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.
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.
Runners’ Round Up
Do you do yoga regularly?