In the world of physical activity, it seems as though there are two kinds of people: those who run, and those who do yoga. The two activities couldn’t be more different — one is high-intensity and high-impact, while the other is slower and gentler (although still a good workout). Both forms of exercise offer plenty of benefits, and the opposite nature of the two is why runners can get a lot of value from doing a little downward dog once in a while. If you’re not convinced, check out these reasons why you should add a yoga practice into your training schedule.
Yoga is a great form of active recovery
If you’re feeling beaten up from training, it’s a good idea to take a day or two off from pounding the pavement to allow your body to recover. Instead of doing nothing that day (which is still a valid choice), yoga is a great way to add gentle movement into your day to help you release some tension in your body, stretch out some tight muscles and bring your body into a more relaxed state. This may actually help you recover better than you would have by doing nothing, and you’ll return to running refreshed and ready to go.
It helps you get in tune with your body
Most yoga practices emphasize paying attention to and listening to your body. Practising regularly will teach you to be more in tune with your body, not only when you’re doing yoga, but also when you’re out for a run. This may allow you to catch signs of injury, over-training and burnout sooner than you would otherwise, because you’re better able to pick up on your body’s subtle cues that something is off.
You’ll improve your mental game
Yoga is great for your mind, and can teach you how to focus, tune out unwanted thoughts and remain calm under stress. Anyone who’s ever dealt with race-day jitters will appreciate how valuable these skills are for runners, and the ability to control your mind before and during a race can help you perform well, even when the pressure is on.
It reduces stress
Like we said, running is high-impact and high-intensity, and while it offers so many benefits for your body, it can also be very hard on your body. Many runners unknowingly have chronically-elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and according to Harvard Health, incorporating a few minutes of yoga into your weekly routine can help slow your body down and reduce that stress. This will help you in a number of ways, including improving your mood, boosting your immune system and helping you sleep.
Yoga strengthens your body
When you’re running, your large muscles like your quads, hamstrings and glutes tend to take over. Not only can yoga help strengthen those muscles, but it can also make your smaller, underused muscles, tendons and ligaments stronger, which will ultimately reduce your risk for injures.
It improves flexibility
While a certain amount of tightness in your muscles is a good thing for runners, too much tightness puts you at risk for tears, strains and other running-related injuries. Regular yoga can help to stretch some of those tight muscles back out, and loosen up areas of the body that are holding onto tension. For those of you who are worried about too much stretching, if the amount of running you’re doing in a week is exceeding the amount of yoga, you’re unlikely to become too flexible.
Yoga teaches you how to breathe
Learning to control your breath while you’re running will help you stay relaxed in the middle of a hard run or race. Since yoga focuses so heavily on matching your breath with your movements, it’s a great way to teach breath control, a lesson you can take with you on the run.
Yoga will give you better posture and balance
Yoga focuses on proper alignment through your body and teaches you to stand taller and stronger without tension. Many common yoga poses are also done unilaterally, forcing you to balance on one leg. When you run, you spend most of your time on one leg, and maintaining proper posture is the cornerstone for efficient movement. Yoga can reinforce both of these skills and improve your running form.
The bottom line
Yoga is a great way for runners to slow down and improve their body in ways that running can sometimes miss. This, in turn, can not only make you a faster runner, but a healthier one, too. If you’re new to yoga, remember to start slowly and don’t force movements that don’t feel comfortable. A good place to start is to look for yoga routines designed specifically for runners, since they will address the demands that running places on your body and help to stretch and strengthen the most important areas to keep you running strong.