There’s no shortage of reasons to get your running shoes on. A regular running practice can help combat depression, improve your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your joints and help the body deal with stress.
And, while some people avoid running due to injury or fear of injury, stretching and strengthening your quads, core, and hamstrings can improve your running technique to help prevent injury and increase your enjoyment.
This is where Yoga can help.
Many sprinters and marathon runners use Yoga (including three time world champion Jennifer Ennis).
The main muscles that are important for runners are:
● Tibialis posterior – extends through the foot, ankle, and calf to maintain stability. This muscle is important for runners as its role is to support the arch of the foot. A weak tibialis posterior muscle can lead to fallen arches or ‘flat feet.’
● Iliopsoas – AKA ‘psoas’ or hip flexors: the muscle that connects the pelvis to the femur.
● Gluteus medius – muscle on the outer surface of the pelvis. A strong gluteus medius is important for runners for pushing off from the ground.
● Scalene muscles – neck muscles that connect with the first and second ribs, and indirectly, the diaphragm. Strong scalene muscles are necessary for effective breathing while running.
● Flexor digitorum brevis – muscles in the four smaller toes
● Hamstrings – the three main muscles at the back of the upper leg
● Latimus dorsi – the broad back muscle
● Tensor fasciae latae (TFL) – a small thigh muscle that runs down to the knee. This muscle raises the leg as you run with each step and stabilises the hip and pelvis. Stability of the hips keeps you running symmetrically to prevent injury.
● Soleus – the calf muscle that starts from your knee to the top of your heel. It is responsible for helping stop the body falling forwards.
● Quadriceps femoris – Quads are important for absorbing shock in the knees and powering your running.
● Thoracic diaphragm – a sheet of muscle that extends across the base of the chest. This muscle is responsible for pushing air in and out of the lungs.
● Peroneum longus – This muscle is responsible for stabilising and moving the ankle. It connects the top of the fibula to the metatarsal bones in the foot. So it’s both a muscle and a tendon.
Yoga is fantastic for runners because certain poses target several muscle areas at once. Yoga also cultivates the psychological ability to push on during uncomfortable moments during a run. And vice versa, a healthy running practice improves bone density and stops arthritis.
Whether you’re a marathon runner, sprinter, jogger, or trail runner, these 5 Yoga poses may improve your performance and keep you injury-free.
Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior pose is a group of lunge-based asanas and is great for runners because:
● It targets all the muscles used in running.
● Stretches calves and ankles
● Lengthens the psoas muscles
● Stretches the arms and upper body
● Strengthens quads
● It gets you practicing being determined and focused.
This pose also gets you focusing on your positioning and alignment. You must have your hips facing forward, feet firmly grounded, and be aware of your centre of gravity. This benefits your running in two ways:
● Correct posture keeps your body running symmetrically, preventing injury and helping you run efficiently.
● You develop stamina when you hold warrior pose for an extended time.
Wide-legged Forward Fold (Prasarita padottanasana)
Strengthens and lengthens:
● Tibialis posterior muscle – the muscle that stabilises the ankle, foot, and calf.
● Soleus muscle – the muscle in the lower calf that flexes your foot when you point downwards.
● Iliopsoas or ‘psoas’ muscles and iliacus muscle – hip flexor muscles that connect your pelvis to the femur.
● Peroneus longus – keeps the ankle balanced and aligned
● Flexor digitorum brevis – smaller toe muscles responsible for toe flexion.
Prasarita padottanasana (Wide-legged forward fold) strengthens the tibialis posterior. The Tibialis posterior is a muscle that extends through the foot, ankle, and calf. For runners, this muscle is vital for stabilising the foot and ankle. A strong tibialis posterior enables you to push off with more power and speed when you run. But, if it’s weak you risk stress fractures to your metatarsal bones, plantar fasciitis, or shin splints.
During this pose, you stand wide-legged with your feet grounded to the floor. As your feet grip the floor, you strengthen the loose ligaments in the tibialis posterior.
This pose also targets the psoas muscles (hip flexor). These deep triangular muscles connect the pelvis to the upper thighs and are responsible for lifting the knees when you run. The psoas muscles matter in running because they provide power to your knees.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho mukha svanasana)
Downward facing dog is both an inversion and an arm strengthener. The spine gets a good stretch and gives the shoulders, glutes, wrists, and hamstrings a strong workout.
Straightening the knees and flexing the hips in this pose stretches two main muscles in the legs:
The soleus muscle – which crosses the ankle is responsible for plantar flexion i.e. when you point your toes or stand on tiptoes. Sometimes called the skeletal-muscle pump, the soleus returns deoxygenated blood from the leg to the heart.
The gastrocnemius muscles – back of the knee and top of the calf muscle. This muscle gives runners considerable propulsion as they push off from the ground.
Calf strains are common in runners, particularly long-distance runners. The soleus muscle consists mainly of ‘slow twitch’ fibres that are necessary for endurance activities. Regular strengthening and lengthening this muscle with downward facing dog will help to prevent calf strain.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Cobra pose is a backbend pose. The spine arches backward which can benefit runners’ spine flexibility. Runners need the flexibility to be able to move efficiently and symmetrically. Limited movement in the spine can risk stiffness and pain after a run.
Cobra pose also maintains the openness of your iliopsoas and iliacus muscles that connect your pelvis to your legs. Strong, flexible psoas muscles stabilise your hip and pelvis joint and provide power when you run.
● Cobra pose stretches the psoas muscle
● Maintains the openness of your hip flexors
● Cultivates a more erect posture to protect your joints when you run.
● Increases flexibility in the lower spine
Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)
Pigeon pose is another great pose for runners as it extends the range of motion in the hip socket and femur. If you develop pain in the lower back and legs from running, it may be an injured psoas or piriformis muscle – a deep muscle that rotates the leg at the hip.
Counteracting tightness in these muscles will alleviate and reduce the chance of developing hip joint pain.
Pigeon pose is classed as a ‘hip opener.’ This means it increases flexibility in the psoas muscle, piriformis muscle, and iliotibial band. The over-reliance on these muscles from running can cause the body to recruit other muscle groups to maintain balance. This can lead to misalignment and injury.
Regular practice of pigeon pose will make running feel easier and maintain balance as you run.
While we’ve introduced some perhaps unfamiliar anatomical terminology in this blog, we hope it’s useful for your understanding as a runner. If you’re a runner and not doing Yoga already, you may find your running will improve considerably when you do.
If you’re interested to learn more about why Yoga can benefit your running you might want to check out our blog Yoga For Runners. And, if you can’t wait to come and see us at the studio, why not head over to our online Yoga classes. If you sign up now you get a 10 day free trial.