How Yoga Can Help Your Running: Get Faster, Train Your Mind, and Stay Injury-Free

When athletes get hyperfocused on one sport, it can be difficult to make room for other areas of fitness. I’ve personally found this to be true while marathon training as the running itself already takes up so much time. Often we see the exercise itself, in this case running, to be the most important aspect of the training and it’s difficult to see how conditioning in other areas can help you improve. Yoga is definitely one form of cross-training that you’ll want to be doing.

But what you want to know is, how DOES yoga help running? With focused yoga practice, it can help improve your running by giving you:

  • Physical benefits such as balance, flexibility and range of motion
  • Mental benefits that can carry over to your running to focus on mind over matter when a pace gets tough
  • Strategies for better breath control

Here you’ll find out how yoga can help each of these areas of your running as well as recommended yoga poses for runners. We consulted with yoga teacher Tiffany Gerard of Sumits Yoga Colorado for her expert advice!

Image Credit: The Form Fitness on Pexels

How Yoga Gives Physical Running Benefits

As a runner, you probably already know how hard it can be on your joints and connective tissues. This is why implementing recovery runs between your hard and long runs is vital to give them time to adapt to all of your newfound speed and mileage. I’ve also discussed the benefits of foam rolling. Yoga is yet another form of recovery that’s really helpful in being proactive against tightness or running-related injuries in these areas.

I will share a tip that I have added into my own routine that I feel like is a must!  Working connective tissues is so important.  Fascia is intertwined throughout your entire body and is a stabilizer and protector for your muscles and organs.  Before a run, if you take a firm tennis ball and place it under the arch of your foot and then apply moderate pressure from a standing position for a couple minutes, it will help to loosen that fascia, warming up those connective tissues, better protecting you from injury and setting your body up for whatever distance you have planned that day.

-Tiffany Gerard, Yoga Instructor of Sumits Colorado

But in terms of physical benefits, yoga offers even more. Dare I say it can make you faster? If you’re used to running a lot, then you’ve felt tightness in your muscles – particularly your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Repetitive motion like that of running can shorten your muscles over time. Though you are strengthening your muscles (a great thing!), shortened muscles can decrease your mobility (a bad thing). This is why stretching is so important. And yoga is just another way to lengthen those large muscles needed for the speed and endurance you’re seeking in your running.

Tiffany reminded us that yoga can, “help runners to learn strength in their balance. Yogic practices that include asanas where your body is in motion from one pose to the next can help flexibility and improve your total range of motion.”

Tight muscles are obviously not what you’re going for on race day…and it won’t do your training any favors either. Flexible runners have more ability to hit a longer stride to hit their max speeds.

Yoga Gives Runners Mental Benefits

Maybe you’re thinking, but I don’t need yoga, I already get so many mental benefits from running! Which is absolutely true. One of the main reasons that I run is because it keeps me sane! I purposely go out for shorter easy runs with no headphones because I can get to a meditative state.

Yoga can offer those same benefits, but what I’m talking about is how it can help your mental game when you find yourself in those moments of running that require true grit. Like when it hurts so bad you want it to stop – but you also know you’re capable of overcoming the hurt to get what you want. This is EXACTLY the way I felt when I got my 10k PR last fall.

You’ve been there, too, right?

Your mind is basically having a fight with itself. Stop, don’t stop, stop, don’t stop. Yoga is a practice that can help you overcome the negative thoughts, something Tiffany describes as “bringing your focus inward.”

If you’ve ever tried yoga, then you know there are times you’re in a pose that feels difficult. It’s both physically challenging and mentally challenging – so the practice of staying present in the pose will also carry over to your running when it gets tough.

Tiffany recommends taking even just a minute before your run to tune into your breath and set an intention. She said it will, “bring awareness to what you want to take away no matter the distance.”

Do you always listen to music when you run? Read, “Marathon Runners Love Their Headphones, But is it the Best Choice,” to find out how you can up your mental game by ditching the music on some of your runs.

