Shin splints, knee pain and knee degeneration, achillies tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, illio-tibial friction syndrome, tight ankles, hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip flexors, lower back pain. This is your world. This is what running does to you.
Running is an endlessly repetitive movement done often on hard surfaces. The foot-strike sends shuddering reactive impact forces through your body at several times your own body weight. And often you are deliberately doing it to muscular and neural exhaustion. The repetition of the movement and ensuing fatigue mean that some muscles become shortened and tight through the continuous contraction – hamstrings, calve, hip flexors. And some muscles become weakened and underused – upper back, abdominals, stabilisers.
By stretching muscles that have become short and balancing the two sides of your body (you’regoing to have all sorts of cross-body imbalances), you improve joint mechanics. That’s a fancyway of saying you reduce your risk of injury – especially the niggly ones. All the classic running ‘injuries’ listed above are not injuries per se (like when you trip and do an ACL)but states of chronic over-use and over-shortening. You do them to yourself through big mileage, poor mechanics and allowing muscles to shorten endlessly. BEWARE - short tight muscles are more at risk of tearing.
You need to stretch.
Probably the biggest impact on your running – you will feel freer and easier. Why? Because you will be. Supple joints move better. Good flexible muscles use less oxygen making movement compared with when you are just fighting your own stiff, tight, stuck, tethered, glued muscles tissue. Put simply, your efficiency increases.
Specifically short hip flexors and ankle stiffness absolutely need stretching out. That’s anessential. And then there’s your hamstrings, calves, hip rotators (the muscles under your glutes that are super tight) and glute medius and minmus. You need to stretch!
Never, never underestimate the role of your core in running. And that doesn’t mean loads of abcrunches: incidentally that just makes everything worse. Your hips MUST stay in neutral alignment throughout the gait cycle and that requires proper strengthening of your abdominals and glutes. If your core doesn’t keep your hips neutral, they will sway side to side, and your pelvis tips forward (swayback) especially as you fatigue. This prevents good co-contraction ofyour quads and hamstrings... which leads to imbalance injuries. A good yoga class will do goodcore training as the necessary twin of flexibility.
This is bringing your body back to good mechanics – which require both strength AND appropriate flexibility. You need to be able to stand tall without your lower back collapsing into swayback; you need fantastic ankle, knee, hip alignment; you need awesome hip stability; you need amazing thoracic rotation without the hips moving. And you need these at every stride. Especially when you are fatigued.
The standing poses in yoga require you to learn and practice good functional movement patterning. And the longer stretches slowly restore your flexibility, allowing your body to move better.
This is huge. The multiplane, multidirectional movement of yoga, plus the mobility and stretching, helps you recover faster. You flush out the build-up of metabolic waste, pump fresh blood through, untether tissues that have become stuck down and tight and re-set the resting length of your muscles. You will feel less fatigued and the run the day after your yoga will feel easier.
It is vital to be able to breathe with your strides. Yoga increases lung capacity (you do a lot of breathing in a yoga class!) and helps you breathe diaphragmatically instead of always chest breathing. Yoga will help with your breath awareness and your ability to control and train your breathing.
Yoga includes mindfulness – which means being present, not being distracted by our thoughts. That head space gives clarity and the ability to focus on what is happening now without becoming reactive, tense, angry, dispirited. This is a massive help in everyday life - and in running.
Why Runners Don't Do Yoga
Because yoga is for bendy skinny women and you will feel embarrassed.
Don’t believe what you see on Instagram! My classes are 50-50 male-female and are full of really tight, restricted, regular, real life human beings who love their sport. I don’t believe in contortion-like flexibility, and I teach good functional movement and the flexibility you really need in a way you can manage it. BTW, if you ever get to a class that looks like it is coming straight off Instagram, then its not for you. Leave.
Because your training programme doesn’t allow you time to do so.
Your training programme will eventually be full of time because your body will stop you if youdon’t look after it. Better to get to a yoga class AND continue running.
Because it isn’t important – I can push through pain
That’s just stupid. Remember there is no Mind-Over-Matter (except in the super short-term). Your body is always in control and will nag you to start with and then stop you if it really needs your attention: willpower is no match for physiology.
I’ve taught at Manchester City and Manchester United football clubs for well over 10 years –those guys run A LOT. Yes, I know being a footballer is different from being a runner, but footballers get many of the same chronic imbalances and injuries. And I teach many runners in my class, and I train many teachers who work extensively with runners. Yoga as a compliment to your running works. You will feel easier, freer. You will injure less and chronic problems will slowly subside. You will recover faster and feel fresher. Your gait and posture will slowly improve. Your running will be more efficient. Your body and your running will love you for it.
Sarah Ramsden has taught yoga to professional footballers and many other runners, cyclists, triathletes and regular people who love their sport for over 15 years.