How Yoga Can Actually Help Your Running

imageWhen it comes to yoga, I’m a streaker. Wait, that didn’t come out right. What I mean to say is that I tend to attend a bunch of yoga classes all at once, usually during a break from running, and then attend sporadically when my training ramps back up. Balance, you know.

I love yoga (yes, not all of us here at Salty Running hate it). I love it for the yogi’s high (is that a thing?), but also because it makes me a tougher runner. It makes me tougher physically: the exercises help me to build upper body and core strength and activate all the leg muscles that high mileage tends to make out of whack. However, the biggest benefit for me is that yoga improves my mental toughness! Yoga teachers may catch some flak for sounding kooky at times, but many are full of wisdom. Some of their advice might even remind you of Ginger’s tips for being more mindful when you run.

So even if you’re a yoga hater (*cough* Salty *cough*), here is why you should consider mixing in some yoga to your training.

Learn to relax on the run.

Yoga not only works on strengthening or stretching specific muscles, but it also teaches you how to not activate others. Tensing up parts of your body that aren’t propelling you any faster interferes with performing your best. Save that energy for your legs. Very common areas of unnecessary tension in your running body are your face, hands, and shoulders. This tension not only prevents you from relaxing, it can also have a chain reaction all the way down the anatomy train, which can degrade your form and lead to injury. The classic yoga cue to help you deactivate the muscles in your face and relax is “soften your face”. That works for running too, as well as “relax your hands” or “drop your shoulders”.

Yoga gets some of the credit for my PRs.
Yoga gets some of the credit for my PRs.

Good posture.

Many poses in yoga seem simple, but the precise posture can be a big challenge. In addition to core strength, yoga has improved my proprioception, body awareness, and therefore my posture. Often I think I am aligned properly until a small adjustment from the instructor suddenly nudges everything into rightness. Use yoga to help you learn to straighten up and run tall and confidently.

Set your intention.

I love hearing the reminder at the beginning of my yoga classes to set my intentions. I wish I had someone reminding me to set my intention for every run. Like Jack Daniels says, only “junk miles” are those without purpose. Perhaps today’s purpose is a few easy miles just to get some bloodflow to aid recovery, but tomorrow you are focusing on improving speed endurance via a tempo run. Taking a second to set that intention can help us all avoid over or underdoing it.

Observe your thoughts.

The slow pace and lack of socializing, scenery, or earbuds during yoga classes make for a lot of time to spend inside your head. Use it to practice mindfulness! Observe your thoughts, but don’t judge them. OK, you’re tired. OK, it hurts a bit. That’s part of the experience. Doing this in the relative comfort of yoga class can help you deal with your thoughts during the hardest runs and races.

Open your heart.

Sure, this relates to posture, but focusing on this mantra also reminds me to allow myself to run with passion, to take risks, and to care about doing my best. It reminds me about the joy I have for running and how grateful I am to be able to do it, right here and right now.

Do you do yoga? How has it helped your running?

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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12 comments

  1. Now that I’m teaching Pilates several days a week, it’s harder to incorporate yoga into my schedule but I love when I can. I recently subscribed to Jasyoga, which is oriented at runners specifically and has videos as short as 5 minutes — so I can at least get in a little something!

  2. I’m starting Yoga classes next week. I’ve taken a few classes – (here and there) – and I really felt the difference! I need to incorporate ‘ flexibility’ exercises in my overall training – consistently.

  3. I like yoga, because it often shows me my imbalances (I can swing my left leg all the way through from down dog into warrior but not my right!). But it’s usually the first to get cut from my workout schedule when time gets tight, unfortunately.

    1. oooh, good point! i’ve noticed the same. i feel like a lot of instructors tell you not to pay too much attention to those imbalances but i feel like it’s got to be significant if i’m going to be taking thousands of repetitive steps…