Yoga For Runners | Benefits & 4 Best Poses

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As a runner, I have found yoga to be an integral part of my running training.

It supports me mentally and physically so that I can enjoy running to the max, it reduces my risk of injury, and allows me to take on massive running challenges.

In this article, I am going to share with you;

  • 6 Benefits of Yoga For Runners
  • And the 4 Best Yoga Poses For Runners

Ready to learn about how yoga can boost your running game?

Let’s get into it!

a man and a woman practicing yoga for runners outside

6 benefits of yoga for runners

There are a myriad of benefits of yoga for runners, but let’s take a look at just 6 of them.

1. Yoga Can Make You A Stronger Runner.

Yoga, when stripped back to its poses, is essentially a series of bodyweight exercises (although, ask any yogi and they’ll tell you that that’s only the tip of the iceberg).

One 2015 study in the PLoS One journal found that bodyweight exercises improved 5k performance by over one minute more than those who didn’t include it during a 12-week training plan.

Bodyweight training via yoga improves your glute activation, core strength, and makes you a more injury proof runner.

2. Sticking to a yoga routine teaches you discipline.

There is a lot to be said about the power of sticking to a healthy routine. And generally speaking, the more healthy habits you sustainably adopt, the more likely they are to snowball into an overall healthy lifestyle.

a group of yogis with prayer hands practicing yoga for runners in a studio

This 2012 study found that when sedentary adults stuck to a twice-weekly yoga routine, it increased their chances of participating and sticking to other forms of exercise.

Every time you make a commitment to yourself to come onto the yoga mat and then follow through with it, you are forming a habit that makes you someone who is consistent with their exercise routine.

3. Yoga helps you push back at your self imposed mental barriers.

There’s no denying that running is a mental game. Whether that is the mental strength it takes to lace up your running shoes and head out the door, or the psychological barriers that you have to fight against to push through a hard interval session or though a dark spot during a long run.

Having a yoga practice can help to cultivate your mental strength, so that you can rely on it in your running practice when it really counts.

Don’t be fooled- yoga can be limb searingly tough!

a woman carrying a yoga mat in a field

Yoga teaches you to endure leg shaking poses beyond your perceived capacity by inviting you to find ease within effort.

Staying in a challenging yoga posture, even for a couple of seconds beyond the point that you would like to give up, trains your mental fortitude.

As you hold poses or participate in yoga classes that are tough, you’ll be chipping away at that little bit of your mind that thinks that you can’t.

By putting yourself in that pain cave and always coming out the other side better for it, you’ll be able to dig deeper when its time to run, comfortable in the knowledge that your body can handle exercise induced pain.

4. Yoga makes you more tuned in to your body.

Yoga places a great emphasis on the union of your mind, breath, and body.

It isn’t uncommon for us to default to tuning out of our bodies; we absent mindedly sit hunched at a desk, listen to pumping tunes to drown out the heat in our muscles when strength training, or knock a few too many back on a Friday to let your body do the dancing. However, as you flow through a yoga routine you tune in to the sensations within your body.

a man in yoga cobra pose in his living room

The more you practice yoga, the more familiar you become with your body.

You’ll begin to recognise when a certain muscle is unusually tight, you’ll learn what areas are in need of strengthening or more mobility work, and you’ll learn to recognise when your body is tired or feeling strong.

Having a greater awareness of your body isn’t easy, but as you cultivate your awareness through practice you’ll be able to pick up on your weak areas when running (the glutes are an infamous culprit…), and running injuries and niggles early on. That way you’ll be able deal with them in a more proactive way.

5. Yoga has been found to improve goal setting and athletic performance.

Staying consistent with a yoga routine has been shown to positively impact your mental health.

One 2014 study from the Psychology of Consciousness journal concluded that when a division 1 NCAA sports team incorporated yoga and mindfulness into their routines, they had lower perceived stress levels, greater goal-directed energy, and they reported feeling more mindful.

Another 2014 systematic review in the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology found that, across a 19 varying studies and trials, mindfulness-based activities (such as yoga) enhanced athletic performance.

a woman's feet and hands on a yoga mat as she folds into a forward fold

6. Yoga can be a perfect off-season exercise.

I’m a firm believer in having a running offseason. That doesn’t mean that you don’t run at all during this time, but that you should scale back your frequency and intensity after a large training block or a major race.

