Nothing quite matches that feeling you get after a good run. But if you want to take your workout routine to the next level, consider yoga.
Turning your attention to stretching, strengthening, and breathing deeply can make you a better runner. Not only that, but it can also help you with aches and pains, running confidence, and your mental health.
Not the yogi type? Don’t fret. We’ve got you covered with some tips for what to do, when to do it, and how to get started with yoga as part of your running routine.
There are a whole host of benefits runners enjoy by engaging in a regular yoga practice.
Keep in mind there are many types of yoga. No one type is necessarily better than another. Instead, it’s more up to your preferences. That said, beginners may want to start with hatha or restorative yoga classes that tend to be less intense/strenuous than hot yoga or ashtanga, for example.
Balance and strengthen your whole body
When you run a single mile, your foot hits the ground some 1,000 times. That’s a lot of pounding for your joints and muscles to endure. Yoga can help balance your body by stretching and lengthening your muscles.
Engaging in regular practice allows you to work on balance, strength, and range of motion throughout your entire body. You can tune in and really feel where one muscle doesn’t match another or where you may have weaknesses.
As you work through yoga poses, you strengthen your intrinsic muscle groups. These are the ones that both stabilize and support your skeletal system. You know, your body’s overall framework.
By strengthening these muscles, you can protect yourself creating imbalances that occur when you use the same muscles over and over.
While you’re working on your muscles, research shows that yoga is also benefiting your insides, too. One study showed that people who did hot yoga (yoga in a heated/humid room) three times a week for 12 weeks saw their blood pressure numbers go down.
Train your brain
Yoga is good for your mind. Experts at Yoga Journal explain that by engaging in regular yoga practice, “you develop a greater understanding of the body and how it works.” They say this is particularly key because running produces endorphins, which may override pain or signs of illness when you’re hitting the pavement.
Additionally, yoga can help you cultivate an internal understanding of your energy reserves. When you can better tune in with your energy levels, you may better accept your body’s abilities on a given day and for a given workout to avoid burnout.
A review of 11 studies on yoga and the brain revealed that regular yoga increases your brain’s volume of grey matter. What does this mean exactly? Well, more grey matter means better brain function, which is particularly important as you get older.
Muscle imbalances, tightness, and weakness — these are all things that, when not addressed, can lead to injury. Overuse, too, can lead to aches and pains, or can sideline you completely. Yoga allows you to align your body and focus on balance and symmetry from right to left and bottom to top.
And, as already mentioned, yoga also helps you tune into your body and note how you’re feeling physically and mentally, potentially helping you notice an ache before it gets too severe.
Even better, the experts at Yoga Journal suggest that an ongoing yoga practice may be especially helpful with addressing chronic injuries. Why? Well, when you deal with an injury continually, it usually points to some type of imbalance. A gentle and continued practice may help address and correct these imbalances over time.
Yoga can be useful before or after a run — or both. But resist the temptation to start with too much too soon. Try first adding a yoga session into your routine on an easy day or a rest day. Once or twice a week is enough frequency to get you going with the poses without risking injury.
Injury with stretching? Yeah, it’s a thing. No matter what type of yoga you choose — hatha, Iyengar, restorative, yin, etc. — even seemingly easy poses take a while to master.
After all, you didn’t start your running career with a 26.2-mile run! Similarly, you can hurt yourself if you force a stretch too deeply and pull a muscle. Listen to your body. Try modifications or using props, like blocks and straps, to help you ease into your practice.
If you’re a newbie, consider taking an in-person or virtual yoga class. Your teacher can guide you through the poses and modifications that might be appropriate for injuries or muscle imbalances/tightness.
You really can’t go wrong with any yoga poses you encounter, but there are some specific moves that may feel better than others or that may be more beginner-friendly. That said, if something doesn’t feel great to you, feel free to move on or modify as needed.
Mountain pose (Tadasana)
Don’t let the simplicity of this pose distract you — tadasana is a wonderful way to warm up for your running workout. It helps you achieve good posture, all while strengthening your core and lower body and relaxing your chest, neck, face, and arms.
- Stand tall with a neutral spine and your feet about shoulder-distance apart.
- Lift the crown of your head toward the sky as you roll your shoulders back and lift your chest for good posture.
- Fix your gaze straight ahead as you raise your arms up with your palms facing inward.
- Inhale as you hold the pose for a count of 10. Then exhale as you lower your arms back to your sides.
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)
As powerful as it sounds, Warrior III is all about strengthening the lower body from the bottom up. It works the muscles in your feet, ankles, hips, thighs, and core. These muscles are important for lateral movement, which can be especially useful if you run trails.
