Running can energize us and help clear our heads, but it can leave us feeling a little stiff and sore the next day. This is where yoga comes in. Yoga has been shown to be beneficial for runners, helping to strengthen underused small muscles and prevent injury. Yoga not only strengthens the large muscles involved in running – such as the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes – but it also helps release them after a run, leaving you more flexible the next day.
Yoga also focuses on the small muscles. It can help wake up muscles that are not used so intensely while running, or sometimes in everyday life. However, these smaller muscles are just as essential for overall mobility and strength. If you work out paying more attention to those little ‘underused’ muscles, they will benefit you when you run, providing more stability, energy and sturdiness (and fewer injuries!)
In this article, I will introduce you to 3 yoga poses that you can practice before and after your run. As you practice these postures, try to synchronize your breathing with the movement. This provides a calming effect for your nervous system, which promotes state of mind and flexibility.
If you are new to yoga, you don’t need much to get started, although one of the best yoga mats is a good scream for keeping things comfortable under your joints, and a pair of best yoga pants will ensure you are not limited by your clothes.
For your ankles: ankle rotations
Before a race, it is important to pay attention to our feet and ankles. The ankles are the first major joint in the kinetic chain from our feet to our hips. The ankles will take a lot of impact while running, so why not spend a few minutes warming them up?
This one is super easy to do and over time can make all the difference in the stability of your ankle, helping to prevent injury. Standing on one leg, lift the other foot a few inches off the ground. Draw a circle with your toes counterclockwise five times, then clockwise five more. Do it slowly and try to make the movement as smooth as possible. The slower you go, the more strength you will develop. Switch to the other leg by repeating the steps. This movement helps strengthen the tendons, ligaments, and small muscles all around the ankle joint. It also begins to wake up your feet and legs ready for your run.
For your hamstrings and hips: triangle pose
The triangle pose – or Trikonasana – is a common posture that comes up in yoga classes. This has huge benefits, but we’re going to focus on why it’s good for runners. The triangular pose stretches the entire body, from the ankles to the hamstrings, through the hips, lower back and shoulders. This is a great posture to relax everything and when you practice this you will see how much openness it gives to your tired legs.
Start standing with your feet one leg apart. Rotate your right toes outward pivoting from the hip while rotating your left toes inward, pushing the heel outward. Inhale, raise your arms to shoulder height with palms facing down. Exhale and bring your right hip back to your left heel, lengthening the right side of your trunk and starting to lean over your right leg. Inhale again. Exhale, continue to reach for your right leg, lengthening your core and placing your right hand on your thigh, shin, or ankle – wherever it reaches comfortably. Stack your left arm over your left shoulder and point your fingers skyward.
It is important to keep moving your right hip away from your right shoulder so that you can feel the stretch in the inside of the right thigh and hamstrings. Continue to pull your tailbone towards the left heel and gently press the hips forward while bringing your core back, producing a stretch across the left hip. Repeat these steps on the other side. Note: For those with flexibility issues or reduced mobility, it is normal to maintain micro-flexion of the knee.
For your calves: semi-split pose
If you feel your run the next day, it will be in your calves. Here we have a posture to loosen the lower leg and release the tense calves. Be gentle with yourself and remember to breathe deeply.
Starting from kneeling, place your hands on the floor in front of you. Extend your left foot forward and point your toes towards the ceiling. If you’re having trouble straightening your left leg, place your hands on blocks, books, or whatever sturdy object you have nearby. Try to keep your hips above your right knee, so you don’t lean too far forward or backward. Inhale, lift your chest and exhale, maintaining the length of your spine. The straighter your spine, the better the stretch on the back of the leg. The whole body is interconnected, so being aware of the alignment of your spine will have a big impact on the stretch you feel in your legs.
When you’re done, slowly bend your knee and bring your leg back to the starting position. Breathe in, then repeat the above steps on the other side. Again, a micro-curvature of the knee when the leg is extended is perfectly fine – do this if you have trouble adopting the posture or if you feel a strong sensation behind the knee – you want to feel the hamstring stretch. -legs or calf muscle, not in the knee itself.