Several months ago I created a list of topics that I wanted to blog about. One of these topics was the most beneficial yoga poses for runners. If you’ve read the “About Jen” section of this blog, you know that I started practicing yoga over a year ago hoping that it would help with running injuries. I had just received news from my sports doctor that my flexibility was a huge issue for a girl my age and that I would continue struggling with injury if I didn’t work on it. This was a shock to me because I come from a gymnastics and cheerleading background. I couldn’t believe that all the years of “run, run, run” had taken such a toll on my body.
I completely fell in love with yoga thanks in part to the amazing yoga studios we have here in Charlotte. I am happy to report that one year after starting my practice, I saw a physical therapist for my hamstring injury and he commented on my great flexibility. Not only has yoga helped my running but it just makes my body feel good. I used to experience a lot of tension and pain in between my shoulder blades that is now non-existent. My IT band used to cramp up all the time and I rarely experience that anymore.
I know that not everyone has the time or desire to take up a personal yoga practice so I talked with the owner of my yoga studio about the best yoga poses that runners can do quickly at home. Here are his suggestions for three “must do” poses for every runner.
WHAT? Downward Facing Dog
WHY? The benefits for runners include stretching the calves, achilles, arches, hamstrings, low back and upper back.
HOW? Come to hands and knees with wrists aligned under shoulders and knees under hips. Tuck your toes and push your hips up to straighten your legs. Spread your fingers wide and press into your hands. Feet should be about hip distance apart. Think about tilting your hips upwards, almost like you are trying to curve your low back. Press down through your heels to feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings and achilles. You might want to “walk your dog” by alternating bending and straightening your knees to really get into the legs. Relax your head and neck (gaze should be at the navel) and try to pull your shoulders away from your ears.
If you are so tight that you cannot straighten you back or legs, then modify the pose by putting hands on a wall with feet directly underneath the hips and arms extended. Think about the motion of pulling your chest to the floor.
Hold for at least 30 seconds.
WHAT? Low Lunge
WHY? Low lunge is beneficial because you stretch the psoas which is the muscle most commonly responsible for low back pain. The psoas is the main hip flexor and connects the lower body to the torso. When it’s tight, runners can lose range of motion in their hips, low back and shoulders.
HOW? Step one foot forward between the hands and drop down to one knee. Make sure that your knee is aligned over your ankle. Slide the back leg back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the thigh and groin. Arms sweep overhead and chest lifts. Hold for at least 30 seconds on each side and then proceed to the second variation.
The second variation you want to take is placing the hands or forearms on the ground. This will help you achieve a deeper and slightly different opening in the muscles. Hold for at least 30 seconds on each side.
Place both hands on the inside of the foot. If this is easy for you come down to your forearms.
WHY? Amazing hip opener that also stretches the groin, thighs, back and psoas.
HOW? From down dog, bring the right leg through and bend the knee, bringing the knee down behind the right hand. Your goal (eventually) is to have the leg at a 90 degree angle but you will not be there when starting out. Flex the right toes toward the right shin and kind of roll over onto your left hip so that your hips are even and facing the floor. Left thigh, knee and top of foot should be facing down. Option one is to sit up and press into your hands to feel the stretch. Hold for at least 30 seconds on each side if not much longer – up to 3-5 minutes.
If this is easy for you try folding over the right leg.
Pigeon is not a comfortable pose for many people, especially if you struggle with knee issues. If you experience knee pain or discomfort or have a really hard time getting into this pose, try this variation.
Lie on your back and cross your ankle over your knee. Flex your feet. Reach through and place hands behind the hamstring. Use your elbow to push out gently on the knee to feel a deeper opening.
I hope everyone will try these poses whether you are a runner or not. They feel great and are very relaxing to the body.
Runners – do you stretch? Do you practice any yoga? What’s your favorite way to stay flexible for running?