Unveiling the Power: Benefits of yoga for runners

July 11, 2023

Faye Johnson
Unveiling the Power: Benefits of yoga for runners

To become a better runner, I must get out there and run more?

More miles make me a better runner, right?

Why am I plateauing with me running?

These are some of the questions or thoughts you might have with your running. Running isn’t all about the running, there is more to becoming a better runner than you might think.

Runners of all levels can benefit from incorporating yoga into their regular cross training plan, you can improve your running, aid your recovery, prevent injury, and support your overall health.

For example, it can improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels by improving metabolism and can lower blood pressure by improving artery relaxation and efficiency of the heart.


The history of Yoga

Yoga dates back about 2,000 years ago. The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra. The true meaning of Yoga is the union of body, mind, soul, and spirit. According to Yoga, we suffer because of the illusion of separation between our individual consciousness from Universal Consciousnessor Brahman. This is a metaphysical concept of Hinduism referring tothe ultimate unchanging reality, that is uncreated, eternal, infinite,transcendent, the cause, the foundation, the source and the goal of allexistence. The Yoga Sutras are a practical to guide yourspiritual journey of remembering that union.

Yoga combines physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation, however improvedfitness was not originally a primary goal—mental focus was. It wasn’t until the practice started to gain popularity in the Western world in the 1920s and 1930s that better physical fitness benefits became a priority.

There are many types of yoga.Some of the most popular are:

• Ashtanga yoga: Applies six established sequences of postures that rapidly link every movement to breath.

• Bikram (or “hot”) yoga: Rooms are heated to nearly 40 degrees Celsius and 40 percent humidity. It consists of 26 posesand a sequence of two breathing exercises.

• Hatha yoga: Any yoga practice that teaches physical poses.

• Power yoga: A more athletic type of yoga that is based on ashtanga yoga.


Best type of yoga for runners

When it comes to choosing the best type of yoga for runners, one style stands out: Vinyasa yoga. This dynamic practice synchronizes movement with breath, making it an ideal match for the rhythm of running. Vinyasa's flowing sequences help to enhance flexibility, strengthen key muscle groups, and improve overall endurance – all crucial aspects for runners aiming to excel on the track or trail. Additionally, the emphasis on controlled breathing in Vinyasa aligns with the breath-focused techniques used in running, facilitating better lung capacity and stamina. While other yoga styles offer their own benefits, Vinyasa's blend of movement, breath, and mindfulness makes it a top choice for runners seeking to optimise their performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

Flexibility, balance, and coordination

Yoga can appear quite serene, perhaps “not hard enough” or give you the idea that it “won’t work me hard enough”, but in yoga you engage lots of underutilised muscles, stabilising muscles that often get neglected, especially with a sport like running.

Take a simple balance pose, like Warrior One or Triangle pose, you might feel your feet having to work harder than usual to keep you grounded. This then means that your ankle muscles are engaged, calf muscles are stabilising along with your hamstring, glutes, and quads. Oh, and you’re engaging your core muscles, back and shoulder muscles too. It is a chain reaction throughout the muscles to ensure that you can hold the pose effectively and not fall over!

This is all very useful to us as runners as it aids in better balance and co-ordination (any of you trail and fell runners out there – this is golden!)

Yoga for Runners' Injury Prevention

Yoga encourages flexibility in the hamstrings and hip flexors which can help with lengthening your running stride. Your ability to generate more power through the running cycle with these more efficient mechanics is important for maximum muscle engagement. This means that you will cover more ground, in less time, and as a result could run faster. Running efficiency is a big key to success especially over longer distances and more challenging terrain.

As a regular runner you probably feel some tightness in your hips, hamstrings, quads and calves from time to time, particularly if you have completed a hard training run or a race.

The poses in yoga, such as Downward dog, and Warrior help to develop your range of movement, especially in the hip complex. This then means that you can move more freely and as a result keeping the many muscles that attach and link into your pelvis able to work more efficiently without restriction or discomfort. This is a win, win for your running!

As human beings we tend to have muscular imbalances and as a result we can find that one side of the body picks up the slack for the other. Muscle imbalances are very common and come about because of our lifestyles, too much time sitting, repetitive manual handling tasks, carrying a baby, or driving.

