Yoga and running, to most people are two mutually exclusive past times. For me, however, practicing yoga, has helped me, not only in my running pursuits, but also in my general well being.
Running is a unilateral repetitive exercise. While running, your muscles and joints are moving in one direction only, forward. The muscles of the hamstrings are the prime mover in a running action and repetitive overuse of this set of muscles makes it tight and prone to injuries from overuse. Moreover, the hip flexors too become tight as these are also extensively used albeit in only one direction.
I run marathons and ultra marathons and in the past 20 years, I have completed 48 races of 42km or more and countless more of shorter distances. Apart from running marathons, I also participate in endurance events such as Urbanathlon and Spartan races. Training for and running many long distance races and endurance events, over the years would have made me somewhat inflexible with a limited range of movements in the legs and hips if not for yoga.
For the past 10 years, though I have been reaping the benefits of regular yoga practice. I had my first taste of yoga, when I found that my hamstrings had gotten extremely tight after a race, that I had limited range of movement and I was taking much longer to recover from the race. At that time, my active recovery routine would be, swimming, walking and a massage. I did little stretching. I realised that I needed another form of active recovery. My wife, who is a yoga practitioner encouraged me to give yoga a go. I signed up with a personal yoga teacher with whom I practised on a weekly basis for 6 months.
After six months with my teacher, I did my own practice. Twice per week, one of stretching, after long runs on the weekend and another session of more intense strength and conditioning workout midweek. I do, still, go for sessions with a yoga teacher, periodically. It always help to have a teacher or coach guide you.
During this period, I was running 3 times per week, one tempo run of between 8-15km at moderately fast pace, one very fast short run of between 4-8km and a slower longer run where I would go between 15-20km. The distances become longer as race day approaches.
Even with an average of 35km per week, with yoga sessions, my hamstrings are less tight and I have a far greater range of movement in my hips, and torso. In addition, my recovery period is now much quicker, I breathe easier too and therefore can run faster and longer.
Of course I am not as supple and flexible as someone who practices yoga exclusively. I still do enjoy running. But with yoga, I am more flexible and supple than I ever was before, I am more nimble and I recover faster from my long runs too.
In this series, I will try to detail how yoga can be beneficial to runners. There are three ways in which yoga can benefit runners:
- Recovery process. The asanas are an excellent way to stretch overworked muscles.
- Alternative muscle strength and endurance training. Astanga and Vinyasa sequences are a good alternative to build strength and endurance in the muscles. It keeps your training program fresh and you avoid going into a dull routine by mixing it up.
- Improvement of breathing technique. Pranayama is a big contributor to breath control in running.
Read more in my next instalment.