A Short and Simple Guide to Yoga for Runners

With the boom in home workouts, yoga for runners is becoming as popular as ever. It comes with some tantalizing promises, as some runners swear yoga is what led to their marathon PR or injury-free streak. Can yoga make you faster? What about prevent injury? Let’s delve into the possible benefits of yoga for runners and if (and how) you should make yoga a part of your supplemental training for running. 

The Benefits of Yoga for Runners
Should Runners Do Yoga?

If you like it – yes! But if yoga is the least appealing thing to you or your schedule is packed, do not fret. You do not have to do yoga. No research-based evidence suggests that it is necessary to prevent injury or improve performance on a physiological level. That’s not to say that research shows that yoga is detrimental. There simply is no conclusive evidence either way yet. 

Yoga itself will not make you a faster runner. Unlike lifting, it does not correlate to an improved running economy. Consistent training, speedwork, and (to a lesser extent) strength training make you a faster runner. 

Nor does yoga guarantee no injuries. Overuse injuries can occur in runners who practice yoga. Runners who have never done a minute of yoga can go their entire running careers without yoga. For some runners, though, they may notice that yoga plays a role in their holistic approach to reducing their injury risk. 

Ultimately, my theory is that the benefits of yoga for runners are highly individual. Runners who are high responders to yoga will cultivate a practice. Runners who are low responders will skip it in favor of other forms of mobility work and motivational exercises. Simply put: if you enjoy yoga, do it; if not, do not worry about incorporating it into your routine. 

Potential Benefits of Yoga For Runners

For those who enjoy yoga, regular practice may offer benefits such as pain reduction, balance, and improved mental game.

A 2017 systematic review found that yoga may provide small to moderate relief in chronic back pain over a three to six month period. For runners coping with chronic pain (migraines, arthritis, back pain, etc), yoga may provide relief that then allows them to run with lower levels of discomfort. Runners prone to muscle soreness or joint stiffness may find that yoga feels good. (As a note: you can receive similar benefits from a regular Pilates practice.)

Yoga may help improver your balance. For runners, balance is vital; running is essentially a series of single leg forward hops. If you feel like your balance is poor, you may find that yoga’s emphasis on balance benefits you. (Do know that strength training can improve your balance also!)

Some research does point to yoga improving the mental aspect of the sport. A 2006 controlled trial published in British Journal of Sports Medicine examined the relative effects of 20-minute yoga practice before a one-mile time trial. The participants were all high school track athletes. While a comparison group of athletes who practiced motivational exercises (actively repeating a mantra) performed better, the yoga group did outperform the control group. The study did not answer how long-term yoga practice affects distance running performance. However, it did support what some runners report: yoga sharpens their mental game for competition.

Adapting Yoga for Your Running

Remember: when adding yoga to your running practice, your running still remains the priority. Because of this, your practice may look different than a traditional yoga practice – and that’s okay! 

  • Be mindful not to overstretch

In a previous article, I delved into how static stretching is not very beneficial for runners (unless injury or biomechanical irregularity dictates otherwise). However, mobility work and dynamic stretching are beneficial for runners. When selecting a yoga practice, opt for ones that emphasize dynamic movements versus long stretches. You might choose to avoid hot yoga, which can lead to over-stretching and more strain on muscles.

Once you start, observe how you feel. If you notice you feel less “springy” after consistent yoga practice, adjust your practice accordingly. You may also find that Pilates fits your needs better than yoga.

  • Prioritize mobility, not flexibility

Avoid pushing a yoga stretch beyond your range of motion. Instead, focus on moving with control and strength through your range of motion. If a pose feels like too much, modify it with a yoga block or other stabilizer. 

  • Short practices are beneficial 

Fitting yoga into your training – in addition to running and lifting – may seem like a lot. You do not need to do hours of yoga a day (or even week!) as a runner! Of course, you can engage in longer practices if you enjoy them. However, do not discount short practices when done consistently – they can make a tremendous difference! Even a 10 minute post-run routine (such as this popular routine from Yoga with Adriene) can yield benefits if you complete it a few times per week. (Read more on how to fit in everything here!)