But as runners, backing away from our running practice often leaves us with a gaping hole in our lives. This is where yoga comes in.

There is much to be gained from investing in your yoga practice during an off-season period. Use it as an opportunity to build a strong base of flexibility and strength, go inward and refocus your goals and intentions, and tease out any stubborn niggles and injuries.

A strong base makes for a greater leap forward come your next running training block.

Yoga for runners | The 4 Best Poses

Yoga isn’t exactly a sum of its individual poses (or asanas), it is better defined as a holistic practice that unifies the mind, body, and universal consciousness, with deep roots in ancient scriptures.

However, that is not to say that there isn’t an immense value to nailing each yoga pose.

Here are my top 4 yoga for runners poses:

#1. Plank Pose (Phalakasana)

Having a strong core is central to good running. It allows you to keep your form for longer, ward off running injuries, and keep your balance during trail runs and sharp twists.

Plank Pose will strengthen not only your core, but also your mental endurance. Challenge yourself to stay in this pose for as long as you can… then hold for another 10 seconds.

woman performing a plank yoga pose

How To Get There:

1. Starting in Tabletop Pose, fingers spread, shoulders over your wrists.

2. Extend your right leg out and back, tucking your toes under.

3. Extend your left leg out and back to meet your right.

4. You should be in a high push-up position and your body should be in one straight line, from the crown of your head to your heels.

5. Push the floor away from you, slide your shoulder blades down your spine, and pull your core in to meet your back body.

6. Engage your core, thighs, and tuck your tailbone.

7. Gaze gently at the floor slightly in front of you and stay here for 5 breaths, or for as long as you can.

Challenge your core even more by flowing through 10-20 Knee To Elbow or Knee To Opposite Elbow Plank Pose variations:

  • woman doing a yoga knee to elbow plank
  • woman doing a yoga knee to opposite elbow plank

#2. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

Strengthen your legs and glutes, increase your calf and ankle flexibility, and find alignment in the hips and core in Warrior I. Shaky legs are a sign that you’re getting stronger, stick with it.

How To Get There:

1. Begin standing in the center of your mat. Step your right foot four feet in front of you, your foot parallel to the sides of the mat, and your toes pointing to the top of the mat.

2. Bend your right knee into a lunge, with ankle stacked over heel. Your left leg should be straight behind you with the left foot turned in at approximately 45 degrees.

3. Raise both arms above your head, keeping them straight. Squeeze shoulder blades down and together, lifting your chin and gazing at your palms overhead.

4. Stay here for 2-4 deep breaths, then repeat on the left side.

#3. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

Flow through Warrior I to Warrior II for a strong base. Warrior II helps you to become present of the ground beneath your feet, something that is super important for runners.

So often, or running form gets lazy and we unconsciously slap our feet down on the earth without much thought. Warrior II helps to strengthen our mind-feet connection by inviting us to press into the outer edge of our back foot and to build up our practice from the ground up.

How To Get There:

1. Stand with legs wide on your mat, feet parallel and about three foot apart. Raise both arms out from your sides, keeping them straight and parallel to the earth below.

2. Keeping your shoulders down and back, turn your left foot out about 90 degrees so it’s parallel with the long side of the mat, while your right foot is parallel with the short side.

3. Bend the left leg into a lunge so your knee is stacked above your ankle. Turn your head to the left in line with your left arm to gaze over your hand.

4. Stay here for 3-6 deep breaths then repeat on the other side.

#4. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

A quintessential yoga for runners pose. Downward Facing Dog is potentially the most well-recognized yoga pose out there.

The great thing about this pose is that it is an equal balance of flexibility and strength. Develop upper body strength in this pose for better running form, and give your tired calves and hamstrings a generous and well-needed stretch.

Peddle your feet in Downward Dog after a good running session. Trust me- it feels amazing.

woman performing downward facing dog yoga pose

How To Get There:

1. Start off on all fours with knees under your hips and shoulders stacked directly over your wrists. 

2. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart and fingers spread. 

3. Press your palms into the mat and lift your hips up and back as you come into an upside-down V position. You’re now in Downward-Facing Dog.

After more strength building yoga poses?

Now you know how yoga for runners can supercharge your running, how about some more pose inspo? Check out this article:

Photo of author
Maria Andrews is a 200h Registered Yoga Teacher, long distance runner, and adventure lover.

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