Unlace and Stretch Out: Yoga for Runners

Yoga for Runners

Unlace and Stretch Out: Yoga for Runners

By: Mattie Schuler

Hitting the yoga studio with other sweaty yogis can be intimidating, especially if you are used to pounding the pavement instead of flowing on your mat.

But adding yoga to your regular running routine doesn't have to be hard, and it can not only help stretch out tight muscles, but also aid your mental game, too.

"Yoga benefits running both physically and mentally," says Dan Carbonell, a yoga teacher at Yoga Pod in Boulder, Colorado, and a frequent trail runner . "Physically speaking, yoga helps runners access greater range of motion and joint mobility. More mobile joints impact stride length and running economy, which helps runners become more efficient as body mechanics improve.

"Mentally speaking," he continues, "yoga helps to create a heightened level of focus and awareness during training and, especially, racing." This mental training can help runners perform more effectively during a race to stay focused on form and sustaining a quick pace.

If you've never taken a yoga class before, start with a beginner class or a general hot yoga class, which adds extra heat and humidity to the studio to aid in flexibility and range of motion. Both should be challenging enough to satisfy a competitive edge, but will have a gradual, versatile flow from week to week to help build your skills, learn posture names, and correct alignment.

If you are practicing at home, check out the poses below that focus on areas of a runner's body that are often the most tight—hips, hamstrings, inner thighs, and the iliotibial (IT) band. Plus, we've got the best gear to take you from the trail to your mat without overloading your closet.

The Poses

Hips: Crescent Moon Low Lunge with the back knee down

"There is a lot of hip flection during running," Carbonell says, like when your knees and thighs move toward your torso during the lifting part of a stride. "So crescent moon is one of the best poses for a runner."

Starting from a kneeling position with hips over knees, step your right foot out in front so that the thigh is parallel to the ground and your knee is over your heel. Place your hands on each side of your foot and slide your left knee back on the mat until you feel a stretch in the front of your upper, left thigh and in the groin. Your back foot can lay flat on the ground; not on your toes. Keep your left knee on the mat. Then, if you are feeling balanced, start to raise your arms and torso up to stretch your side body as well and sink into your hips. Switch legs and repeat. Hold the pose for 30 to 45 seconds on each side.

Hamstrings: Half Split post with the back knee down

"There's a lot of hamstring contractions in running and not a whole lot of stretch," Carbonell says.

To stretch out the hamstrings, move from the crescent moon lunge to a half split post. From the lunge with the right foot forward, simply begin to move your hips and butt back while straightening your front right leg and flexing the front foot on the ground. You should stop once your hips are directly over your knees. From there, bend forward and reach your hands toward your feet. If that is a struggle, place your hands on two blocks on either side of your foot. Switch legs and repeat; hold each side for 30 to 45 seconds.

Inner thighs: Butterfly pose

Sitting on your mat, place the soles of your feet together and let the knees fall outward and down. Keep your torso and chest lifted, while either holding the feet or applying gentle pressure to the knees to move the legs close to the ground. Move your feet close to your groin so that you can still feel a stretch in the inner thigh.

For an added posture to this inner thigh stretch, transition into Supported Fish. The support comes from a block or booster placed lengthwise on your mat with the widest side down. This pose is one that you can relax into and feel a deep stretch in your chest, neck, and torso.

With your legs still falling outward, begin to lean back, using support from your elbows and hands, until the space between your shoulder blades is resting on the block or bolster. Your arms can rest to the side, while your head and neck relaxes. Recline in this pose for five to 10 minutes for an added mental benefit.

"Yoga works as a full-body movement practice to keep me mobile in my body and balanced in my head, two very important qualities for running," Carbonell says. "No matter your sport, mobility and clear-headedness is always a good thing."

IT Band: Cow Face or Shoelace Pose

The IT band is the connective tissue that runs from your outer, upper thigh down to your knee and connects muscles from your hips and thighs. For the cow face or shoelace pose, begin by sitting on your mat with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent in front of you. Move the right foot under the left leg and toward where your left hip is resting on the mat. Your left leg will begin to cross over your right; slide this foot across the mat toward the right hip resting on the mat. At this point, you are aiming to get your knees stacked on top of each other while you sit evenly between both sitting bones. Try to have your feet the same distance from either hip, without one foot splaying out more than the other. Hold the pose for 30 to 45 seconds on each side.

Best Selling Women's Yoga

The Gear

Not everyone has a gear closet with endless space. Rather than having your yoga clothes, running wear, and whatever else you need, these items can take on both a yoga class and an afternoon jog.

Bottoms: Look for bottoms that are moisture-wicking and breathable, but also have plenty of stretch. Beyond Yoga High Waist Long Legging are a good option for women (the high waist keeps you covered during inversion poses on the mat) while the Prana Flex Short for men is stretchy enough for deep lunges, but comfortable enough for a long run.

Tops:Tank tops are perfect to use on a run and on the mat. The Under Armour UA Threadborne Muscle Tank Top for men is lightweight, quick-drying, and stretchy; the Brooks Distance Tank Top for women is moisture-wicking and semi-fitted to move with you from pose to pose. Both allow for breathable comfort on a run and a loose-fit on the mat.

Sports Bras: Running and yoga are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to impact. A running bra needs to have full support and coverage for the higher-impact sport of running, while a yoga bra can be less restrictive and should be able to move with you as you move through the poses. Both should be comfortable and offer full coverage for hot weather runs and twisty, full-body poses on the mat. The Lorna Jane High Intensity Sports Bra is a convertible racerback-to-straps top that has an adjustable, hook-and-loop closure with full coverage in the front. If you don't need as much support, the North Face Beyond the Wall Free Motion Bra is a medium-impact racerback that is moisture-wicking with a higher neckline.

Blocks and Bolsters: Blocks and bolsters help support a variety of yoga poses, and can also aid in general stretching. Manduka Recycled Foam Block is a slip-resistant, firm yoga block made from 50 percent recycled foam. A bolster, like the Enlight Rectangular from Manduka, offers support in many reclined yoga poses — though sometimes rolled up blankets or towels will suffice.

Including these poses—and any more you learn in the studio—in your weekly routine will keep you flexible, fit, and thinking clearly. Breath deep, stretch out, and get ready to feel the difference on your next run.

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