“Oh, You Must Be a Runner”- 4 Reasons To Make Yoga a Part of Your Fall Program
17th October 2012 | Megan
If you are a runner that has attended a yoga class then you likely have heard a similar statements as the instructor evaluates your Downward Dog; “you must be a runner”, “your hamstrings are like popsicle sticks”, or “your inflexibility will cause injury”. These statements can be a bit disheartening as your fluid running body is put through the Gumby-like movements of yoga practice. Is it OK that you are not flexible, that your joints don’t open the way your mat-mates do? For the most part the answer is yes; flexibility is not why a runner should be seeking a yoga class.
As we dip deeper into Fall, and daylight vanishes, the time is right to explore yoga as a way to strengthen and restore your body and mind. I know, taking your precious workout time to do something deemed “un-aerobic” (although certain asanas- yoga practices can be very intense aerobically) seems wasteful but the benefits of taking on yoga in the Fall can boost your running for the year ahead.
4 Reasons Why a Runner Should Practice Yoga:
- Developing a Better Mind-Body Connection- Yoga originated thousands of years ago in India to connect the mind with the body for health reasons. As a runner, the thought of committing to a weekly yoga class might be enough of a mindful exercise, but the real benefit will be learning to find the sweet spot in your brain as you work through poses. Yoga requires an athlete to remove themself from the external environment and work within themselves. This is a wonderful lesson if you train to race. Learning to control what you CAN control is a key learning from yoga that can be applied when the environment around you doesn’t cooperate on a long training day or race.
- Strength- If you have really enjoyed the summer months and run whenever possible it is likely that you have neglected strength training. I typically lay off the indoor workouts to be outside which means that strength takes a back seat to an aerobic outdoor workout. I also DETEST strength training as repetitive reps and barbells make me nauseous. Yoga is a study in strength and you will be amazed at how your own bodyweight can leave you trembling and sore. Yoga relies on eccentric contractions of the muscle, which means the muscle contracts as it stretches, giving the athlete a longer leaner muscle appearance and increased mobility in the tendons and joints. Power yoga and Hot Bikram Style yoga are known for their strength, power and more athletic moves. Yoga requires holding poses, many are excellent strength moves for your hips, quads, hamstrings and glutes.
- Balance- Ah, balance! Why do we need it to run? Every footfall a runner takes compresses 3 times their body weight on the foot while running. If your core and body are not balanced this weakness is a surefire way to injury EVERY time your foot lands. In yoga, many of the poses are one legged poses that require a sure foot and balance all the way through your fingertips. Balance poses engage your proprioceptors; nerve endings throughout muscles, tendons and joints that report back to the brain the body position, speed and load. Working on your balance will engage the proprioceptors and allow you to be more efficient and reactive as a runner.
- Core- The sum of reasons 1,2 and 3. EVERYTHING we do comes from the core. Hardly a movement at any given point, even for the most sedentary, starts in the core. Lungs only allow us to breathe with the help of muscles, albeit involuntary. The more strength we possess in our core, the more efficient our running becomes. Yoga is a practice that utilizes your core as a center of strength both spiritually and physically. Most of the practice is devoted to movement that starts at your core, engaging the “fire in your belly”. The core involves the entire body, from your clavicles to your pelvis, front and back, so working on strengthening will then help your balance. Yoga is not necessarily going to give you six-pack abs but it will make you run taller, stand straighter and react more quickly.
- Oops! There is not a number 5 for this list. I know, you thought somewhere I would be telling you that flexibility would be included in why a runner should do yoga. But I am not going there. Runners are naturally not the most flexible humans. There is a reason for that; running efficiently requires a sort of spring action, a load and unload as your foot strikes the ground and pushes away to propel the body forward. If you were too flexible, that spring becomes “softer”…imagine the difference between a fresh hair band and one that has been used for months. The older hair band will hold your hair but likely not as well; requiring an extra revolution around your ponytail while the new band is tight and elastic.
The reality is that when a yoga instructor comments on your flexibility or lack thereof, smile and nod knowing that perhaps that is your gift from running. Through yoga, you will gain balance, strength, build a great core and foundation for running AND you will gain a flexibility by practicing. Just know that in the end, bending into a pretzel has never won a race!