It should come as no surprise that one of the very best ways to improve your running is to run a lot. But as any professional athlete can tell you, cross-training between disciplines is the key to building a strong, flexible and injury-free body. And believe it or not, incorporating yoga poses into your warmup and cool-down routine is a great way to improve your running.
Try adding these three yoga poses into your regimen to boost flexibility, reduce pain and risk of injury, protect your joints, and even improve your running time:
Downward Dog for Better Leg Drive
Many runners tend to focus on their quads and calves as the main drivers of their run, but it’s actually your glutes and hamstrings that drive you forward at each stride. For now, let’s focus on building flexibility in those joints, which leaves you free to develop an efficient, injury-free gait. The ubiquitous downward dog pose is a great way to free up your hips and hamstrings at the same time:
- Begin kneeling on all fours.
- Walk your legs back a little bit and straighten your arms and legs, lifting your hips so they become the highest point of your body.
- Tweak your positioning until both arms and legs are straight, but not locked, and your body forms a perfect inverted V, with your hips at the highest point. Keep your heels on the floor, and think of gently drawing your shoulders and chest toward your ankles.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Plank for Faster Runs
Your core and hips generate the power for every stride of your run. That makes yoga’s emphasis on building a strong, flexible core a natural fit for anyone who’s looking to improve his or her running technique or speed. Try starting with basic planks to build a stable core:
- Assume a pushup position, hands on the floor at shoulder width apart, legs extended straight behind you. If this is too hard, you can lower your knees to the floor or rest on your forearms instead. (see below)
- Check your positioning — your body should be straight from shoulders to heels, your hips shouldn’t pike up or sag down. It may help to think of “zipping” your core muscles together from your hips to your sternum.
Once you can hold the plank for 45 to 60 seconds, it’s time to move on to a more challenging variation.
Warrior One for Longer Stride
Warrior one opens the door for improved hip extension, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting during the day. Pair it with downward dog and these two yoga poses become a dynamite combination for opening your stride, which in turn helps you run faster:
- Step into a straddle position and turn your front foot so the toes face toward the front of your mat. If you’re doing this outside pre-run, imagine the mat as a reference point. Turn your rear foot so the toes face out at a 45-degree angle.
- Turn your hips so they face toward the front of your real or imagined mat, squaring them up in relation to your front foot.
- Bend your front leg to a 90-degree angle, or as close as you can comfortably get. Lengthen your stance, if necessary, to keep the shin of your front leg perpendicular to the floor.
- Take a moment to tune in to the position of your pelvis and square it up again to the front foot.
- Reach your arms up toward the sky, palms together or apart. Imagine lifting your ribs and elongating your lower back as you reach upward.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds, and remember to repeat the pose on the other side.
If you have tight hips, be mindful of their tendency to tilt forward in this yoga pose. You might need to lift up out of your lunge a bit to keep your hips from tilting forward — that’s okay. As you progress in your ability to sink down toward that 90-degree lunge, you’ll be better able to open your stride, too.
Has yoga helped improve your running in some way? Tell us about it the comment section below. If you are still on the fence about adding yoga to your fitness routine, consider the RunSmartYoga program. Our program is specifically designed to address muscle imbalance and tightness commonly found in runners while improving flexibility.