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Yoga + Running: The perfect combination.

January 11, 2018

Yoga + Running: The perfect combination.

Back in the day, I was a pretty consistent yogi. What started as a way to ease stress while planning my wedding 16 years ago turned into a solid love for all things yoga. I even became a Level I Vinyasa Instructor, though I don't teach classes. But as the years moved along and my running miles ramped up and my interest in other forms of cross training increased, yoga took a back seat. Sure, I still practiced every now and then. I've even combined forces with local yoga studios to coach Running + Yoga programs. But, sadly, that initial love affair had fizzled.

As a mom of 3 kids, running coach, personal trainer and nutritionist, my daily life can be fairly stressful. If I’m not literally running all over town to meet with and train clients, I’m running from one child’s activity, field trip or other obligation to the next. In fact, I’m not immune to bouts of anxiety, insomnia and depression from time to time when I don’t get a chance to reset the stress level. It’s times like these where I’m thankful I can always turn to yoga as a way to reset. So while I may not practice as often as I'd like, I know it 's something I can always turn to for comfort and stress relief. Sometimes just a couple of Sun Salutations in the back yard are enough to wipe the slate clean, so to speak. It’s enough to help me relax and regroup.

Stress relief aside, yoga can benefit runners and non-runners alike in so many ways. You may think that the laid-back, peaceful aspects of yoga wouldn't necessarily mesh well with running..but, yoga has a place in any runner's training plan. Here's why:

  1. Yoga helps with muscle imbalances. The problems many runners deal with have to do with tightness and imbalances between muscles groups (such as over-active quadriceps and under-active hamstrings). Practicing yoga on a regular basis will help not only build strength in the areas where it's most needed, but increase the flexibility of those muscles as well. For instance, runners have notoriously tight hips and calves. Doing yoga on a regular basis can help increase the flexibility in these areas, while building strength in opposing muscle groups, allowing for a more efficient running form.
  1. Yoga helps build strength and increase flexibility in soft tissues. Regular yoga practice that is done correctly will help build strength and flexibility in the joints, ligaments and tendons that are the most vulnerable to injury, like the IT band and the Achilles tendon.
  1. Yoga builds a killer core. Yoga is an excellent way to build strength in the abdominal and back muscles, as well as your hip flexors and glutes (all of which are part of your core), which can help runners keep their running form as they begin to get tired during long training runs and races, among other important things.
  1. Yoga can help runners bring focus to their training. It is very easy to get into a running rut -- especially when you're not training for anything specific. Yoga can give you that much-needed boost. When you start seeing results in the form of increased strength and flexibility, you will be excited and motivated to keep working. And yoga can help with the dreaded burn-out when nearing a big race. Sometimes doing something other than running can really help balance the monotony of training.
  1. Yoga is a great stress reducer. Let's face it, most runners are pretty Type A. We can get obsessed with split times, miles logged, race calendars and more. Practicing yoga on a regular basis can help the stressed-out runner relax and do something that doesn't require a GPS, watch, playlist, etc. Yoga brings balance to a frazzling sport. Even the most laid-back runners can get caught up in the frenzy of running and yoga can help reel you back into a calm state of mind. I know just the few poses here and there over the past couple of weeks has really helped me relax.

Yoga + Running

What is the best way to incorporate yoga into your running? Yoga can be a great cross-training activity on non-running days. Just be careful not to do an especially vigorous yoga routine the day before a hard workout such as a speed workout or long run. And, if you plan to do yoga on the same day as a run, try to do your run first, especially if your yoga routine exceeds 30 minutes. Long yoga sessions will tire the muscles, potentially changing your running form, which may lead to injury. If you have to do yoga on the same day as a run, or the day before a hard workout (if there is a yoga class you really love taking, for example), try to give yourself some time to recover between the two activities. Make sure you hydrate and eat well so you can be at your best for both activities.

The best type of yoga to practice...

Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a vigorous, sweaty workout, aim for a Vinyasa Yoga class. Vinyasa yoga is the practice where you focus on coordinating your breath and movement and flow from one pose to the next. There are also sequences of poses that are combined together into a “vinyasa” and you move from one pose to the next in a flow (such as Sun Salutations). Vinyasa classes are often taught in a warmer classroom to help keep the muscles warm and prevent injury. Classes follow the pattern set out by the instructor and most likely change from class to class. If you have heard of Flow Yoga or Baptist Yoga, they are types of Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa is also similar to Ashtanga Yoga (also known as Power Yoga) though Ashtanga follows a set series of poses. Though typically done in a warm studio, Vinyasa is different from “Hot Yoga.” Hot yoga is a blanket term to describe yoga classes done in a hot and humid studio. Technically speaking, the real hot yoga is Bikram yoga. This is a specific sequences of 26 poses developed by  Bikram Choudhury. The classes are conducted in hot (around 100 degrees) and humid studios and consist of the 26 original poses sequenced together by Choudhury. These classes are not for the faint of heart but once you get used to the heat and humidity, they are a great way to build strength, endurance and flexibility (not to mention heat acclimation if you’re living in a cold climate and training for a hot race).

If you’re looking for something a little less intense, you can try Iyengar or general Hatha yoga class. Iyengar yoga focuses on alignment of the body in each pose and uses accessories such as straps, blocks, chairs and other tools to help you get into each posture correctly. Poses are held for longer periods of time than in vinyasa yoga which can be quite challenging. Hatha yoga actually covers most types of yoga and it’s often used to describe classes without a specific style. You can see a combination of vinyasa, Iyengar and other forms in a Hatha yoga class.

If you’re looking for something completely relaxing, look for restorative yoga classes. You may sit in a pose for 20 minutes to really focus on deeper relaxation. These classes are designed to not only restore the body physically, but to calm the mind as well. This is also a great way to build in flexibility into your training.

Do you practice yoga? If so, how often? Do you think your running can benefit from yoga?

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About the Author: Jennifer Gill is a Lily Trotters Ambassador, a Running Coach, Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. Jenn plays mom to 3 kids and contributes to the following blogs: www.solehealthandwellness.com & www.runswithsole.com





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