Running and yoga – it’s more than your flexible friend

Sun’s out, trainers on! With the longer evenings even more of us are out pounding the streets in training to get a PB in our next Park Run or race. 

But as we all know, it’s not all about run, run, running. Research shows that in order to improve our performance we need to cross train, stretch key muscles, stabilise our core, strength condition, rest and recover.

But how to fit all of that into our busy schedules when we can’t even find time to do a few stretches post run?! Go on, admit it, it’s so tempting to skip and head straight for a hot shower!

Well have no fear - A hot yoga class encompasses it all...

Increasingly more of us runners are catching on to the accessibility and benefits of yoga and that it doesn’t involve tying yourself up in impossible pretzel-like knots. Plus, we don’t have to be flexible to do yoga – that’s just one of the reasons why we do it!

Hot yoga also improves our strength, stability, mental focus, weight-loss, range of movement, breathing,  joint alignment, posture, mental focus, body awareness, pre-race composure, balance, recovery time and sleep – to help us gain that winning edge.

What’s more, Hot yoga is even more popular with runners who want to ‘up’ the challenge by doing it at 38-degrees. A study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that eight weeks of hot yoga sessions increased flexibility in the trunk, hips, hamstrings and shoulders, while improving dead-lift strength. Fat loss also occurred, likely because of the intensity of the classes for new participants in yoga training.  

Flexibility is only the beginning...but it’s a good place to start

In running we use the same muscles for the same repetitive movement which adds extra stress and makes them pretty tight – how many massages have we all booked in for and how many times have we fallen off our roller – although if we can manage the weird contortions we have to get into with a foam roller then yoga will be a doddle!. When muscles are tight then other undertrained muscles might over compensate and can become stressed or torn – resulting in .... down time – eeek!!!  Hot yoga loosens the muscles naturally and safely, to increase flexibility and ease tight areas more quickly. Increasing flexibility also improves our range of motion which increases power output thanks to muscle recruitment and more efficient movement.  Yoga pre-hab is best!

Hot Yin will help you move deeper into the muscles. 

Stability is core

We’re often recommended yoga to strengthen and stabilise our core (abdominals, hip flexors, gluteals, and lower back) to improve our posture, stave off injury and ensure efficient energy transfer between the upper and lower body to save energy.  The results are increased speed and endurance. Excessively rotating our hips and shoulders can cause all sorts of injuries to our upper and lower bodies as our limbs compensate and energy is exerted in all the wrong places. 

Holding postures such as balances also improves our joint stability and alignment particularly in the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Yoga can isolate and concentrate on the muscles surrounding the joints and warm up the synovial fluid  to reduce aches and pains.

And not forgetting our feet – they’re the foundation to our every run. So many yoga postures help strengthen and lengthen the muscles in the feet - think arches, ankles, and toes - and  maintain healthy connective tissue to provide better shock absorption. Yoga helps us to get the right joint alignment which in turn can help us to correct an inefficient or unhealthy running style and reduce the risk of injury. Plus, the balances help us to improve our core stability, mental focus and agility.

Hot Hatha classes encourage the yoga postures to be held for a small time to strengthen the muscles, check alignment and gain mental focus.

Range of Movement

We are all too aware that running uses a constant forward motion of the same muscles putting them under a lot of stress. Yoga uses  different muscles we didn’t even know we had and wouldn’t usually move in different directions, including lateral and rotation – making our bodies feel more balanced and relaxed. Consequently our running style will feel freer and more fluid.

A Hot Vinyasa class is a little more energetic and encourages a full flow of movement in all directions – including upside down for upper body strength.

Better breathing

In yoga, all movement and mental focus are in line with the breath.  We breathe in and out through the nose which is a more efficient way of getting oxygen to our lungs than through the mouth and helps to lower the heart rate – thus improving stamina.

When running we can replicate the focus on the breath to zone out from any mental gremlins that might affect our performance. Deeper breathing will also help calm our pre-race nerves and relax tense parts of our bodies to direct energies to more efficient usage. So goodbye monkey mind, muscle fatigue, gasping for breath, and side stitches!

The extra challenge

Because the room is heated to a delicious 38-degrees (who needs to go on holiday?!), the body has to work harder and the mind has to focus more. It’s a mental and physical challenge of intense heat. It can take a few classes to get used to and some days may feel better than others but this all helps us to hone in on specific parts of our body and feel what’s going on – even if its discomfort or fatigue! But that’s where the focussing on the breath bit comes in – much like how we would do when running. Plus, with the extra heat, it’s impossible not to feel a little bit zen which is what we need to calm our active minds and bodies.

The sciencey bit

The heat warms up the synovial fluid around our joints and makes our muscles more elastic and pliable allowing for deeper and safer stretching with results that are longer lasting. The heat makes our blood vessels expand to increase the blood and oxygen flowing around the body which allows them to build, lengthen and repair more easily (vasodilation). This increased blood and oxygen also speeds up our body’s ability to breakdown glucose and fatty acids that help shed fat tissue and weight (if you even need that!).

There’s only one way to find out...

If yoga’s good enough for ultra marathon runner Scott Jurek then it’s certainly good enough for me! On the days that we aren’t running, we can slide some yoga into our rest days for active muscle recovery, improved core stability, increased range of motion and to borrow a few poses to use as a warm-up or cool-down at a training or race. So there’s only one way to find out the effects of hot yoga on our running performance, and that’s to give it a go... I’ll race you to the mat!

 

By Rebecca Leam, yoga teacher and runner.  Rebecca has a strong interest in the benefits of yoga for sporty peeps and last year trained with Sarah Ramsden, aka yoga teacher to Ryan Giggs, Manchester United and Manchester City Football Clubs and GB Olympians.