Running has been my go-to cardio exercise for as long as I can remember. Some people love it, and some hate it. But it’s always been the one exercise that makes me feel invigorated, energized, and accomplished. That’s not to say I don’t have my bad days. There are times I feel unmotivated, exhausted, and sore, and want to skip my workout. But that is normal and comes with any sport. I recall my dad buying me my first treadmill when I was in the sixth grade. Ever since then, running has been something I’ve incorporated into my life one way or another. For the majority of my life I just ran for fun. I used it as my form of cardio training, or ran with friends after class in college. More recently, over the past four years I’ve dabbled in running 5Ks and half-marathons. Not competitively (I mean I like to compete with myself and beat my own time), I just enjoy the challenge and dedication it takes. I’m currently in the final few weeks of another half-marathon training and I took a different approach this time. One that I think has really paid off and will for some time to come. During my training I’ve not only focused on running, but I’ve put equal time and attention into strength training and yoga.
In this post I will go over the many yoga poses that have helped me through my training and ones that are especially important for runners. Yoga has so many benefits and and can be used as a supplement in your training regimen for almost any sport. The following yoga poses work on stretching and flexibility through the hips and major muscles of the leg as well as opening up and supporting the back.
Incorporating yoga into your race training and running regimen can really be an asset by enhancing your stability, helping you find connection to the earth, strengthening your muscles, and supporting your joints. These poses can easily be done at any point throughout the day. I would advise you to listen to your body though. Some poses ignite big stretches and if your body is telling you “no”, then you should listen to it and back off a little until you’ve gained more flexibility through regular practice. Don’t go as deep into the stretch if your muscles are screaming at you to stop and try performing the deep stretch poses once your muscles are already warmed up (after a run) to prevent injury.
Give these yoga poses a try, and who knows, it may help you expand your yoga practice outside of the running world too! Keep an open mind. Remember your training should be well rounded and include some slower and more restorative movements as well!
Cat & Cow Poses
- Begin on hands and knees with your knees directly underneath your hip points and your hands planted underneath the shoulders.
- Press firmly into the top of the feet and into the knuckles and fingertips (to take pressure off of the wrists).
- Keep length in the back of the neck by gazing straight down.
- On an inhale, drop the belly, lift the tail bone, and lift the head. You should feel a stretch through the abdominal muscles.
- Now, on an exhale, round through your spine and curl your back body by pressing into the hands and tops of the feet. Focus your attention on the upper back. You should feel a nice stretch and opening through your upper back body.
- Repeat this sequence 5-8 times, or longer. Tune into your breath and sync it up with the movements.
Cat & Cow Poses are great way to begin your runner’s yoga practice. These poses warm up the body and breath and bring a nice easy stretch to the back and core.
- Begin in a cross-legged seated position.
- Sit up tall, and find alignment by imagining a strain line from the top of your head to the base of your spine.
- Draw circles in the air with your nose rotating your head and neck in one direction and then the other direction.
- Shake your head “yes” and “no” slowly a few times each.
- Tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear over your right shoulder. Reach your left hand out the the side to deepen the stretch in the left side of the neck.
- Tilt your head to the left, bringing your left ear over your left shoulder. Reach your right hand out the the side to deepen the stretch in the right side of the neck.
Deep Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
- Start standing with your feet slightly closer than hip-width apart.
- On an inhale, reach your arms high above your head and bring your palms together.
- On an exhale, hinge at your hips keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground bending forward until your hands reach the ground. (Beginners Tip: It’s ok if your hands don’t reach the ground. Go as far as you comfortably can. Bending your knees slightly will help.)
- Allow your upper body to become very heavy.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- You should feel a release through your back and a big stretch through the hamstrings.
- To come out of this pose, engage your core and slowly roll through your spine back to a standing position.
Forward folds are a great way to release tension in the upper back, an area that can become very tight from running.
Hamstring and Leg Stretches
Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
- Begin in a seated position. Bend your right knee and bring your right foot in toward the center (leave a small gap between your right foot and left thigh). Extend your left leg out long, flexing the left toes up.
- On an inhale, sit up tall and lengthen through the spine. Reach your arms above your head and rotate at your core to turn slightly toward the left.
- On an exhale, hinge forward bringing your chest toward your left thigh and eventually lowering your head to your left knee and grabbing hold of your left foot with both hands. (Beginners Tip: Your head may not lower all the way to your knee and you may not be able to grasp your foot. Don’t push yourself into this position if it doesn’t feel right. With regular practice you will gain flexibility.)
- Stay here for 5-8 breaths, then gently release and roll back up to a seated position.
- Repeat on opposite side.
This pose provides a nice stretch through the back, side body, and hamstrings. It’s great for relieving muscle tightness in the upper and lower back as well.
Half Splits Pose (Ardha Hanumanasana)
- Start in a low lunge position.
- Press into the front foot, sending your hips backward and straightening through the front leg.
- Flex your front toes toward you.
- Your fingertips can come to the mat on either side of your front leg for support.
- Find a gentle rounding though the spine as you pull your hips back and feel a generous stretch in the back of the knee and hamstring.
- Breathe in this pose for 5-8 breaths.
