extended Side Angle Pose
Extended side angle pose builds strength throughout the entire body, but for runners in particular, it’s a tool that can relieve the stiffness in the shoulders and back, open up the hips, and strengthen the legs.
- Stand in the center of your mat, facing the long side of the mat.
- Spread your legs at least as wide as your shoulders.
- Turn your right foot toward the front of the mat.
- Align your front heel to the inner arch of your back foot.
- Turn your back foot slightly inwards.
- Bend your front knee over your front ankle but not past your toes.
- Engage the quad of your back leg.
- Bring your right elbow to your right knee.
- Reach the top of your left arm up and over your ear.
10. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
11. Try to rotate your chest up as the front ribs soften in.
Tip: Draw your front right hip down and wrap it forward as the back leg firms.
3. Low Lunge
This wonderfully easy posture is the antidote to the tight hips, hamstrings, and psoas muscles that often plague runners. It also strengthens your quads and gluteus.
From downward facing dog, step your right foot forward between your hands, keeping the knee bent.
- Drop your back left knee to the ground.
- Align your front right knee over your right ankle.
- Bring your hands onto your front right thigh.
- Drop the sitz bone of your front right leg.
- Press your hands forward onto your thigh as you lift your chest.
- Lift through the quad of the back left leg.
- Open up across the chest.
Tip: After you’ve opened up across the chest, gently draw in your belly and pelvic floor muscles.
4. Locust Pose
Locust pose helps strengthen an often overlooked but incredibly important area for runners: the back. This part of the anatomy is crucial to helping athletes stabilize the spine and pelvis, which is critical to staying injury-free.
- Lie down on your belly.
- Root your lower belly and pubic bone into the ground.
- Clasp your hands behind your back.
- Bring your forehead to the ground.
- Draw your shoulder blades onto your back.
- Draw your sternum forward and up.
- Lift your legs.
- Rotate your outer thighs toward the midline of your body.
Tip: Emphasis of the backbend should be in the mid and upper back rather than in the lower back.
5. Thread the Needle
Thread the needle is not just a brilliant restorative posture; it also feels sublime, and releases the gluteus maximus, piriformis, and outer hip muscles.
- Lie down on your back.
- Put the soles of your feet on the floor with your knees to the sky.
- Cross your right ankle or shin over your left knee.
- Draw your left thigh toward your chest.
- Take your right arm through the center of your legs and interlace your right hand with your left hand behind your left hamstring.
- Draw your left thigh into your chest as your right knee moves toward the front of your mat.
- Let your back ribs, pelvis, and shoulders drop down into the floor.
Tip: If you are more flexible or you’d like a deeper stretch, clasp your hands over the left shin instead of behind the left hamstring.