If something in our body isn’t functioning to its full capacity, as humans we are good at adapting ourselves, but this isn’t always for the better.

In the context of runners injury prevention, the practice of yoga assumes a crucial role. Yoga poses foster harmonious muscle engagement, promoting consistent contractions and releases during each flow. This cultivates enhanced muscle elasticity, rendering them more resilient against fluctuations in tension and length. Should an imbalance arise, such as a weaker leg, it becomes evident during balance poses, compelling a re emphasis on equilibrium or even a step back in a stretch or pose. Remember, this progression is a natural part of the process, requiring time and patience as your body adapts in the pursuit of optimal runners' injury prevention and recovery.

How Does Yoga Help with Running Posture?

How often are you told to “run with good form” or “keep good running posture”?

Posture is not only important in day-to-day life, but alsoin our running. It aids in the efficiency of our running, our breathing, andthe utilisation of our arm drive.

One of the things yoga is best known for is its helping to develop core strength. Core strength – engaging of the abdominals, back and pelvicmuscles – is important for runners.

Enhancements in core strength and the capacity to effectively engage your core prove vital, especially as fatigue sets in during the latter stages of training runs or races. The ability to maintain an upright posture, even amidst exhaustion, significantly contributes to sustaining efficient running form, ultimately minimizing the likelihood of injuries. Prioritising these aspects through yoga not only bolsters your core but also serves as a valuable tool to improve your running form.

Breathing Improvements

Yoga brings about benefits to our breathing awareness, control, and aerobic capacity. In yoga the breath is often used to guide movements and flows and is very helpful when it comes to holding poses and tapping into our musclular strength and endurance.  It teaches you to breath mindfully through discomfort and control your breathing so that you can continue to perform and push yourself harder. This is a very useful skill for running!

When it comes to choosing a type of yoga to practice a few factors come in to play, such as how much experience you have and whether you want something more relaxing or more intense. However, it can be great to give them all a try to see which benefits you and that you enjoy.


Best Yoga Poses For Runners?

Well, here are some excellent ones to try and include, low lunge, tree, child's pose and butterfly!


Low Lunge

best yoga poses for runners | Low lunge


This is an excellent hip opener of an exercise; the low lunge stretches the hip flexor complex and quadriceps. Many runners suffer from tight hips, which can lead to under active gluteal muscles, resulting in potential knee and/or low back problems.

When starting this exercise, it can be performed with the front toe up against a wall to help promote balance and stabilisation.


How it’s done: From a standing position, take one step forward while keeping the second leg in place. Bend the knee of the front leg at a 90-degree angle. Lower your back leg to the floor or hold it straight. Make sure to keep your back straight, your tailbone tucked under and your hips facing forward. Reach your arms straight above your head. If you have problems keeping your balance, try focusing on a point in front of you and breathe calmly.


Downward Dog


downward dog pose

Within this pose you open up and stretch your arms, back and legs. This pose allows you to open up your calves and hamstrings and stretch your feet and achilles tendon while pushing your heel towards the ground, making it the perfect yoga pose for runners. In addition to being extremely regenerative, this pose improves circulation throughout the body as the head is below the heart.

How is it done: In this pose, it is important to avoid over-stretching your legs. Keep your back straight and make sure you lift your sit bones high. You can leave your knees slightly bent if you like. If you want to stretch your calf and hamstring muscles, bend one knee and then the other. Your arms should always remain straight with your biceps facing up.


Triangle pose


triangle pose

This pose stretches the hips,groins, hamstrings, the muscles surrounding the knee, calves, ankle joints,shoulders, chest, and spine. It also strengthens the abdominal muscles,obliques, back, legs, knees, and ankles. A real all-rounder! This pose includesa light spine strengthening twist as well. This pose is great for runnersbecause it helps to open the groins and hamstrings and improves balance bystrengthening and stretching the ankles.


How is it done: Stand with your legs straightand your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart (but not too wide). Raise yourarms so they are parallel to the floor at shoulder height. Stretch your body toone side as if someone were pulling on your hand. Your back should remain asstraight as possible, and your hips should face forward. Reach your arm down asfar as you can while making sure that your weight is distributed evenly throughboth legs (your back foot should not come off the floor) and bend down to thefloor with your back straight. The goal is for your hand to touch the floor,but you can also place it on your shin. Make sure to stack your shoulders ontop of each other (as if you were leaning on a wall behind you) and look up atthe ceiling.

