While runners are some of the fittest folks on the planet, many of us harbor a number of strength and flexibility issues. It's no wonder when you consider that a runner strikes the ground nearly 1,000 times in a single mile, pounding the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments with each step. The good news is that practicing yoga as a supplement to your running regimen can improve some of the shortcomings of your run training.
"Yoga and running are the Yin and Yang of fitness," says Denise Thompson, a certified yoga instructor and owner of Yogirunner.com. "They are not opposing forces, but complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole." Put simply, yoga can fill in where running falls short. This is particularly true in terms of strength, flexibility and mental acuity.
"Unlike lifting weights, the practice of yoga engages major and minor muscle groups synergistically through a broad range of motions, and also creates space within the body by lengthening muscles and ultimately improving flexibility," Thompson says. "Poses require focus and full body engagement, creating a strong sense of balance from head to toe."
Perhaps the greatest reason for a runner to include regular yoga practice in his or her training is for injury prevention. Since even the most basic poses employ the major muscle groups as well as the smaller, underworked complementary muscles, yoga can help a runner identify weak spots that need attention prior to the development of an injury.
"Yoga does a great job of pointing out imbalances that can indicate injury is not far away," says Ashlee Willaman, a certified running coach and yoga teacher. "I have a lot of students who complain of knee pain, but through the course of a class we're able to figure out that the pain is coming from tightness or an imbalance in the hip."
Yoga can also help a runner identify issues, such as quad dominance, which is when the strength of the quadriceps muscles far outweigh the strength of the hamstrings and glutes. Over the miles, this kind of strength imbalance can cause a runner to overcompensate and rely too much on certain muscle groups, which often leads to injuries.
"I incorporate poses into my class that address all muscle groups so athletes can observe what needs to be done," Willaman says. "Yoga teaches us to perceive and then do."
Indeed, aside from the physical benefits that yoga offers, it also helps to boost mental focus and kinesthetic awareness. Since runners are often guilty of training through pain and ignoring the body's warning signals, yoga can help us achieve improved physical consciousness. "Yoga creates a stronger sense of body awareness and teaches practitioners the art of listening to the body," Thompson says.