Yoga for Improving Running Performance

Yoga For Improved Running Performance

Get on your mat and discover how yoga’s comprehensive combination of strength and flexibility can transform your running performance.
As a former college basketball player, marathon runner and all-around fitness enthusiast, I keep my body balanced, flexible and strong through a practice that started as torture: yoga. 

When I first began practicing yoga in 2007, I was tight, weak and immobile. Every pose hurt and made me questions why I was in the room. As an athlete, I never had felt so inept or outside of my comfort zone. 

I did not understand then why I pushed through the initial misery. I realize now that it was because yoga was making me a stronger, more flexible, less pain-ridden and happier person. 

Yoga taught me to hold my own body weight up in various orientations for time, stand without back pain, and feel might in my midsection. It felt mind-blowing to be living in a powerful yet limber machine.

At 33 and 6 feet 7 inches tall, I am now sturdier, more mobile and less injury-prone than most 20-year-olds running on the streets or in the gym. Not because I was born like this, but because yoga made me like this.

Yoga can do the same for you and your running performance.

Benefits for Runners

1. Flexibility
Tight muscles can cause you unnecessary injury and pain, cost you seconds on your miles, and cut years off of your physical longevity. The flexibility that yoga offers can decrease your injuries, pain and recovery time and can lengthen your stride and running career. 

Increased mobility also enables your muscles to work less hard. The less energy you expend on your runs, the more you will have left in the tank when you need it most. 

2. Strength
Yoga strengthens your legs, core, arms and mind. This can propel you to run longer, faster and more explosively. 

3. Efficiency
Yoga trains you to keep your chest lifted and your lungs open by fortifying your torso. Improved posture will maximize your oxygen intake and will conserve your energy through more efficient form.

4. Autonomy
Yoga makes you the master of your breath by teaching you how to control it. Increased oxygen intake expands the capacity of the lungs, which delivers more oxygenated fuel to the blood and muscles. Calm, steady breathing will keep you and your muscles relaxed as you run to optimize your performance.

Yoga Practices for Runners
Add yoga to your training routine today with these simple yet effective practices:

1. The Breath
Sit in a relaxed position, close your eyes and breathe through your nose. Start to notice your breath. Which is longer: your inhale or your exhale? Begin to even them out. Visualize how this smooth and steady breathing would feel on a run.

As your breath becomes more even, gently inhale through your nose and count 1, 2, 3, 4. Gently exhale through your nose and count 1, 2, 3, 4. Practice this for a few minutes daily. As your lung tissues expand over time, you can increase your breath count up to 10 on both the inhalation and exhalation. 

After mastering this practice on your mat, take it to the road. Breathe evenly and deeply into your diaphragm to fuel yourself up. 

2. The Poses
Keep your physical practice efficient. Focus on the body parts that crave extra attention rather than doing a full class. These five poses will stretch and strengthen you from top to bottom in the areas where many runners feel tight or weak.

  • Down Dog – If this is the only pose you do, it is enough. Down dog improves flexibility along the whole back side of the body, builds upper-body strength and enhances posture. Do three sets, holding each for a minute.
  • Plank – This full-body pose will strengthen your legs, core, arms and back. Do three sets. How long can you hold it for? The longer, the better.  
  • Warrior II – This classic pose combines power and flexibility. It will strengthen your legs, shoulders and torso while opening your inner thighs. It also can improve your stride length and posture to enhance your form. Hold for five breaths per side. Complete three sets.  
  • Revolved Triangle – Your IT band, hips, low back and neck may scream at you at first, but they will thank you later. Practice gently to avoid overtwisting. Use a block for extra height if you need it to maintain spinal length. Hold for five breaths per side. Complete three sets.
  • Pigeon - Give your tight glutes and low back a break by resting in a forward-folded version of this pose. Hold for one to two minutes per side.

As athletes and runners, we want every edge we can find. The edge that yoga will push you to will challenge you. But it will improve your performance. And, if you are as diligent with the above practices as you are with the other aspects of your training regimen, it will change you. 

We all have the opportunity to experience our maximum physical abilities, but many of us never get to realize them. Yoga can be a tool for you to discover just how amazing and powerful your body is. Are you ready to find out?