5 Ways Yoga Can Make You a Better Runner
Other than regularly pounding the pavement, yoga is one of the best things runners can do to improve. Here’s more on the benefits of yoga for runners
Yoga for runners
Yoga may seem like the opposite of running - the former is slow and low-impact while the latter is high-intensity cardio. Yet the two practices actually have a lot in common, says Steven Kvasnic, a Canadian yoga teacher and certified fitness trainer now based in Costa Rica. "They both require regular practice, strength, flexibility, endurance, mental focus and a structured breathing method. That's why yoga is a perfect cross-training tool for runners," he says. Here are five ways practicing yoga can improve your abilities as a runner.
Yoga builds strength
Running alone requires repetition of the same, high-impact movements. Practicing yoga will offset the one-dimensional nature of running by increasing flexibility and "strength in muscle groups that can stabilize the skeletal system," says Kvasnic. Yoga poses help support core, quad, hamstring, and hip-flexor muscles, which will make you a stronger runner. Kvasnic notes, however, that runners should take care to do yoga properly. "Overstretching or even stretching incorrectly can actually tighten muscles," he warns.
Yoga can make you faster
Yoga practitioners learn how to control their breath and coordinate breathing with their movements. This training can prove useful if you're trying to shorten your run time. "As the runner's breathing improves, so too will their speed," says Kvasnic. "As well, deep twists have been shown to substantially increase lung capacity and cardiovascular health." Breath training can also help you breathe through and alleviate painful side stitches.
Yoga improves endurance
It's easy to get caught up in the idea of striving for faster speeds and longer distances, but worrying about end results alone can be frustrating and self-defeating. Yoga teaches you to concentrate on the process of running, which in turn can help increase your endurance. "The internal focus demand of yoga can help a runner center attention on the body's movement rather than any external outcomes," says Kvasnic. "The body and especially the mind can become less rigid through a regular yoga practise, and endurance can actually improve from both a physical and psychological perspective."
Yoga helps prevent injuries
Runners tend to push through pain to meet their goals, but ignoring physical cues can lead to injury. Yoga teaches you to listen to your body and honour the messages it's trying to send. Regular practice can also support your body through the punishing demands of a long run and help speed up your recovery. "Yoga can strengthen ankle, knee and hip joints while at the same time lengthening the surrounding muscle, tissue and ligaments," says Kvasnic. "This can be extremely beneficial when you consider the demands on those joints that the continuous pounding of a run demands."
Yoga strengthens your mental muscles
Running is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. You've got to achieve focus and confidence, which is tough when training for and competing in a race. Yoga can help alleviate some of the pressure associated with competition, says Kvasnic. Flowing through poses (and practicing yoga meditation) gives you the opportunity to practice calming your mind and letting go of expectations - two skills that will come in handy on race day.