If you are a fan of yoga for runners, I wouldn’t blame you!
Like most, I assumed that yoga was good for everybody and that it had nothing but benefits, after all it’s been practised for thousands of years and is now practised widely around the world
Generally speaking, as long as it is practised safely and taught by experienced tutors, yoga is enlightening and has many health benefits…
- But is yoga actually good for runners?
Well this is where it gets a bit sticky. If you are a long distance runner, trying to improve your running performance or if you do speed training, then not only will yoga not help you, it will most likely impede your progress and slow you down
When considering yoga for runners, it all comes down to the mechanics of running and running economy
Running economy relates to the amount of energy we use to propel our legs and bodies forward when running a given distance
When the leading leg is out in front the muscles, tendons and ligaments are extended. When the foot lands on the floor they compress and fill with stored energy. When the foot pushes off the energy is released, the muscles and other fibres contract, the leg is pulled back and the foot flicks up
A good way to imagine it, is like an elastic band - you stretch it out and then let go and it snaps back
The more tight and taut the elastic band, the quicker it snaps back and less energy is used
It is just the same for the muscles and fibres in the legs, the more
taut and tight they are, the quicker they will pull back and with less
This means you will run faster and be able to run for longer
Yoga for runners means that the muscles, ligaments and tendons are stretched out over and over again
And what happens to an elastic band if you keep stretching it?
- It gets flexible and loses its snap back
It’s the same for the muscles and fibres in the body, they become more flexible and this means that we have to put extra energy into pulling back legs that should snap back automatically
- Does this apply to all runners?
Yes, the science applies to every runner, what you have to consider is whether you are concerned about your running economy or not. For example, yoga and running is not a bad idea for someone who runs just to stay fit…
Take myself and Andy:
I am the world’s best plodder, I don’t run long distances (2/3 miles), I also enjoy mixing up my workouts doing kick boxing routines, ball workouts and hiking. My running is part of staying fit and to control my weight
Running economy is not a priority and flexibility helps with my other activities, so, yoga and running is good for me
Andy, on the other hand, runs long distances and uses speed training and intervals, especially when training for events. He is always looking to improve his running performance
So running economy is a top priority for him, the less energy he expends the longer he goes and faster he can get, therefore yoga would not be good for him
- What about the other benefits of yoga?
Practitioners of yoga will tell you that it is not all about flexibility
Here are some of the other benefits of yoga which you may want to take into account while deciding
- How do I know if yoga is for me?
You need to take a look at your training schedule (if you have one), and think about what you expect to gain from your running in the future. And what you would hope to gain from practising yoga
You may have an intense training schedule that is centred on speed and
distance but need something to calm and de-stress you (especially before
an event) but you don’t want to compromise running economy
Why not try Tai-chi? This martial art is excellent for calming and focusing the mind, there is no stretching involved so it won’t compromise running economy. It is also a very good way to warm up the muscles
If your running is of the more relaxed variety, or like me you enjoy other activities that would benefit from flexibility (no not that kind!), then you may like to try yoga and not worry too much about running economy
Common practises of yoga are Hatha, Vinyasa, Kundalini, and Ashtanga (power yoga)
You should not be attempting yoga on your own, you need to make sure you are doing the poses correctly and not over stretching, injuries can be severe and are common, especially in the neck and back
If you believe yoga for runners is for you, make sure you get an experienced qualified teacher, the last thing you want is to injure yourself and not be able to go for a run!
For some, yoga for runners works, yes. But for most runners it is a disadvantage.
Hope this helped! :-)