As a runner, how can Yoga improve my performance?

IMG_5836Obviously I am a big advocate of incorporating yoga into one’s fitness or lifestyle regime in general because of the holistic benefits it can offer the mind, body and spirit but I know there are still a lot of people out there that are not completely convinced.  I have one friend who is much younger than I, 30 to be exact, who has not been bitten by the yoga bug despite being a hard-core athlete and the benefits it can bestow her.  In the past she predominantly was a high performing runner, qualifying for Boston at 29 years old, which is no easy feat and has since embarked into the triathlon world and is now currently training for an Ironman.  Needless to say her schedule is pretty full trying to fit in the base training for the three sports but in her case I would view yoga on the same plane as eating vegetables.  You may not like the taste of them but you know they are good for you so you eat them regardless for the nutritional value, and likewise with yoga, it is very essential that a session or two be worked into your weekly schedule for you really can’t afford not to neglect what yoga can do for an individual, especially a  hard-core athlete.

Training for a triathlon which involves 3 different sports – swimming, running and biking, inherently provides excellent cross-training benefits and in some ways can prevent some injuries that might otherwise surface if one was just focusing on one sport, like running.  For the purpose of this post I will gear my argument to my sole sport running friends with the hopes of having them add some yoga into their fitness routine.

With most of my running friends, running is so tightly integrated into who they are and what they do now that I am sure when some of them get side lined with an injury they go through a cycle of grief and depression as if they have lost a valuable friend.   This begs another line of discussion but let’s leave this topic alone for now.  So think about it, runners pound the pavement over and over, one foot in front of the other where the force of each foot is said to be about 3-4x their weight, with each foot strike involving compaction and contraction of muscles.  Without stating the obvious there are no counter muscle movements happening to lengthen these muscles during the act of running and thus it is quite common that prolonged running tightens up specific muscles and without doing anything to counter this occurrence (i.e. regular and consistent stretching/yoga of specific muscles) it can increase the chance of injury.  The potential for injury further increases when you start running or get into endurance mileage (half marathons and up) with existing imbalances within the body, such as tight hips, calves, weak ankles or asymmetry from one side to the other.

I challenge any runner reading my post who rarely stretches or does yoga and come into a butterfly pose – simply sit on your bum and pull your soles of your feet together as close into your groin area  as possible without rounding the back. Gently lower your knees towards the ground – don’t force them.   Notice how comfortable this pose feels, does your groin muscles feel tight? Is one knee higher than the other or closer to the ground then the other? Do you feel like your shoulders are rounding or that your back is rounding because your pelvis seems to be tilting back?

A simple pose like this can speak volumes to what muscle(s) might be extra tight, where there might be asymmetry within the body or misalignment.  In any case too much tension, misalignment or asymmetry might be causing the body to overcompensate while running and over time increase your risk for injury.

By practicing yoga on a regular basis,  it gives you great insight to where you might have such  imbalances within the body and allow you to focus on building the necessary strength or flexibility within the muscles to withstand the repetitive pounding on the pavement.   In the end yoga will allow many runners to have longer running careers with fewer injuries.  Hopefully you will find incorporating yoga into your practice is more analogous of eating sin-free chocolate as opposed to eating brussel sprouts.



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