For Runners, Yoga Offers Balance, Mental Benefits

Yoga has numerous benefits for runners, since upwards of 50 percent of them are injured every year. Photo: istockphoto.com

A bit of “Om” time could make you faster and more injury-resistant.

Runners are notorious for getting hooked on cardio training and only cardio training. If you aren’t breathing hard, pumping your arms and pounding your feet, it doesn’t feel like exercise. In the meantime, muscle imbalances can develop, which means overall fitness and efficiency suffer. With more than 50 percent of runners getting injured every year, there remains an undeniable need for the inclusion of activities other than running.

The beauty of yoga lies in its methodical approach to strength and balance. Through flowing movements and poses, not only can you become a more balanced runner physiologically, you’ll also discover a subsequent mental centering.

“Yoga helps runners balance their bodies, right to left, top to bottom, and front to back to prevent injury,” says Sage Rountree, an ultrarunner, triathlete, coach and author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga. “But the deepest benefit is in mental focus as we learn tools of endurance and breath that directly apply on the roads and trails.” With regular yoga sessions, you’ll find your mind, body and soul are better prepared to take on that next workout and beyond.

Getting Started

Rountree suggests starting with a Yoga 101 class before jumping into the more advanced options. “Aim to do a little a few times a week instead of binging on a 90-minute tough class every so often,” she advises. By exercising patience, you’ll build a strong foundation, allowing your body to reap all the benefits as you progress with yoga.

Once you’ve become acquainted with some of the basic moves, you can move on to the whole spectrum of yoga options. Rountree says it’s important to choose the class based on where you are in your training cycle.

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“Restorative yoga is great any time of year,” she says. This type of practice is focused on less intense moves that aid in recovery. In the offseason, she also prescribes power yoga to runners, which helps build whole body strength and flexibility, especially in the core and hips. However, implementing these tougher moves in the midst of a tough training cycle will interfere with your ability to bounce back from running workouts.

What You’ll Need

Yoga requires very little gear. While most studios have mats available, it’s worth investing a few bucks to get your own. “The best thing is for runners to find a class specific to their needs, taught by an instructor who runs regularly and can empathize with their needs,” she says.

If you prefer to practice on your own, there are also plenty of online and DVD series you can utilize in the comfort of your home. (Rountree has an online channel at www.yogavibes.com that offers access to yoga training just about anywhere there’s an internet connection.) Before you jump into self-practice, however, it’s a good idea to attend a few introductory courses with a teacher who can critique your form.

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Etc.

Remember, with any type of training, moderation is key. Yoga isn’t a replacement for running, but rather a complementary activity. Since runners tend to be on the stiff side, be sure you’re using proper technique through each movement to avoid stretching beyond your body’s ability.

Rountree also says that it is important to check that killer racing instinct at the door when it comes to yoga. “Runners are conditioned to push through pain, but bringing that competitive attitude to yoga can be a recipe for disaster,” she explains. Finding balance, both literally and figuratively, can be tough for runners. Once it’s achieved, however, it can help you run strong all season long.

This piece first appeared in Competitor magazine.

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