Most people consider yoga and running to be on completely opposite sides of the exercise spectrum, but more and more athletes are discovering how these two activities complement each other and are a great combo for cross-training. For example, it’s no longer unusual for top fitness coaches to incorporate yoga in customized strength training programs for runners or to see events sprouting up across the country that combine a 5K run with yoga and meditation. Yogis are taking up running to add more cardio to their weekly workouts, while runners are flocking to yoga classes to reduce the risk of running-related injuries, improve their mental game, and promote overall strength and stamina to improve their running speeds. So what is it about yoga that makes it such a great complement to running?
7 Ways Yoga Makes You a Better Runner
1. Yoga activates all the joints and muscle groups
Running is a repetitive activity that uses the same group of muscles and joints for a prolonged period of time. This creates an imbalanced muscular system that is vulnerable to injury or chronic pain.
The strength and flexibility you develop when you add yoga to your repertoire promotes whole-body balance and increases the overall stability of the body’s core. A well-conditioned core helps muscle groups work in sync with one another and prevents extraneous movement of the torso, helping you run more efficiently and stay injury-free.
2. Yoga increases focus and confidence
Yoga isn’t just a physical practice—there is also mental and emotional work that happens on the mat, which can boost your levels of focus, concentration, and determination. A typical yoga class includes mindful breathing, meditation, and active body awareness. These techniques quiet the mind and remove emotional and mental clutter and are key for runners who need to concentrate on performance rather than on the day’s stressors. With practice, runner yogis can learn how to efficiently transform negative thoughts and ignore distractions that pop up during competitive running.
3. Yoga breathing improves lung capacity
Yoga training incorporates a form of controlled breathing known as pranayama, which helps runners conserve energy and strengthens the lungs. Improving your lung capacity will allow you to maintain an even breathing pattern through all types of running, from tempo runs to distance runs. Many modern runners have also discovered that practicing calming pranayama like Nadi Sodhana before a competitive run reduces the anxiety of pre-race jitters.
4. Yoga increases flexibility
Another benefit of combining yoga and running is that it improves the overall flexibility of muscle tissues and increases the range of motion of your joints. One of the main advantages of flexible muscles and limber joints is that they result in greater stride length, therefore increasing speed. Flexibility and greater and range of motion also help decrease the chances of pulling a muscle or spraining an ankle while in training or during a race.
5. Yoga promotes relaxation
Because yoga isn’t a competitive sport, it provides runners with the mental and emotional balance necessary to destress before or after a competition. An indirect benefit of yoga is that it calms the nervous system and promotes better sleep. Every runner knows they won’t be on top of their game if they spend the night before a competition tossing and turning!
6. Yoga develops body awareness
The development of bodily awareness that results from adhering to a yoga regime helps runners more readily identify the signals of pain or discomfort that the body sends. Paying attention to these signals by focusing on physical sensations allows runners to avoid injuries and know when it’s time to cut back or when they’re ready to add a bit more time to each session. This cultivation of body wisdom and physical awareness also brings a greater general understanding of the body and how it works, which could further boost performance.
7. Yoga eases tension and pain
Runners who have become injured during training or a race are increasingly seeking relief by practicing yoga during the healing process. Gentle and restorative yoga poses support the healing process by activating the body’s lymphatic system and by improving local circulation. The slow gentle movements of yoga also help strengthen tissues as they heal, and it’s possible that even chronic injuries may eventually self-correct through a mindful yoga practice.
There are many different types of yoga, and each one has a different intensity and involves different breathing exercises and yoga poses. This diversity makes it possible for runners to devise a highly individualized yoga cross-training program that meets their specific needs and preferences. Try out a number of different classes, teachers, and styles to figure out what works best for your personality, running style, and level of training. If you are training hard and ramping up mileage, stick with relaxing and gentle sessions. If you’re deloading on the other hand, you can feel free to incorporate more challenging vinyasa classes.
Our Beginners’ Guide to Yoga
Are you new to yoga but ready to start experiencing the benefits and performance boosts of combining yoga and running? Take a look through our Yoga for Beginners section! It’s filled with helpful articles to help you find your way as you begin your new yoga practice.