I am a Clinical Nutritionist and TV Health Journalist. For TEDx 2014, I did a workshop on Food for t...
6 reasons why runners should do yoga24 May 2013, by Kyrin Hall, PhD
Many sports, such as cycling and running, have very repetitive movements, thereby developing certain muscle groups while ignoring others. Over time, this can lead to overuse injuries due to imbalances in the muscles and joints.
Yoga becomes the sport enthusiast or competitive athlete’s ally because it works the body through all ranges of motion activating little-used muscles that support primary movers.
Yoga therefore is valuable for injury prevention as well it enhances recovery, because stretching helps with the removal of post training circulating lactic acid out of the muscle tissues.
As a yoga practitioner and 5-time marathon runner, I find combining standing on the mat with pounding the pavement an effective training strategy for improved performance and injury prevention.
6 ways yoga benefits you
› Increased flexibility & Range of motion
Yoga incorporates movements that work the muscles and joints around their axis, allowing the muscles to lengthen.
A lack of flexibility especially in the hip flexors and hamstrings prevents adequate range of motion. The more tension around a joint, the more energy is required to facilitate movement and this can result in early fatigue and the potential for injury.
› Corrects postural alignment
Musculoskeletal imbalances can occur because many sports and habits [how we sleep, carry a bag, stand] have specific movements that dominate one side of the body. Yoga can be beneficial in reducing joint loading and imbalances.
Improving your balance and coordination with yoga leads to better technique and form. Better technique and form = better performance.
› Master breathing technique
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is emphasised with every movement in yoga. Slow, deep, consistent and rhythmic breathing slows the heart rate and reduces feelings of tension.
Yoga connects breath and movement. This technique optimises a runner’s performance.
› Improve core strength
The slow, focused and controlled movements of the asanas require a strong core for correct execution.
As a full body, full range of motion, training method yoga strengthens supportive and under-used muscles creating a more balanced and optimally functioning body.
› Release stress
Forward bends and long exhalations stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system by sending a message to the Vagus nerve to calm the fight-or-flight response.
Yoga postures release tension around the body’s major stress points: neck, shoulders, lower back, hips...
› Improve mindfulness and concentration
Athletes call this mindful, present state "The Zone." By tuning in, you become more aware. You notice the connection between your thoughts and the feedback your body is sending out.
Physical and mental exercises can enhance proprioceptive skills, one's sense of body positioning and movement.
Photo by lululemon athletica on Flickr
Which style of yoga is best for a runner?
There are many different styles of yoga. As a certified Yoga teacher [Ashtanga and Bikram], here is my take on some of the more popular styles:
[aka Power yoga, Vinyasa flow] = a dynamic flowing series of poses.
- Pro: builds strength and flexibility
- Con: some of the postures are not held long enough for very "tight" muscles to completely release
[Hot yoga] = a set series of postures performed in a 105-degree room.
- Pro: heat helps tight muscles to elongate
- Con: can be a challenge to maintain correct electrolytes balance due to the combination of distance running and water loss / heated room
[aka-Restorative, Yin, Anusara yoga] = a series of relaxing yoga postures.
- Pro: gentle execution of yoga postures
- Con: doing back bends ± inversions when your body is not limber enough
› Yoga 4 Runners
Combines postural alignment with a flowing sequence. Currently available in Amsterdam, and focuses on yoga postures most beneficial for runners.
Between the mat & the pavement
Tailor your yoga practice to your training schedule. Be mindful not to over-train. It is better to execute a partial posture with great form than one that’s out of alignment. If you are to embark upon a yoga programme, remember it’s important to start slowly, and always listen to your body, pain is an indication that something is wrong.
Lastly, respect the art of yoga. Just as it may have taken you years to develop a foundation for your sport, this same approach should be applied to yoga.