How Yoga Benefits Runners

Whether you’re a novice runner or an expert, yoga can help with many aspects in the runner’s world. Yoga allows the body to get back to its natural form. It focuses on balancing and healing the mind, body and spirit through meditation, posture and breathing. What does that really mean? When posture is improved, stress is taken off of joints, muscles and bones that running can damage. Breathing techniques can allow runners to endure more miles at higher speeds. A new level of fitness can be reached when runners make yoga a part of their routine.

Most runners will experience pains or injuries at some point. Tight hamstrings, back aches, sciatica, tight hips and bad knees can cause training setbacks. Gentle stretching exercises performed in yoga strengthen the muscles of the lower back and legs, and increase blood circulation.

Yoga improves muscle strength by holding specific positions for sustained periods of time. Yoga poses not only require concentration and core strength, they work to balance the body with a kind of domino effect. Whereas tension can spread from one part of the body to the next, a yoga pose works in the opposite way to stretch and open up areas of the body that release muscle tension from one area of the body to the next. The Beautiful Pigeon, for example, is a pose that opens the hips, stretching the piriformis muscle located in the gluteus region, and relieving lower back and knee pain. As a result, the muscles are better conditioned and realigned, reducing many of the causes of common pains associated with running.

Muscles are not the only beneficiaries of yoga. The joints, ligaments and tendons are all helped as well. Joints have an improved range of motion and lubrication. Since posture is improved, the joints aren’t as taxed by unnecessary compression. Knee pain can be relieved by strengthening the ligaments and tissues around it.

The mind can also be healed through yoga. Runners often need focus to complete strenuous training. Like running, yoga requires focus, but since it is physically low-impact, it has a calming effect. It can improve anxiety levels, depression, mood, concentration and memory.

Runners will find that yoga is effective for improving sports endurance and increasing stamina, too. Most runners have experienced an unexpected heart rate spike or adrenaline rush that puts limitations on their training. Because of the advanced, diaphragmatic breathing techniques used to lengthen and deepen breath, lung capacity often improves. Oxygen delivery can be improved allowing the body to better utilize oxygen intake. When circulation is improved, the body has more access to the glucose and oxygen it needs for energy. The body pulls blood from the extremities to the abdomen, improving venous return to the heart. Research has even shown that yoga may lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.

While you won’t build bulky muscles with yoga, you will increase muscle strength causing them not to tighten or fatigue as quickly. Yoga is a total-body, strength workout with the core as the main focus. Strengthening the core can help athletes release tension in their torso which may cause shallow breathing, and support the entire musculoskeletal system. The stretches improve muscular endurance allowing them to work more efficiently without weakening as a result of stretched tendons. Through regular yoga practices, the golgi tendon organs, which protect the muscles from injury, can be conditioned to raise the threshold so that muscles can perform for longer than before.

Over the years, yoga has been modified to create routines that appeal to even the biggest yoga skeptics. Hatha, the most common style of yoga, is best for beginners. Fluid, smooth movements and deep stretching in Hatha yoga improves joint health, reduces leg swelling, improves circulation and repairs damaged, connective tissue.

[box]Hot yoga, has become popular with athletes since the heat of the room allows for muscles to loosen easier. Also, there are yoga instructors who can develop a routine specifically designed for the participant’s athletic needs, or classes designed for a more intense, higher-impact workout which may increase abdominal strength and breathing abilities. Runners should not rule out yoga as a way to enhance athletic abilities and produce fewer injuries.[/box]


Nathan Joynt

Nathan Joynt works with Gaiam Inc. a leading health and wellness media company specializing in yoga videos and yoga products.

One thought on “How Yoga Benefits Runners

  • January 4, 2012 at 2:40 am

    I’m a medical student. I tried your exercises for just 2 days and it seem to reduce my systolic pressure (higher number) by almost 20 points, however the diastolic (lower) number remains high and my doctor had said before that he was more concerned about that number. Any information on if there is another exercise I could do to help the lower number or over longer period of time, that number will improve as well. Thanks, great post! ~Lisa:)


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