- To come out of this pose, shift your hips and weight forward, round through the front foot and come back into a low lunge.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Plant your hands firmly into the ground and rotate your arm bones out so that your elbow creases are facing the top of your mat.
- Your knees should be underneath your hips.
- Curl your toes under, press into your hands and feet, and gently peel your hips up toward the sky.
- Beginners Tip: In traditional Downward Facing Dog the heels reach the floor, but it’s ok if yours don’t. Stay on your toes if you need to.
- Let the head hang heavy and the neck be long. You should be looking towards your navel.
- Stay here for 8-10 breaths. The inversion should feel invigorating as the blood-flow travels toward the head.
- To come out of this pose, lower your knees back to the ground or slowly step your feet up to meet your hands in a Forward Fold.
Downward Facing Dog should be a staple in your yoga and stretching routine if you run regularly. The muscles in the back of the thighs and lower legs are some of the most used muscles during running, easily becoming tense and fatigued. Routinely focusing on stretching these specific muscles will help strengthen, lengthen, and restore them to become more efficient.
Strengthening Your Core
Believe it or not, your core is a major component when it comes to running (especially long distances). A strong core will keep your body in alignment and help support your upper body during those long, strenuous runs. It prevents your upper body from collapsing down and supports your back body as well (preventing back injuries).
Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana)
- Start in a kneeling position with your hands planted on the ground slightly in front of your shoulders.
- Make sure your neck and head are in alignment with your spine (try not to look forward or too far behind you). Your gaze should be straight down between your hands or just slightly in front of your hands.
- Beginners Tip: Keeping your knees on the ground, cross your ankles and lift your feet up. This is a kneeling plank and a great place to start from when working up to a full plank.
- To move into a full plank pose, tuck you toes under and start to shift your weight forward into your arms.
- Lift the knees and bring your hips up so that your body is in alignment from the crown of your head to the backs of your heels.
- Press your hands into the ground, broadening through your upper back.
- Hold this pose for 15-30 seconds. Work on extending the time you hold this pose as you gain strength and endurance through regular practice.
- You can transition out of this pose by releasing your knees back to the ground or sending your hips up high into Downward Facing Dog pose.
Having a strong core is extremely beneficial if you’d like to improve your running practice and plank pose is one of the best ways to achieve that. It engages the whole abdominal wall while also strengthening the back and upper body.
Cobbler’s Pose (Baddha Konasana)
- Begin in a seated position. Bend both knees out to the sides and bring the soles of the feet together in front of you. Draw your heels in toward your body.
- Grab your ankles or cup your toes in your hands and lengthen up through the spine as you ground down through the upper thighs. Sit up tall and and align your spine imagining there is a straight line from the top on your head down to your tail bone.
- Take a few breaths here, feeling a stretch in your adductor muscles of your inner thighs.
- For a deeper stretch, you may slowly start to hinge forward, eventually bringing your forehead to rest on your feet or the floor in front of you.
Hip openers, like this pose, are very important for runners to incorporate into their practice. It aids in toning the muscles of the pelvic floor and prevents injury of the inner groin.
Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
- Begin on hands and knees. Bring the right knee forward and place it behind the right wrist. Swing your lower leg so that the right ankle ends up in front of the left hip Your lower right leg should be parallel to the top edge of your mat.
- Extend your left leg backward with the top of the thigh and foot touching the mat.
- This is a very deep hip opener so listen to your body here.
- Support and balance yourself in this pose by placing your fingertips out on the mat in front of your right leg and drawing your inner thighs in toward each other.
- Gently lower your hips down until you feel a deep stretch in the inner thighs, right glute, and right hamstring.
- Eventually, as you gain flexibility and open through the hips, you may be able to bring you forearms or forehead to the mat and fold forward.
- Beginners Tip: Yoga blocks can be very helpful in this pose. Placing one underneath the hips will provide some support and stability, while still helping you achieve a deep stretch. If you decide to fold forward in this pose, placing a block under your forehead will also give you some extra support.
- Stay in this pose for 5-8 breaths (or longer).
- To come out of this pose, curl your left toes under, press into the palms, lift the back knee, and slowly bring your right leg back into a hands/knees position (or send your hips up into Downward Facing Dog).
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
- Start in Downward Facing Dog pose.
- Anchor down through the left heel and lift your right leg up high.
- Then shift your weight forward bringing your right knee toward your nose, eventually stepping all the way through.
- Drop your left knee to the ground.
- Beginners Tip: Imagine your feet are on two separate planes. Your feet shouldn’t be directly in front of one another. This helps in developing balance in your lunges.
- You may keep the left toes curled under or place the top of the foot on the mat.
- With your hands still on the mat (on each side of your right foot), loop your shoulders back and open up through your chest as you gaze forward.
- Breathe deeply for 5-8 breaths. You should be activating through your core to maintain your balance, and feeling a nice stretch through the hips.
- To come out of this pose, plant your palms, curl your left toes under, lift the left knee, then step the right toes back into a plank pose. From here you can either transition to a downward facing dog or lower your knees to the ground.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
If you’re looking for some other yoga poses to compliment these check out my post 8 Yoga Poses for Beginners. Let me know how you enjoy working these poses and stretches into your running routine and look out for more yoga posts! As always, thanks for stopping by!
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