Benefits of YOGA for Runners

Sep 26th, 2017
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It takes all but a cursory look online and in real life to see that the sport of running, and in particular, endurance distance running, is extremely popular these days. People from all walks of life, and from all different types of health and athletic backgrounds — or lack thereof, as is more often the case — are flocking to running. For some people, they strive to set Personal Bests and to run faster and farther than they ever have before, but for many more, they simply revel in the accomplishment and the satisfaction of putting themselves out there day in and day out and working hard.

As great as this is — and believe me, I’m a huge fan of getting new people to discover the joy of running, since I am a lifelong runner, myself — the problem is that running has a huge injury rate. It’s so common that it’s a safe assumption that any runner you talk to has been injured (or might even currently be injured) at one point or another, or several times, throughout his or her running career. There are loads of theories as to why runners get injured so often, and one of the chief theories stem from the fact that many runners just run every day, week after week, month after month, year after year. That is, they do nothing beyond running to get themselves into peak fitness — no cross-training, no weightlifting, no strength and flexibility work, no Pilates or yoga, no nothing — so instead, they do a fantastic job at getting some muscles really, really strong, much to the detriment of the rest of their bodies.

It often doesn’t become obvious to runners that they need to also work on their strength and flexibility conditioning until they become injured. It’s often only then that runners have an a-ha moment and finally begin to incorporate yoga into their routine on a semi-regular basis. Better late than never, I suppose.

Yoga and running have both (separately) existed for thousands of years, arguably for as long as humans have existed, and fortunately, in today’s day and age, both activities remain as moldable as ever. In other words, you have a great amount of latitude in deciding which “type” of running you like — sprints, slow and steady, 5ks, marathons, trail running, and the like — just as you also can decide which type of yoga is best suited for your goals. You may only want to practice yoga from the comfort of your living room, or you may decide to go to a group studio or even go so far as to get your own yoga certification and credentialing so you can teach others in your own private practice; just like with running, the options are truly endless.

If you’re a runner, you should also be incorporating yoga into your training regimen on a regular basis; what type of yoga, exactly, depends largely on your training program, your body’s needs at any given time, and your familiarity and level of expertise with yoga. Waiting until you’re injured or otherwise unable to run to begin yoga is shortsighted, and some might even argue that runners who practice yoga regularly help to mitigate their injury risk.

Below, I’ll talk briefly about some of the many benefits that yoga can provide to runners.

It helps with your mental game and focus. Lots of people swear that running is very much a mental game, and I’d agree with this statement. It doesn’t seem to matter much if you’re running short distances or long ones; it’s imperative that you actively keep your mind engaged every step of the way. Our ubiquitously-connected society often makes it hard for our brains to concentrate on just a single task at a time, instead of meandering aimlessly about everything on our to-do list, and regularly incorporating a yoga practice can help you hone your mental game and really teach you how to focus. In time, you may even find that you can use the concentration skills you pick up from yoga to help you with your positive self-talk game as well, as you work to minimize the harsh self-criticism and turn those negative thoughts into ones more encouraging and affirming — a huge benefit to have in your mental toolkit during the throes of a hard race or training run.

Yoga’s meditative components are unmatchable. Even if you find running to be a meditative activity, I think you’d be surprised at how much you can get out of yoga and how much it can both relax you and how much it can help you focus, both during your sport and during your day-to-day life. Not all yoga is slowgoing and meditative, of course, but if you’re finding that you have trouble “slowing down” each day or that your stress levels are higher than you’d like, I’d strongly encourage you to find a yoga practice that’d help satisfy your needs. Yoga’s meditative qualities can also be great reminders to us to stop multitasking once and for all and to instead focus on just one thing at a time — doing one thing really well instead of trying to do many things quite poorly, that is — which, in turn, can help us in the throes of competition (or in our regular, ordinary life).

Runners need more flexibility and strength training. Because so many runners just run all the time, they tend to develop really strong muscles in some places, which is great; the flip side, however, that all these muscles’ combined strength is much to the detriment of virtually every other muscle group. For example, runners often have really strong quad muscles, but by and large, runners’  hamstrings, hip flexors, or iliotibial bands (ITB) couldn’t be tighter. Yoga, of course, can help runners to intentionally stretch out and strengthen weak and tight muscles. There are even runner-focused yoga programs and practices out there that cater to athletes who identify first as runners but who are also interested in incorporating yoga in a way that will be complementary to their running and their running-related goals. Oftentimes runners will shy away from regular yoga practices because they don’t want to give up their precious run time for something other than running, but if they see a yoga routine that will be complementary to their running, they will often enthusiastically take advantage of the opportunity to do something that will make them a better athlete and a better (read: stronger, faster, healthier) runner.

Over time, runners may find that adding yoga into their regular routine confers benefits to them that are less easily quantifiable, much like running. They may feel that yoga leaves them feeling a bit more “balanced” or that it’s as big a stress relief as running. With so many types of yoga available these days, and a plethora of avenues through which runners can pursue them (online, in person, at home, and the like), there’s really no reason why runners shouldn’t be incorporating yoga more regularly.

Writer’s Bio: Dan Chabert
An entrepreneur and a husband, Dan hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves to join ultramarathon races and travel to popular running destinations together with his wife. During regular days, he manages his websites, Runnerclick, That Sweet Gift, Monica’s Health Magazine and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.

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