By Laura Pearce, Kin Founder & Senior Yoga Teacher
Whatever kind of runner you are; seasoned pro, or couch to 5K struggler (like me), there's one thing that you might, or should, have in common; the need for a well rounded cross-training program. You may already know that cross training is a sort of physical side-hustle sport or exercise, that supports your primary sport or training goals, and Yoga might just be running's most successful side-hustle...
Whilst running is incredibly good for your physical, and mental wellbeing, if you don't include any cross training at all, muscles could become unbalanced and you'll become prone to repetitive movement type injuries. Whilst some forms of cross training can improve your muscle power (weight training) some can improve your fitness and cardiovascular health (hiit, other forms of 'cardio') Yoga has several extraordinary benefits for the runner's body, and Yoga-style stretches can be particularly beneficial.
Stretching can improve flexibility, recovery, and for many reduce the chance of injury. So what are some of the best stretches Yoga has to offer for runners? The team at Kin Yoga Mats are all experienced Yoga instructors, and we believe that the quality of the stretch is the most important factor; that you should focus on HOW you stretch, as well as what you stretch.
So here are our top 10 Yoga stretches for runners, and most importantly, HOW to perform them effectively.
1) - The Low lunge stretch
Great for: Psoas, core
How to tips: Use socks on a smooth floor, or a smooth, soft Yoga mat, like the Kin Skinny Yoga mat, to gradually and smoothly slide out your back knee to deepen the stretch.
2) - Bow pose variation stretch
Great for: Quads
How to tips: If this is a tricky one for you, keep your chest and forehead on the floor. Work to press your pelvis into the ground, and lengthen your tailbone. Try to scoop up your tummy muscles too to minimise the backbend element, and focus on the Quads. You could also very slowly and carefully, move your foot left to right to shift the stretch across the 4 quads; you may be tighter at one angle than another. Ensure you have a comfy well cushioned mat (like the Kin PRO mat) or a cushion/blanket if your hips dig into the floor too much.
3) - Pyramid pose stretch
Great for: Hamstrings, lower back
How to tips: Hamstring stretches are vital for runners, as they do a lot of the work on any run. This Yoga pose can be really tricky for some people, so do bend your knees as much as you need to, and use any props you need if you cant touch the floor. The trick to a good hamstring stretch is to nutate the pelvis, which at this angle feels like 'lifting your tail' up to the sky. Keep a neutral, not rounded lower back (have a feel if you're not sure) and ground your weight evenly across the 4 corners of your 2 feet. Don't over extend (straighten) the knee, and don't push your hands down on the leg, keep them on the floor or a prop.
Precautions: In any big hamstring stretch, try to avoid locking the knees, especially if you're hypermobile and have joint instability already; overstretching the tendons of the knees can lead to weakness and possible injury, so to be safe, ensure you feel the stretch in the 'meaty' part of the hamstrings, not the back of the knee; the last thing any runner needs is a knee injury!
4) - Triangle pose stretch
Great for: Hamstrings, calfs
How to tips: Keep the length through the back, and don't be shy when it comes to using bricks here too! even some of the senior Yoga teachers here at Kin Yoga Mats regularly use props in their practice, it is NOT the sign of a bad Yogi! We like to carefully add the ashtanga toe hold variation (as in the picture) to flex the foot and add an intense calf stretch too, if you can comfortably reach.
5) - Pidgeon pose stretch
Great for: Glutes, Psoas
How to tips: The big glute stretch, and a favourite of many Yogis, and runners alike. Align your knee on the floor to the back of the same wrist, and angle your shin bone as comfortably as possible along the mat. Lift the chest first and sit square and heavy in the pelvis, to give the Psoas and belly another good stretch, and then relax forward into your fold, and let gravity do some of the work. You can lift the pelvis away from the ground a little if the stretch is too intense, or the knee experiences any pressure.
6) - Yoga Twists
Great for: The spine
How to tips: Impact sports like running can play havoc on the spine, and back muscles generally, and one of the most efficient ways to release back tension is through twisting. Try to keep the spine long in any Yoga twist, and seek out sensations of real tightness/stickiness that you can angle the stretch into. Breath slowly and as fully as you can, to assist with releasing the intercostal muscles as you stretch too.
Precautions: If you've ever had a herniated disc, take care with twists and ensure you are never rounding the spine at any point. Extension, extension extension!
7) - High lunge stretch
Great for: Psoas, Core
How to tips: Similar to the low lunge Yoga pose, but with a bit more isometric holding, so lovely for mobility which is great for runners. Once more tuck your tail to lengthen the hip flexors, and bend the back knee generously to help with this. The magic is in the lengthening reach of the arms, up and away from the posteriorly tilted, stable pelvis, imagine you're trying to 'lift your ribs up away from your hips'.
8) - Cow Face Pose Stretch (with added foot massage...)
Great for: Glutes, Lower back
How to tips: As with any forward fold, try to fold from the hips, not the spine. Ie. if your back is rounding, come back up a little and straighten it. Flat back beats 'low to the ground' here. As the palms of the feet can turn upward, we love a cheeky little plantar fascia self massage here too - It's a great release post run!
Precautions: This is a very intense shape for the knees, so for people with knee issues or weaknesses, we recommend avoiding this stretch
9) - Supine stretch with a Yoga strap
Great for: The IT band
How to tips: Another classic 'problem' muscle for runners, the IT band can be really tough to target, so the HOW is really important: This stretch is not a twist, it only works well if you keep the back of both hips & sit bones pressing into the floor (ie. not letting one hip lift off with the leg) we recommend holding the top of your thigh bone, and pressing down actively into the ground to keep it firmly rooted, whilst driving the outer edge of your flexed foot up to the sky. Small is mighty here, the foot should only move 6 inches or so across the body, or you lose the IT band stretch, and move into a twist. Stretching your IT band can help with knee pain when running.
10) - Child's pose
Great for: Groin, lower back, and general relaxation & recovery
How to tips: A more gentle Yoga stretch, this soothing pose will help you bring your heart rate down and drop into 'recovery' mode after running, so save it for the end of your stretch sequence. With very wide knees in childs pose, the groins are released, and the lower back decompresses which feels lovely, especially if you experience lower back tightness after your runs.
See our next post on the benefits of Yoga for runners that you never knew, some of them will surprise you!