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Three Yoga Poses for Every Runner

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
The benefits for runners include stretching the calves, achilles, arches, hamstrings, low back and upper back.
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
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.
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.

WHAT? Pigeon
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?

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Ashlee October 11, 2010, 11:30 pm

    I absolutely do believe in stretching!!! I was having some it band issues as well so I started doing yoga and feel that it really helps!!! I know my body feels like yoga is a treat after running. I wish I could do more or had a good yoga studio here. I take Bodyflow which I feel like helps. I def. will make it a note to do these yoga poses though!Thank YOU SO MUCH!!! I wish I could do more yoga but the times of flow and my schedule don’t go together so these will be a blessing! My muscles will thank you!

    • Jen October 12, 2010, 10:22 am

      Ashlee – thanks for your comment! Although I teach BodyPump, I have never taken a BodyFlow class – I really want to! I’m glad that you enjoyed this post – sometimes I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be at the yoga studio or go through a full class just to get some of my favorite poses in and stretch things that feel tight!

  • falcky October 11, 2010, 11:41 pm

    So glad you decided to write this post! It’s really helpful. Thank you! As I’ve mentioned in my previous comment, inspired by you, I picked up the yoga, but had no real idea how to do the Downward Facing Dog… now I think I know what I was doing wrong… Will have to try it out again tomorrow morning 🙂

    Otherwise, about stretching: I’ve never done any, though in the back of my mind I thought I should probably do at least a little bit. (On a side note, I’ve always been quite flexible.) Then, a few months ago, I read research according to which stretching did not make any real difference for those people who haven’t developed a habit of doing it. (And that it even might hurt them if they suddenly start doing it.) __However__, I’ve felt a “natural” need to stretch in the past couple of weeks (hence, the yoga). It was a very weird feeling. I simply felt like stretching my legs, and when I did I felt better. So I guess the best practice is “Listen to your body” 🙂

  • ~Jessica Zara~ October 12, 2010, 4:55 am

    Yoga, pilates and regular stretching throughout the day are my main methods of staying flexible and preventing tension-related running injuries. Pre-yoga, I had issues even running 10Ks, and now I’ve done 3 half and one full marathons ~ all down to yoga in my opinion! I really do think it is the perfect exercise to compliment running.

    Thanks for this post ~ very informative, particularly the downward dog explanation.


  • Nicole - yuppieyogini.com October 12, 2010, 8:45 am

    Jen-you should be a fitness model. I’m not nearly that pretty doing yoga. 🙂

    • Jen October 12, 2010, 10:19 am

      Nicole – you are too kind. Seriously, thank you so much for the sweet comment! 😮

  • ka October 12, 2010, 9:07 am

    Thanks so much! I cannot express how helpful that information is.

  • Jessie October 12, 2010, 9:30 am

    I am not a runner, but I love all three of these poses. They make my hips feel so good.

    • Jen October 12, 2010, 10:25 am

      Jessie – I definitely agree that you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy the benefits of these poses. They are all great for anyone – especially those of us who sit all day working in offices!

  • Heather October 12, 2010, 9:35 am

    Thanks so much for the information. I can’t wait to try these!

  • Jen October 12, 2010, 9:41 am

    Great advice Jen! I cannot get enough of pigeon. It helps my tight glutes immensely!

    • Jen October 12, 2010, 10:25 am

      I know – pigeon hurts so good – I love, love, love the release I feel from it. I have found that I have to do pigeon on my back immediately after a long run though because my knees won’t tolerate the traditional version.

  • Jessica October 12, 2010, 12:04 pm

    good post-these are all muscles that are hard to get at without yoga. i can really feel pigeon throughout the day when i do it-i should do a variation almost every day (but i don’t). i also like the one where you are in forward fold then bend one leg and keep one leg straight and twist slightly. helps my it band and i can do it while i’m drying my hair (i like to multitask).

    • Jen October 14, 2010, 10:08 am

      Jessica – I LOVE that you multitask and stretch your IT band while you’re drying your hair. Genius!

  • Jody Rae October 12, 2010, 3:13 pm

    Jen, I have really wanted to start incorporating yoga into my training and I can’t wait to get started with these 3 poses. I also must say a big “Thank You” to you and both of your blogs. I stumbled onto peanutbutterrunner several weeks ago because I am also training for the Marine Corps Marathon. After reading countless entries on PBR and finding my way to bakinandeggs I have found the courage to formally introduce myself to my kitchen. I’ve been one of those single gals who didn’t know how to cook and hadn’t taken the time to really learn any cooking skills. I know this sounds corny but I’ve seriously found your menus, dishes, recipes inspiring and I am slowly learning that maybe I can cook. 🙂 Thanks again!!

    • Jen October 14, 2010, 10:14 am

      Jody Rae – thank you so much for your comment. I’m happy to hear that you’re going to try the yoga poses. I think it’s so important for runners to work on stretching the muscles we make so tight from all the running. Also, your comment totally brought a smile to my face. I am beyond excited that my blogs have inspired you to try cooking. Please, please, please let me know if you ever have any questions or if you need suggestions. I am a firm believer that it’s easy to cook for one and I promise it just gets easier and easier.

      Good luck with MCM! Only 16 more days until the race. I can’t wait! How has your training gone? Are you feeling ready?

      • Jody Rae October 15, 2010, 1:30 pm

        I know, I can’t believe the marathon is so close!! It kinda freaks me out when I think about it but I’m really exited too! This is only my second marathon, my first one was last fall, and I am definitely feeling stronger and more comfortable with the higher mileage this time around. Last week was my last long run and it felt really good, so I think I’m as ready as I’m going to be. Here’s hoping both of our tapers go well!!

  • Emily October 12, 2010, 3:16 pm

    Thanks for this post! I’m terrible about stretching. I do Pilates to get some solid dynamic stretching in, but I need to start doing yoga if I’m going to keep beating up my body with so much running! I’m definitely going to try your moves!

    • Jen October 14, 2010, 10:05 am

      I agree – we owe it to our bodies to stretch them out after we make them so tight with all the running. The good thing about these three poses it that they can be done quickly at home and just feel awesome!

  • Catherine November 17, 2013, 12:04 pm

    Hi Jen,
    Thanks for this post 🙂 glad I found it! Some really helpful photos and descriptions of the poses, I’m going to try to build more stretching into my routines.
    A Q- you mention you had a lot of pain/tightness between your shoulder blades, which is exactly what I have. How did you relieve it?
    Thanks 🙂

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