  • Avoid poses with potential injury risk

Unless you enjoy them, there is no need to do gravity-defying yoga poses such as headstands. (If you do want to attempt these, do so under the guidance of a certified yoga instructor and not on your own at home). 

In conclusion? If you like yoga, do it! If you have no desire to, no need to worry; you can still run your best without yoga.

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14 Responses

  1. I am very grateful for this sentence in your post, Laura: “Runners who are low responders will skip it in favor of other forms of mobility work and motivational exercises”.

    I always worry about my very irregular yoga. I don’t enjoy it much and it’s always an effort for me. I stretch and foam roll every day though. You put my mind at ease!

  2. I’ve always done yoga, both for the physical and mental benefits. I’ve never had good body awareness; a regular yoga practice helped me with that! Yoga also helped me with core strength and balance, both very important to running. Bottom line, I enjoy it and that’s really what matters!

  3. Regular albeit short 10 min bouts of yoga do seem to help me with my mobility and flexibility and are a nice addition to my post run routine. My hips and hip flexors especially appreciate the extra stretch and I notice a difference almost immediately. I have come to enjoy it as well and as you say, that’s what matters

  4. I struggle with yoga and always feel a bit of guilt that I don’t quite enjoy it as others seem to! So I’m really grateful for your concluding sentence! But my husband (though he hasn’t done any research) has personally found that his running improves when he does yoga. He thinks it’s tied to his ability to breath better or to channel deeper breaths on the run. And all his PBs have come when he has been regular with his yoga practice.

  5. I have not been very disciplined with yoga, but I do feel great after a session. That said, I know, overall, my balance has improved in recent years. I’m still very awkward and ungraceful, but I’m not tripping or “losing my balance” much these days.

  6. I have not been very disciplined with yoga, and it’s my own doing. I do feel great after a session of stretching and relaxation, though. Overall, my balance has improved a lot in recent years, so that’s a win!

  7. I’ve gone back and forth with yoga over the years. I got the most benefit from it when I was going to a studio every week. But that’s just not possible anymore (even before the pandemic there was no time) and I just dont get as committed to home classes. But I do think its beneficial and I always feel good when I make time for it!

  8. I do find yoga very beneficial to my running. I wish I had more time to dedicate to my practice, but I’m not comfortable in a studio yet, and it’s hard to do alone at home.

  9. I never do yoga, and now I can cross that off my list of things to feel guilty about (ha ha.) I believe it is beneficial for a lot of people, and I may do it someday (you never know) but for now I just can’t fit it in. Thanks for this post!

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  11. Well, since I’m a Yoga teacher, I do think Yoga has so many benefits for runners — not just physical. In fact, the mental benefits are probably the most important thing for runners!

    One of my teachers said that any pose can heal, and any pose can hurt — and that is so very true.

    I also do think there’s a perception that it’s not worth practicing if you can’t devote an hour to it, and nothing could be further from the truth. Even just 10 minutes of Yoga done regularly can really have great benefits.

    All that said, everyone has to find what works for them. Just like some people don’t enjoy running. 🙂

  12. I do not dislike yoga but I don’t find it helpful enough to devote time to it.

    That being said I would go once a week if I signed up for a class. The most important thing for me was a good teacher. I mean someone who can explain things, demonstrate the poses and offer ways to adapt if someone couldn’t do them. My favorite teacher left and I found another and then the pandemic.

    In a ZOOM or online class, I find it hard to stay with it. It’s so easy to skip a pose and stop early etc.

  13. I do enjoy yoga, I just find it hard to fit into my schedule. I prefer a higher intensity flow, though I was once told that, because I run, something like Yin or even restorative would complement my running more.

  14. Thank you for this post. I always feel like I should be doing yoga and now I know I don’t need to be. I love Pilates though, so I will stick with that instead.

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