- Stand straight with your arms beside you. Then shift your weight to your left leg.
- Move your right leg behind you as your hinge at your left hip and bring your body parallel to the floor. This takes tremendous balance, so stand beside a wall or chair if necessary.
- Up the difficulty by moving your arms in front of you, reaching forward beside your head.
- Hold this pose for the count of 10 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
Dancer pose (Natarajasana)
To add more difficulty, you might try moving between Warrior III and Dancer pose. This pose works to strengthen your standing leg, including your hip flexors, which are often taxed by running. To balance it out, the hip flexors of your raised leg get a good stretch.
- Begin by standing tall with your arms at your side. Shift your weight to your left leg.
- Move your right leg behind you as you hinge forward with your left hip. Reach your right leg back and grasp the outside of your right foot as you lift the left from the inner and outer thigh.
- Reach your left arm toward the ceiling with your chest slightly lifted — your hips should be square with the floor.
- Balance on your left leg for 5 to 10 seconds and remember to breathe! Repeat on the other side.
Eagle pose (Garudasana)
If you want to work on your balance and confidence on uneven pavement/terrain, try Eagle pose. It feels unnatural at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Knee injury? You may want to skip the interlocking legs in this pose and instead opt to cross one leg in front while anchoring your big toe on the ground for stability.
- From standing, cross your left knee over your right thigh as you simultaneously bend your right knee to sit into a slight squat position.
- Lock the top of your left foot behind your right calf. (Stand with your back against a wall if you need some assistance holding this position.)
- Cross your elbows with the left under the right until you can bring the backs of your palms together.
- Breathe slowly as you hold for 10 seconds. Then repeat on your left side.
Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This popular pose gives your body — shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands — a full stretch. It also helps strengthen your arms and legs, making it a good pose for your post-run recovery routine.
- Starting on your hands and knees (knees directly below your hips), raise your hips up toward the ceiling while keeping your hands and feet on the floor (toes curled under).
- Keep your arms straight with your fingers spread wide, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Your back should also be straight with your tailbone reaching up and back.
- Your heels should reach toward the floor. If your legs cannot straighten out, try gently pedaling your knees to help them deepen into the stretch.
- Breathe as you remain in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes.
Pigeon pose (Kapotasana)
Particularly seasoned runners may struggle at first with hip-opening pigeon pose. That’s because it works to increase mobility in the hips while also stretching tight quads and hamstrings. These are all classically tight areas for runners, which is why this pose is so important to try.
- Starting on your hands and knees, slide your left leg out behind you, top of the foot resting on the mat, or toes curled under.
- Bring your right leg forward and bend your knee out toward the right wrist as you bring the foot to rest beside your left wrist.
- Lower your hips to the ground as you gently settle into the stretch with your upper body hinging forward.
- Hold for 10 seconds before repeating on the other side.
Pyramid pose (Parsvottanasana)
Pyramid pose is more plainly referred to as side stretch pose. It feels good after a run because it stretches your spine, shoulders, hips, and hamstrings. This pose can also strengthen your legs and help with your balance.
- Start standing tall in the middle of your mat, facing sideways.
- Step your left foot and right foot out so that they are approximately 4 feet apart. Turn your right foot inward slightly and your left foot outward a full 90 degrees.
- Keeping hips squared, gently fold your upper body over your extended left leg and reach your fingertips to your mat or blocks. Alternatively, you may hold your arms behind you and reach the top of your head to hover above the floor as you stretch.
- Hold this pose between 5 and 10 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
Child’s pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is a good resting/recovery pose that helps you center your attention and tune in with your body. Come to this pose in your practice whenever you need a break or when you want to stretch the hips, thighs, and ankles.
- Begin on your knees and then hinge back so you are sitting on your ankles, the tops of your feet on the ground.
- Lean your upper body forward so your arms reach the floor in front of you, palms down. Your buttocks should remain on your heels.
- Gently rest your head on the floor as you move your arms back beside your legs, palms now facing upward.
- Keep breathing and hold this position for at least 8 seconds.
If yoga is totally new to you, don’t be shy. It may feel awkward at first, but keep at it.
If you don’t feel like you’re understanding exactly how to move between poses or how to position your body, consider heading to the studio for some instruction or asking your yogi buddy to guide you.
Consistency is key for reaping the most benefits. Aim to do yoga a couple times a week when it feels best. This could be either as a warmup or cool-down for your run or as cross-training on your rest days.