The Breathing Benefits of Yoga and How That Helps Your Running

I have to admit that I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on my breath when I run. That’s probably because my music is way too loud to pay attention to it. Even when I don’t listen to music I usually get lost in my own thoughts. Can you relate or are you pretty good at focusing on your breath already?

This an area that I think a lot of runners can work on.

Tiffany agrees that it’s incredibly helpful for runners to focus on their breath. She said, “Yoga is built on the idea of giving intentional focus to your breath so it can be very beneficial to help counterbalance higher intensity activities like running. Learning different pranayama breathing techniques can help a runner to better control their breath patterns during a run.”

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Of course you’ll want to take a yoga class (it could even be online!) to learn some of these breathing techniques, but you’re probably wondering how these techniques will carry over to your breath when you’re running. Tiffany gives great insight into how this looks when you’re out for a run!

As a runner myself, I find there are times where I might be training for a race and pushing to find my edge but then at some point find myself trying to “catch my breath”.  In those moments, I try to slow down my breathing using extended exhales which help quiet down the nervous system.  And then adding a yoga class or two into your weekly routine can help you work to improve your overall aerobic capacity which you can then take with you when you are on the course.

Tiffany Gerard, Yoga Instructor at Sumits Yoga Colorado

Incorporating Yoga Into Your Running Regimen

Now that we’ve established how yoga helps runners and which poses are best, you may still be wondering when it’s best to perform these poses. Before, after…the next day? And where do you find the time?

When to Perform Yoga in Relation to your Run

Yoga can serve a purpose any time throughout your week. As discussed, its benefits are wide in terms of how it can help your running (not to mention your overall well being).

Here’s how I like to fit yoga into my week.

  • before running – I utilize short yoga warm-ups before longer or hard runs
  • after running – a few key poses (see Tiffany’s recommendations below) are essential to working out tightness post running. These are helpful after any run, but on my long run days it’s essential.
  • off day – I personally enjoy taking a full yoga class on my off day from running when I can (I run 6 days per week when running for a marathon as I discuss here.)

Here’s a short 7-minute Post Run Yoga option:

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Finding the Time for Yoga

Not everyone has time to go to a weekly yoga classes (or the disposable income for that matter.) As runners, we already devote many extra hours per week to our exercise of choice and it can be hard to make time for added classes. And you may already be hitting up the gym for strength work (I personally go to Orange Theory.)

Which is why you don’t necessarily need to feel pressure to join a yoga studio near you. Though if you can, or can even get a punch card for classes at your local rec center, it can help your running immensely. I would love to fit in at least one yoga class per week at the studio, but that can be tricky during peak marathon training times. Which is actually when I would need it the most!

That’s why carving out a bit of time throughout the week to do some yoga at home is important.

Core Power Yoga offers Yoga on Demand if you’re seeking full classes, or a quick search on YouTube will get you exactly what you need.

Top Yoga Poses for Runners

The options of YouTube yoga videos is pretty endless. Which is awesome… but also overwhelming. And maybe you don’t want to turn on a video every time you need a little yoga warm-up or recovery. So I asked Tiffany to tell us her favorite yoga poses for runners – and she gave 4 simple poses that you can easily begin incorporating into your running regimen right now!

As runners, we ask a lot from our bodies.  I read recently that “during the course of an average mile run, your foot will strike the ground 1,000 times. The force of impact on each foot is about three to four times your weight.”  There are some yoga poses that you can use to help strengthen your feet, knees and spine to keep your body healthy and prepared to take on that additional stress. 

Tiffany Gerard, Yoga Instructor at Sumits Yoga Colorado

1.) Eagle is a balancing pose that can help work major joints in our bodies and the compression created through the pose, once released, can help with fresh oxygenated blood flow.
2) Downward Facing Dog can be beneficial as well as it activates the leg muscles, core, and upper body.
3) Bear pose will help you stretch the bottom of your feet.  
4) Awkward pose is essential to work the bottom of the feet, quads, and knees.

Featured Image attribution: Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain

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