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Yoga for runners: Eight poses to lengthen tight muscles

Prevent injuries, relax and soothe your tired muscles and stiff joints with this yoga-for-runners sequence.
By Patricia Lo Curto
Yoga for runners: Eight poses to lengthen tight muscles

Getty Images

yoga for runners

Yoga for runners

Maybe you’re a marathon, long distance or interval runner, or maybe you enjoy an early morning jog around the block to get your heart rate pumping. Regardless of how much you run, balancing this rigorous exercise with a more calming routine is very important.

While yoga is a fulfilling practice on its own (there are hundreds of yoga positions to fill hour-long sessions), jumping into a simple a, b, c sequence to help ease tired muscles and prevent injury can easily fit into any running schedule.

I spoke with Morgan Cowie, a yoga instructor at Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Centre in Toronto, to find out how yoga can bring balance, strength and overall stability to a runner’s body.

blonde woman stretching outdoors at sunrise, workout and fitnessPhoto, Getty Images.

What are the mental and physical benefits runners receive from doing yoga?

Instead of moving in a manner where joints are working out of streamlined efficiency (as is done with running), yoga brings connection of breath to access a deeper mind/body bond says Cowie. Many runners find an increased benefit in their cardiovascular ability and that the breath-awareness instilled in yoga helps them run at a more efficient pace.

woman doing child's pose on a yoga mat(Photo by Masterfile)
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Can yoga help prevent the common injuries runners face?

Yes! Since running is so mechanical and repetitive, it can be easy for runners to strain or even injure vulnerable areas such as the lower back, legs and knees explains Cowie.

When starting on a new regimen, it’s important to have a teacher guiding you to work out the right muscle groups. Incorporating a few targeted yoga moves before or after a run keeps muscles elongated and loose, and helps minimize the risk of injury. Read on for Cowie's suggestions.

Three women practising yoga outdoors(Photo by Getty Images)

Extended forward fold

How to do it: Position feet hip-distance apart. Start with knees bent and balance out body weight by pushing hips back slightly. Bend forward and straighten the legs to touch your toes (or as far as possible). Reach for your toes (if possible) and allow the weight of the upper body to drop so your head dangles to gaze in between your knees. If you are able, you can try putting your hands behind your calves (as shown) but it is not necessary by any means.

Why it works: Once engaged in this position, the stretch is deep enough to awaken the calf and hamstring muscles. Also, the forward movement of the bend really works on increasing traction and mobility of the spine in a gentle way.

Yoga for runners: Eight poses to lengthen tight musclesPhoto, Getty Images.

Pigeon pose

How to do it: Slide right knee towards right hand corner of the mat. Position your shin so that its about 45 degrees from the mat. Stretch left leg behind and position hipbones and shoulders to face forward. Walk hands forward and bend at the waist feeling a pelvic tilt. Lift torso away from the thigh and look ahead.

Note: Make sure left hip is moving forward, keep weight distributed evenly throughout the hips to avoid leaning from side to side.

Why it works: This pose really promotes a deeper IT band (the muscle that runs down the outside of your thigh) stretch. One of the most common reasons to stretch the IT band is to eliminate knee pain – something many runners are often plagued with. The bent leg allows the outer hip to flex in a movement that is slightly unfamiliar. Since hip and thigh areas tend to tighten up over time, this position stimulates those areas to loosen up.

A woman waring all white does pigeon yoga pose to stretch her hips(Photo by Istock)
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Chair pose

How to do it: Start with both feet hip-distance apart and toes pointing straight forward. Bend the knees keeping toes in alignment. Sit back in the most comfortable chair imaginable and lift arms towards the ceiling so they are parallel. Draw front hipbones toward each other and find core stability by dropping front tailbones down (quads will engage and work to hold you up). Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and exhale releasing arms to either side. Holding your arms straight ahead (photo, at left) is a bit easier of a version.

Why it works: Stabilizes the power centre of the body – area between front hips and bottom of the ribs – housing a stable circumference of muscle. Once those muscles have been engaged, pressure points typically found in a runner’s leg muscle will be alleviated.

Trish Stratus doing chair pose in black workout gear, yoga(Photo by Roberto Caruso)

Bridge pose

How to do it: Lie flat on your back, knees bent and feet are hip-distance apart. Lift hips straight up from the floor towards the ceiling. Cross hands behind the back so outer wrists are touching the mat. Interlace fingers together while pressing into the mat and roll shoulder blades inwards. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and slowly come out of this position by unlacing fingers and return back to the floor.

Why it works: Runners tend to hunch over more than most so this pose really offers a counterbalance to a strained hunched posture by engaging shoulder blades and core. Also, raising the torso and opening up the hearts center to the sun fosters greater lung capacity and range of motion.

Trish Stratus doing bridge yoga pose in black workout gear.(Photo by Roberto Caruso)

Warrior one

How to do it: Kick right foot forward and inner left foot back, turn left foot toes 45 degrees. Balance the weight between the two feet (front foot is reaching forward). Allow tailbone to feel heavy. Tilting over, reach arms overhead stretching parallel towards the ceiling. Stay in this position for about 30 seconds and repeat on other side.

Why it works: Excellent calf stretch complemented by an inducing hip flexor. This pose provides a deep stretch throughout the back of the leg and assists in widening of the pelvis.

A woman wearing red pants does warrior pose in a garden outside, yoga(Photo by Istock)
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Twisting lunge

How to do it: Kick left heel back lifting heel slightly off the ground. Right knee comes forward to a 90-degree bend. Place right hand on right hip and drop hips down. Inhale, extending through the fingertips bend forward keeping right hips down. Twist to the right, elbow sitting outside on the left thigh and push palms together. Hold here and shift gaze towards the ceiling.

Why it works: Balancing the body in a twist helps build stamina and endurance. The deepening of the twist is less important. What is most challenging is the action of hugging into the core and engaging the legs muscles to stay balanced.

a woman wearing black workout gear does twisting lunge, yoga on a rock(Photo by Istock)

Cow face pose

How to do it: Starting in a seated position, bend right knee close to center and then cross left knee on top of the right. Reach one arm up behind towards ceiling and bring other arm around to the side. Try to interlace fingers behind your back. Sit tall to minimize any rounding of the back.

Why it works: Similar to pigeon pose, cow face pose is one of the only poses that work the piriformis muscle allowing the hip area to open. The intense stretch of the arms (crossing behind motion) helps lift the spine and realigns the back to promote better posture.

Click here for six gentle ways to cure your anxiety with yoga.

a woman doing cow face yoga pose(Photo by Masterfile)

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