10 yoga poses for runners
This won't be the first time somebody tries to get you into yoga. Yoga converts are evangelical: There's the peaceful friend who wants you to find your heart center; the intense friend who dips out of work for Bikram and comes back 10 pounds lighter; and the insane friend who invites you to yoga, on a paddleboard, in the ocean, and then posts photos on Facebook to prove it's a real thing.
Now there's us: Our modest proposal is that yoga will make you a better runner, improve your form and balance, and decrease your susceptibility to overuse injuries of the lower extremities, including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, patellofemoral pain (knee), IT band syndrome and trochanteric bursitis (hip pain). Yoga will also improve your focus before and during the race, when mental staying power is as important as physical endurance.
We worked with yoga instructor and endurance sports coach Sage Rountree to identify 10 yoga poses that will improve your running game. Rountree, herself an accomplished athlete, has worked with everyone from Olympians to ultra-runners to average folks, and is recently the author of The Runner's Guide to Yoga.
"We're not trying to get runners to touch their toes or get their feet behind their head," says Rountree. "We're trying to keep them fluid through the range of motion they use for running, so there isn't a hitch in their stride that leads to an overuse injury." That, and it'll keep you from curling up and looking like a shrimp during the last leg of the race. Her word, "shrimp."
–By Jeremy Berger
To get into the low lunge, put one foot forward and lunge so that the front knee is over the front ankle and the back knee is down. Move the hands from the floor to the knee and, if steady, overhead. Hold the position for five to 10 breaths and then switch legs (always do both sides in yoga).
This position works all kinds of muscle groups—thighs, groin, abs—and improves flexibility in the split-legged position that's similar to a running stride.
Benefits: Encourages a fluid range of motion and helps with plantar fasciitis, knee pain and Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS).
Low lunge with twist
From the low lunge position, twist your torso toward the front leg, putting one palm on the ground and the other hand on the knee. Hold for five to 10 breaths. This will stretch the outer hip and the IT band of the front leg, both of which tend to be tight in runners. The twisting should also relieve some tension in the lower back.
Benefits: Encourages a fluid range of motion and helps with plantar fasciitis, knee pain and ITBS.
Start on the hands and knees, with your knees below the hips and the hands just in front of the shoulders. Then, walk your knees back six to 10 inches, turn the balls of the feet to the floor, spread your fingers wide against the mat, and lift your hips into an upside-down V. Hold for 10 breaths.
This is a traditional yoga pose that lengthens your back and stretches everything from the arches up through the shoulders. It also builds upper body strength so you don't end up with tree trunk legs and broomsticks for arms.
Benefits: This pose encourages a fluid range of motion and helps with plantar fasciitis.
Acting like a child is typically discouraged in the day-to-day grind of adult life. Not so in yoga, which is like a grown-up Chuck E. Cheese's. But we'll need you to put down that slice for a second and get into a kneeling position. Then lay your stomach on your thighs and put your head on the ground.
Your arms can be lengthened in front of you or simply rest, fingers pointed behind, next to your legs. You should feel lengthening through the back and stretching in the hips, thighs, ankles and feet. This is a resting position, so you can hold for 10 breaths or stay longer.
Benefits: Child's pose is a mild stretch for the lower body. It should also help with focus and relieve tension.
Squat (garland pose)
Also called the garland pose, the squat in yoga isn't all that different from the one you've done at the gym, form-wise. To get into the position, squat with your knees over your toes—legs at a 45-degree angle from the midline—and hold your hands together like you're praying. The heels don't necessarily need to touch the ground. Hold for five to 10 breaths. The squat stretches the back, inner thighs, calves and feet—everything that tightens up from running.
Benefits: Encourages a fluid range of motion and helps with plantar fasciitis and ITBS.
The locust is a simple and essential pose for distance runners. To do it, lay on your stomach with your hands by the hips, then lift your torso, arms and legs simultaneously. Hold this for five to 10 breaths and repeat three times.
It's not as easy as it looks. This position strengthens the muscles in your neck and back, and the backs of the arms and legs. You'll find that it improves your posture, especially toward the end of a marathon-length run, when those core support muscles start to give way. Plus, you'll have a little more protection from lower back injuries that start to plague us in our 30s.
Benefits: Improves posture, helps prevent injury.
The boat might feel familiar if you've done crunch variations. It's arguably more difficult, though, if you focus on form and not just scorching the core. To get there, sit with the knees and ankles together, then lift your legs and arms into a V position. Hold for five to 15 breaths and repeat three times. We've always found it difficult to know if we're balancing on the right part of the seat: What you're aiming for is the triangle formed by your sit bones (the bones that support you on a bike saddle) and tailbone.
The important thing with the boat is to keep your back long and straight, strengthening the core and the hip flexors, which are hard to target but get hammered during runs.
Benefits: Improves posture, helps prevent injury.
This is the pose that's always silhouetted against a sunrise in yoga literature. It looks good when properly executed (can't say the same for the locust). Stand and bend one leg back at the knee, reaching back with the hand on the same side to grab the foot. Then raise the other arm up, and simultaneously bring the leg up and back, away from your body. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be folding forward from the hips and bending your back slightly. Hold for five breaths.
Along with stretching a whole range of muscles, the Dancer position improves balance, which is something we don't talk about enough in running. It seems obvious: If we don't fall, we're balanced. But better balance means a more efficient stride and fewer injuries (overuse and otherwise) from landing improperly—all the more important if you're running in minimalist footwear.
Benefits: Improves balance and helps with plantar fasciitis, knee pain, ITBS and hip pain.
We've run with a lot of people over the years who put down 15 miles and then eat an egg sandwich, skip the stretching and go about their day. That's fine, they've earned it. But it's a lot like lifting weights and then skipping the recovery shake: We're not achieving the full benefits of the exercise if we don't recover properly.
The supported fish is an ideal pose for recovery. It's also very easy. Just lay down on your back, reclining over a rolled blanket. Stay there for 20 breaths or more. This stretches out the chest and encourages deep breaths.
Benefits: Helps with recovery and relieves tension.