Although running is my main source of cardiovascular exercise, I also try to cross-train by practicing yoga one day a week. A runner cross training with yoga might sound like an odd practice, but the two exercises are actually quite complementary. But before I discuss the benefits of yoga for runners, let me first explain the benefits and challenges of running.
Benefits of Running – Running is an awesome exercise for weight loss because it burns major calories. It also provides the cardio exercise that your heart needs to stay healthy. Running also is considered a weight-bearing exercise, building muscles in your legs, glutes, arms, and back. Not to mention, running is very inexpensive, all you need is a pair of good running shoes and a path or street.
Challenges of Running– The downside to this is that running works the same muscle groups each time you run. So, unless you cross train, you don’t get much of a workout for these “off” muscles. This constant pounding with no change in exercise strategy may also make you more prone to injuries.
That is where yoga comes in.
Benefits of Yoga for Runners
- Learn Better Breathing – Both exercises depend on very smooth and controlled breathing. Runners who can improve their VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen they consume during exercise) can ultimately improve their running performance. Yoga, when practiced correctly, also can help you increase your VO2 levels. So, if you’re still trying to find your breathing rhythm for running, yoga may help you find it. Likewise, if you’ve mastered breathing for running, then it should be an easy jump for you to adapt to yoga breathing.
- Builds Your Core – Yoga is great for strengthening a runner’s core, the body’s foundation for all movement. Runners with a strong core, including abs and lower back, tend to run faster and harder than those with a weak core.
- Works Opposite Muscles – According to Yoga Journal, a typical runner experiences too much pounding, tightening, and shortening of the muscles and not enough restorative, elongating, and loosening work. Without opposing movements, the body will compensate to avoid injury by working around the instability. Compensation puts stress on muscles, joints, and the entire skeletal system, and may eventually lead to injuries. Yoga strengthens your intrinsic muscle groups that support and strengthen the body’s skeletal system. It also provides a nice counter balance to a runner’s one-dimensional workouts.
- Improves Flexibility – Most runners would agree that you don’t have to be flexible to be a good runner, but being flexible does not hurt running efforts, and it may even help. Runners who are flexible are often less prone to injury, recover more quickly from runs, and see improvements in overall strength and endurance. Yoga can be used to work opposite muscles groups but it can also increase a runner’s flexibility, especially in the hips.
- Provides a Break – When you’ve been running as long as I have, you can easily get burned out and even a little bored with running if you don’t change it up every so often. As with any cross training activity, yoga gives you a physical and mental vacation from running and may give you the energy boost you need to continue with your running workout each week.
Namaste and Happy Running!