If you’re a runner, especially over the age of 40, yoga could be the key to unlocking better performance potential and reducing injury risk. Yoga has a huge host of benefits for runners, both mental and physical, and is something you should seriously consider adding into your regular weekly movement routine.
We get the expert insight on the relationship between yoga and running, as well as tips and instructions on the best yoga poses for runners, from health and fitness professional James Crossley. James has over 20 years experience educating clients and is a qualified yoga instructor and gong practitioner. James is perhaps best known as Hunter from the 1990s television series Gladiators; a bodybuilder-turned-yoga teacher with a passion for helping people over the age of 40 support their longevity.
- Is yoga good for runners?
- What type of yoga is best for runners?
- How often should a runner do yoga?
- How yoga can improve mobility
- Using yoga for running rehab
Is yoga good for runners?
The definitive answer is that yes, yoga is very good for runners. One study from 2016 provides clear evidence that yoga has significant benefits for athletes. The results of the study found that regular yoga practice considerably improved flexibility and balance in the test athletes which led to enhanced athletic performance.
One of the main reasons yoga is good for runners is that it can reduce the risk of injury. James says, “Yoga helps to prevent injuries by addressing the muscular imbalances created by running and increasing both strength and flexibility.” When looking at older runners, James goes on to say, “Our bones and muscles start ageing in our 30s and this can lead to deterioration of joints and ligaments, making us feel stiff and less mobile. For those who are 40 and over, yoga combats these symptoms by helping maintain tone and flexibility in the muscles, making you more resistant to injury when running.”
What type of yoga is best for runners?
There are lots of different types of yoga, from slow restorative yoga to hot Bikram yoga. The type you choose will mainly be down to personal preference, as they all have their own benefits for runners. Here are three yoga poses hand-selected by expert James as being beneficial for runners.
- Step your feet 60-90 cm apart. Turn to the right so your right foot is facing outwards and your left foot is facing the side corner of the mat at about 40 degrees.
- You can open your feet a little wider if you need more balance.
- Turn your hips forward to keep your hips square.
- Take a big deep breath inwards. As you exhale, fold at the hips with a long spine and place your hands on the floor - or on blocks if you cannot reach the floor.
- As you continue to breathe deeply, slowly draw your chest closer to your shin.
- You should feel a stretch in your back, hamstrings and calves.
- Repeat on your left side.
- Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest.
- Open your knees and drape them either side of your torso.
- Stack your ankles above your knees and comfortably flex your feet.
- Keeping your hips, head, and shoulders on the mat, grab the outside of your feet with each hand.
- If you can’t quite reach your feet, grab your shins or use a belt at the balls of the feet.
- Gently rock the hips side to side.
- This yoga pose will stretch the spine, glutes, hamstrings and help to open tight hips - particularly useful for runners.
- Adopt a position on all fours.
- Step your right foot to the outside of your right hand and push forwards through the hips so that the back leg is almost straight and the front leg is bent as much as possible.
- Bend your front knee so that it is slightly behind the ankle (not directly above it) and turn your foot slightly outwards.
- If you feel you want to further the stretch, gently lower yourself onto your forearms.
- This yoga pose is especially good for runners as it really stretches the hip flexors and glutes, which can get tight if not stretched regularly.
How often should a runner do yoga?
If you’re already running 5 times a week with a cross-training session and a strength training session crammed in there too, you may wonder how you’re supposed to fit a yoga session into your weekly training regime. James advises, “I think twice a week is good to fit around other training. Try to make your yoga session non-negotiable, even if you tag it on after a run. It doesn’t have to be a long session - even 20 minutes twice a week will make a difference.”
When it comes to deciding if you should practise yoga in the morning or evening, James says, “This is really a preference. The best workout in the world is the one you stick to, so the time has to fit in with your lifestyle. If you're a busy person, I would suggest getting your yoga done first thing in the morning, then there are no excuses later in the day.”
Your yoga session shouldn’t detract from your other training sessions, such as cross-training or strength training, as it has different applications and benefits. James says, “Strength training for runners is a great way to improve explosive power and endurance. It also prevents injury caused by repeatedly doing the same movement patterns. It makes for a good combination with yoga if you're training for a long run.”
How yoga can improve mobility
If there’s one thing all runners need, it’s good mobility. A recent study from 2020 looked to specifically investigate how stretching and mobility can improve running economy - a leading indicator of running performance. The study found that a single stretching session like yoga can improve running economy as well as heart rate and oxygen uptake, meaning better running performance.
For runners looking to improve their mobility, James says, “I like a combination of Vinyasa and Yin Yoga. Vinyasa is a soft flow following breath and movements. Each transition of the pose is performed mindfully and slowly, following slow, deep breathing throughout the practice. Yin Yoga is more for the connective tissue and joints, with long holds embracing the stillness.”
For runners looking to strengthen their hips, James recommends a Vinyasa-style flow with holds like Triangle Pose, Half Moon Pose and Warrior 3, finishing off with various bridge variations and a Happy Baby.
Using yoga for running rehab
If you’re an injured runner looking for rehabilitation, yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility and get back to health. James says, “Restorative yoga is best, but of course it's very dependent on the injury. It's the mind that often struggles if you're a very active person who then gets injured and can’t run. Look at it as a good time to work on weaknesses in other areas or embrace a different purpose until healed.”
About the author: Alex Parren is a Freelance Health & Fitness writer as well as a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.