The short answer: Yes - in moderation.
Have you ever considered adding yoga practice into your training schedule? A recent Runner’s World online poll showed that a whopping 73 percent of respondents don’t do yoga, when in fact studies have shown that yoga relieves stress, eases pain, improves running times, and also helps people stick to a consistent exercise routine.
Is Yoga Good for Runners: The Benefits
1. Prevents Injury
Running can lead to injury due to its repetitive nature - which can often result in musculoskeletal imbalances. This occurs when some muscles are overused while others are underused, which impairs biomechanical efficiency. For runners, this imbalance eventually leads to pain and injury.
In its essence, yoga practice aims to restore balance and symmetry to the body - making it an ideal complement to a runner’s workout routine. By selecting strategic poses, yoga stretches essential muscles which in turn increases the range of motion in joints. This facilitates a greater ease of movement, reducing stiffness, and thereby preventing injury.
Yoga instructor and two-time marathoner, Rebecca Pacheco, says, “Yoga is the perfect recovery activity for runners. It relieves soreness and tension in your hardworking muscles, and restores range of motion, so you can run better the next time you hit the road.”
Executed correctly, yoga poses require a balance of opposing muscle groups - where some muscles stretch while others contract. Over time yoga restores a natural balancing strength and flexibility which creates biomechanical balance.
2. Improves Energy
Many forms of exercise, including running, deplete the body of its energy stores. Yoga on the other hand, works to generate energy through efficient breathing techniques. This practice therefore creates energy by oxygenating the blood, leaving the body and mind feeling energised and restored.
Regular yoga practice also aids in regulating the stress hormone, cortisol. Many associate this hormone with unpleasant feelings, however, when this hormone is too low it can result in symptoms of fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, low blood pressure - and even reproductive issues. This is why yoga can play a key role in ensuring optimal cortisol levels and keeping you feeling energised.
A big culprit when it comes to a perfect energy balance is sleep quality. If you’re always feeling tired after a long run yet still logging 7-8 hours a night, then yoga might be just what you need to improve the quality of your rest. Studies have shown that yoga improves sleep quality, making you feel energised and less fatigued upon waking.
A 2005 study studied the effects of yoga on sleep patterns in the elderly. In the study, 69 elderly patients were assigned to either practice yoga, drink a herbal preparation, or be part of the control group. Results showed that the yoga group fell asleep faster, slept longer, and also felt more rested than the other groups. Although the exact mechanisms are still unclear, yoga has been shown to increase the secretion of Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
3. Improves Running Efficiency
Over time, yoga practice works at strengthening your core, allowing your arms and legs to move more efficiently. This improves your overall running form, making you experience less fatigue, with reduced weight impact on the legs. In other words: a strong core makes a strong runner!
The deep inhalations and exhalations of yogic breathing can also greatly improve your overall athletic performance by increasing lung capacity. This is because running tends to only involve quick inhalations and exhalations - which only uses the top portion of your lungs. Yoga practice seeks to make use of the upper, middle, and lower portions of your lungs which increases lung capacity and running efficiency.
One study conducted by the School of Physical Education, USA, analysed the effects of yoga breathing on vital capacity. In this study, 287 college students took a 15 week class where they were taught various yoga breathing exercises. At the end of the study, they concluded that yoga facilitated a significant increase in vital capacity, which is a measurement of the amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs.
Furthermore, since the foundation for efficient running movement is posture, yoga may also play a vital role in teaching you to stand taller, stronger, and eliminate the tension in your body. Alignment is key in effective yoga practice and teaches you to elongate the spine without adding any tension.
4. Relieves Stress
“Yoga focuses on breathing and is a good way to tune into the body. When you start running, you tend to leave the house and go – for the first mile you’re getting your watch fixed, checking your pace and sorting out your music. With yoga, the focus is very much inwards from the off.”
A big part of effective yoga practice involves bringing together your physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind - which can help you manage stress and anxiety. Over time, you will learn how to better control your emotions - which can be especially useful during moments of discomfort, like running an ultra marathon. Yoga helps clear the mind with effective meditation and relaxation techniques that can be incredibly beneficial the evening before race day - when you need a clear mind and a good night’s rest.
Lauren Fleshman, a two-time outdoor 5000m champion says, “Yoga helps me control my emotions while I'm in discomfort on the road," she says. "Enduring an intense pose is a lot like enduring a long run or tempo run."
Multiple studies have confirmed the incredible physical and mental benefits of yoga for runners. By incorporating yoga into your routine can be a strategic way of improving your health, strength, flexibility, stability and reducing stress and anxiety.
However - everything in moderation.
Studies have shown that overly flexible joints are less stable and prone to being overstretched. As a runner, you need stable joints with strong muscles to hold everything in place. Consider doing yoga on the weekends as a way to de-stress and build core strength, while still keeping running your top priority the rest of the time. In this way, you will be able to reap all the benefits associated with effective yoga practice, while keeping your joints stable and in place.