Tree Pose

tree pose

This pose is great forstrengthening the calves, ankles, thighs, and the spine, while simultaneouslystretching the shoulders, groin, chest, and inner thighs, and opening the hips.Another benefit of the tree pose is that it can also reduce flat feet andrelieve sciatic pain.

How is it done: Stand upright and keep yourback straight and your legs active. Bring one foot up the inside of the otherleg and place it there above the knee (not on the knee). The knee of the bentleg should point to the side, thus stretching your lumbar muscles. Reach botharms up above your head. Tip: Focus on a point in front of you to help keepyour balance!



Childs Pose

Childs pose

This pose is meant to be a comforting, gentle stretch, andresting pose. With the child’s pose you stretch your hips, knees, thighs, lowback, and ankles. It also releases back and neck strain and helps blood flow tothe brain and spine. For runners, the child’s pose aids in keeping the anklesflexible and supple, while stretching the tops of the shins and the feet. Thispose is great to take at any time throughout the practice if you need a break.

How is it done: Kneel on the floor with your knees hip-width apart and yourbig toes touching/pointing behind you. Bend over and lay your torso downbetween your thighs. Sit back on your heels and rest your forehead on the mat.To increase the back stretch, you can actively stretch your arms forward andpush your tailbone back. If you want to give your shoulders a rest, place yourarms at the side of your body.


Cobbler/Butterfly Pose


butterfly pose


Being a great stretch and yoga pose for runners,the cobbler’s pose opens the inner thighs, knees, and groin, and even boostsmobility in the hips while releasing tension and strengthening the muscles ofyour back.

How is it done: Sit with your spine straight. Bend your knees out to theside and bring the soles of your feet together. Your back should remain asstraight as possible. You may find that your knees are sitting high, this isokay. Tight muscles around the groin/hips are often tight in runners, work onthis exercise gradually. Frequent practice of this will see increases inflexibility.


So, what have we learned? Yoga is not just a means of finding your inner peace or a supplement to your meditation routine. It's a powerhouse workout that can significantly boost your performance as a runner. By honing your balance, improving your muscular strength and flexibility, reducing muscle imbalances, improving your posture and breath control, yoga provides an all-encompassing approach to bettering your running experience and overall fitness.

Despite the seeming tranquillity of the practice, yoga demands quite a lot from our bodies. Poses like the Warrior One, Triangle Pose, Downward Dog, Tree, Child's Pose, and Butterfly, among others, not only enhance our physical capabilities but also our mental resilience. These poses encourage us to embrace discomfort, focus our mind, and develop patience — all crucial elements of long-distance running and dealing with challenging terrains.

The beauty of yoga lies in its universality. Regardless of your experience or desired intensity, there is a type of yoga out there for you. So why not give it a try? You might be pleasantly surprised at how this ancient practice can invigorate your running regimen and help you unlock new levels of performance.

Remember, the key to successfully integrating yoga into your routine is patience and consistency. It might take time to notice improvements, but when you do, they'll be worth the wait. So lace up your running shoes, roll out your yoga mat, and get ready to take your running to a whole new level.


Does yoga make you a better runner?

Absolutely! Yoga's flexibility, strength, and mindfulness benefits can enhance your running game, making you a more balanced and efficient runner. Namaste to better runs

How many times a week should runners do yoga?

For optimal results, aim for 2-3 yoga sessions per week. Strike a balance between recovery and training to maximise the benefits for your running journey.

What is best for runners, yoga or pilates?

While both have merits, yoga often takes the lead for runners. Its focus on flexibility, breath, and mindfulness align well with running's demands, reducing injury risks and improving performance.

Does yoga make running easier?

Absolutely! Yoga's benefits, such as improved flexibility, strength, and mental focus, can make running feel smoother and more enjoyable. It's like giving your running shoes a supportive boost!

Author: Faye Johnson - Level 4 PT, UKA Running Coach, and coach at Maximum Mileage Coaching!

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