The simplicity of running makes it an exercise activity that is accessible to many people. It requires only the ability to place one foot in front of the other, a running course, track or treadmill and very little gear–mainly a good pair of running shoes and a well fitted sports bra if the runner is a woman. Despite its apparent simplicity and accessibility, running places great demands on the cardiovascular system as well as the core, gluteal and leg muscles. It is a simple, but high impact exercise activity.
Cross-training with yoga allows runners to build strength and flexibility while giving their body a rest from the high impact effects of running. Yoga tones the entire body using low impact isometric and isotonic stretches or poses called asanas;it builds total body balance and flexibility. Yoga also supports cardiovascular fitness; participants breathe deeply and rhythmically as they move into, hold, and transition out of each pose.
The slow and deliberate nature of traditional yoga styles like Hatha and Iyengar yoga allow practitioners to gently explore their physical limits, imbalances and points of tension. A yoga pose reveals the strengths and weakness of the muscles it engages as well as which muscles need special care and attention. Yoga offers runners an opportunity to take a physical inventory which can be used to plan other aspects of their training regimen.
Yogic stretching builds flexibility which protects against injury. For example, tight hamstrings are a potential side effect of running which increases a runner’s chance of injury. Downward Dog pose stretches the hamstrings, obliques and back muscles. If a person’s heels fail to reach the floor in Downward Dog pose, it indicates that their hamstrings are not able to fully lengthen which could lead to injury. With continued practice of Downward Dog, the hamstrings will eventually lengthen, so the heels get closer to and possibly touch the floor. Strong and flexible hamstrings support a balanced and effective running stride.
Several other poses are especially beneficial to runners. Bound angle pose opens the groin, hips, and thighs. Pigeon also stretches the hips and thighs.Seated Forward Bend pose relieves tension in the lower back while stretching the glutes, calves and hamstrings. The website for Women’s Health magazine provides an extensive library of yoga poses with written and video instructions explaining how to do them as well as the physical benefits of each pose.
Runners who add yoga to their fitness regimen increase their overall fitness level and decrease their likelihood of injury. In his book, “Marathoning for Mortals”, former Runner’s World columnist John Bingham, recommends the practice of yoga as a cross-training activity to offset the high impact effects of running–aching joints, fatigued muscles and increased recovery time. He writes that yoga provides “a low-stress resource for building core strength and balanced flexibility.” He recommends trying yoga practice on cross-training days as part of a regular workout or training plan. Since yoga is a form of low impact strength exercise, it should be scheduled at least twice a week to truly reap the benefits. The popularity of yoga classes and instructional DVDs make it easy to include yoga in a workout regimen.
“Marathoning for Mortals,” John Bingham and Coach Jenny Hadfield, M.A., C.P.T., Rodale Press, 2003.
“Running for Women,” Claire Kowalchik, Pocket Books, 1999.
“Pilates and Yoga,” Judy Smith, Emily Kelly, and Johnathan Monks, Hermes House, 2007.