When it comes to cross training, many runners have a strong opinion. They either hate seeing “XT” on the training schedule, knowing it is simply time taken away from running, or embrace it as an opportunity to build a different type of strength. Hopefully you are part of the latter, because certain forms of cross training, such as yoga, provide a runner with far-reaching benefits that improve physical fitness, mental toughness, and performance.
Recovery begins the moment that your run ends. One study found that people who regularly practiced yoga had fewer biomarkers for stress and inflammation in their bodies. In addition, yoga provides the perfect balance to running by lengthening the muscles that running constricts. This balance is necessary for injury prevention. I have found that attending a gentle/restorative yoga class on Monday afternoons has helped me better recover from my weekend long run, while also setting the tone for the upcoming week.
Breathing is one of the most underrated aspects of running, despite the fact that our breath has implications for how we perceive effort. During a yoga session, you will achieve greater awareness of your breathing, and how to control this essential life force.
Improved Core Strength and Balance
While gentle/restorative yoga involves only sitting or reclining poses, other forms of yoga, such as Vinyasa, promote greater core strength and balance. Balance poses such as Warriors I, II, and III, Tree Pose, and Eagle Pose all target traditionally tight areas in a runner’s body, while also strengthening small balance muscles that lead to injury when too weak.
Enhanced Body Awareness
A common theme in yoga is letting go of your inhibitions and worldly worries while observing yourself throughout your practice. This observation is nonjudgmental, and allows for a greater awareness of what is going on in your own body. I have used the concept of “observing the observer” many times in my own running to help me better understand myself at a fundamental level. For instance, when I become tired during a workout, I ask myself to rationally look at the situation. Am I experiencing true fatigue, or can I reasonably push my body a little bit further? This additional body awareness has helped me find new gears in races and workouts.
Improved Flexibility and Mobility
This benefit probably goes without saying, but yoga can benefit a runner by decreasing injury risk through enhanced range of motion. Hip opening poses such as Pigeon, Bound Ankle, and Child’s Pose all loosen chronically tight areas.
Finally, I have found that yoga has improved my ability to withstand discomfort. Particularly during a gentle/restorative class, poses are held for great lengths of time in order to fully open a sore area. For a runner with tight muscles, this sensation can be brutal! However, through quiet reflection and proper breathing, I have learned to better control my discomfort, and work through the feelings of fear that are associated with pain.
Do you enjoy yoga? If so, how have you incorporated it into your training?
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