As an aspiring marathoner let me tell you – RUNNING IS HARD. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually, grammatically…. you get the picture. I’ve also learned it’s really really hard on your body. There are so many wonderful benefits of running, but there are also some downsides (hello tight hamstrings!). Seriously, my body has changed so much in such a short time from all the running. So today I’m sharing 12 yoga poses to help counteract some of the drawbacks of all that pavement pounding.
WARRIOR II (VIRABHADRASANA II)
A great one for runners, this one builds strength in the quads and increases flexibility in the hips. Make sure your bent knee is stacked over your heel and your thigh is parallel to the ground. Imagine someone pulling your fingertips in opposite directions. Lift up through the crown of your head and press down into the ground through the soles of your feet. Take deep belly breaths in this posture.
Another great hip opener, this one also gets into the back sides of your legs. Try to keep your hips aligned, like you’re trapped between two walls. Reach up through your top arm to take some weight out of your upper body. Ground down through your feet and breathe.
Any balancing postures are great for runners because they force you to strengthen the smaller muscles around your ankles and calves. These smaller muscles aid in stabilizing your stride while running. Press down into the ground through your standing leg (it helps me to visualize my standing leg as a tree trunk, stable and unmovable). Then press the sole of your lifted foot into your standing leg’s inner thigh. Use the force between the bottom of your foot and your inner thigh to help stabilize you. Rotate your lifted knee open to the side. Keep your glutes engaged and take deep belly breaths.
I love this pose because when you find the “sweet spot” between stretch and strength, it feels like you could hang out forever! Another good one for runners because it’s working those small ankle muscles and opening the back side of your body. Again, work to ground down through your standing leg. Reach around for the inside of your lifted foot, and begin to kick into your hand. Let the strength of your lifted quad push your upper body forward as you extend your opposite arm. Keep your chest facing forward for an added stretch through your shoulder. And don’t forget to engage your abs for added support!
WARRIOR III (VIRABHADRASANA III)
This one is tough, but just take it one step at a time! Continuing to work those stabilizing leg muscles, engage your standing leg muscles as you reach your lifted leg straight behind you. Begin to bring your upper body parallel to the ground and reach your arms forward. Keep your gaze toward the ground and reach out through your lifted leg’s toes. The goal here is to keep both hips in line, so work to bump your lifted hip bone to face the ground. Your body should look like the capital letter T. Don’t forget about that back leg, keep reaching!
DOWNWARD FACING DOG (ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA)
This pose is awesome for runners! Anything that opens up the back side of your body will help keep your body balanced. Keep your feet and hands hip-width distance, and lift your pelvis toward the sky. Straighten your legs (as best you can) and try to maintain a neutral spine. Breathe into your belly with each inhale and let your heels sink toward the ground with each exhale. Relax your head and neck, and allow your hamstrings and calves to gradually relax and open up.
PLANK (UTTIHITA CHATURANGA DANDASANA)
Strength is the name of the game with plank pose. Keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your feet hip-width distance. Imagine pressing the ground away from your chest while engaging your abdominal muscles. Engage your legs by kicking out through your heels and keeping your knees straight. Try to hold it for a whole minute, and don’t forget to breathe!
While we’re on the subject of abdominal strength – try boat pose. Any ab workout is going to be great for runners. This pose takes time to perfect, but go slowly and you’ll be amazed at how strong you become. Ok so the number one goal here is to keep a neutral spine. 99% of people end up sinking into their upper bodies and curving forward as a result of weak abs. Not to worry – just take it one step at a time. Use this visual: imagine you have a string attached to your chest and someone is pulling that string upward toward the sky. Start with bent knees and lift one foot off the ground at a time. Pull your belly inward as you hold both feet off the ground with knees bent (use your hands to help hold your knees if you need to). After you’ve built some strength begin to work toward straightening your legs by reaching out through your toes. Hold and breathe!
COW FACE (GOMUKASANA)
An excellent pose for runners, this guy targets shoulders and hips. Cross your right knee on top of your left and aim to bring both shins in line with each other. Reach your right arm up over your shoulder, like you’re trying to scratch your back. Reach your left arm down and around your back, and try to grab opposite hands. If you can’t, no big deal, just grab onto your shirt or use a towel. Keep both sit-bones on the ground, and if that feels good then begin to gently lean forward for an increased stretch.
PIGEON (EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA)
I could legit hang out in this pose all day long, it feels sooooooo good. And any hip-opener is going to be so so good for all your runners out there! Bring your front leg forward and bend it so your shin is parallel to your body. Straighten your other leg behind you, making sure it’s positioned directly behind your body. Now here’s where you get the real benefits of this posture – bump that hip forward so your hip bone is pointing toward the ground (not out to the side). This is the hardest part of the pose, so if you need to give your other hip a boost, just place a pillow or towel underneath it. Really, unless you’re working to rotate that hip down toward the ground then you’re not going to get much out of this pose. Do whatever you need to – add blocks, blankets, anything – just keep working to get that hip facing downward! Breathe breathe breathe. If that feels good, then gently begin to bend your upper body forward (keeping a flat back) until your chest meets your shin.
This one will give you a nice counter stretch from all your running. It’s a shoulder opener and backbend all rolled into one. Lie on your belly and bend your knees in toward your butt. Reach around with your arms and grab the insides of your feet. Begin to kick into your hands to lift your chest and head off the ground. Try to relax your glutes and use your back muscles to lift your chest higher.
Any inversion does wonders for runners. Getting upside down increases blood flow and promotes recovery. Headstand is one of those things that takes a while to get. Try practicing against a wall for support. And always remember to breathe! (Also, hello grass in my toes!)
Any fellow runners out there? Did I miss one you love? Non-runners will benefit from these too, so give them a shot!