Yoga on its own is a great workout and has multiple benefits, including improved strength, stress relief and better mental health. But it also offers added benefits for already active people who include yoga or even a few yoga postures in their workout routines.
Research has shown that yoga is good for a variety of sports, including cricket, football American football and athletics among others. “Now, more and more people are discovering the myriad ways that yoga can be used to improve athletic performance: from increasing mental concentration and improving flexibility and balance to preventing common injuries and honing skills in a particular sport. Whether by creating an entire training program for elite athletes or by simply integrating a few yoga poses into an existing group fitness class, fitness professionals at all levels can use yoga as an effective cross-training tool for their own athlete clients,” writes Sue Hollingshead, fitness trainer and yoga expert, in the journal IDEA Health and Fitness Source.
Since the Tata Mumbai Marathon is around the corner, let’s talk about whether yoga can help runners and if it does, what asanas or postures help more than others. Scientific evidence shows it helps. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2006 found that high school long-distance runners “assigned to yoga exercises showed significant improvements in running performance relative to control condition participants” who were given no intervention at all.
Many runners, running coaches and yoga teachers agree with this finding. At any rate, all of them agree that it helps in recovery, balance, flexibility and injury prevention. Mumbai-based celebrity yoga instructor Abhishek Sharma suggests under ideal conditions runners should schedule Hatha yoga and running or sports-based workouts on alternate days for best results. “One is essentially slow, and the other is fast-paced, so you need to achieve a fine balance to reap the benefits of yoga as well as that of complimentary workouts,” says Sharma.
Bengaluru-based IT professional and podium-finisher Simta Sharma, 34, first included yoga in her post-run stretching routine a few years ago after suffering an injury. She says it has been helping her a lot in recovery. “Yoga has helped improve my balance and flexibility and I feel a lot more relaxed both physically and mentally after a yoga session. I tend to perform better in my runs the day after I do yoga,” she says. Pre-run yoga helps improve range of motion and flexibility while post-run it helps relieve soreness and tension in overused muscles, explains Girish Bindra, a Mumbai-based ACSM-certified running coach. Yoga also helps runners keep injuries at bay while increasing their muscle strength.
Bengaluru-based businessman and recreational runner Suresh Kumar Rathod, 36, supplements his runs with yoga as a part of his routine training. While hugely beneficial, running can also leave our hips, hamstrings and quadriceps tight which might lead to niggles and, sometimes, injuries, notes Rathod, who routinely runs a sub-3 hour marathon. “Yoga before or after my runs has helped me a lot. But regular practice of yoga, by incorporating it as part of my training, has helped open up the tight areas, boost my balance, improve my flexibility, which reduces the risk of injury, and also helped strengthen my core and glutes.
Above all, it has made me an efficient runner,” says Rathod, who spends a lot of time either sitting or standing in his shop and feels yoga has also helped deal with the stiffness that comes from that. Bindra suggests runners should do yoga about three to four times per week.
What postures help runners?
Rathod’s go-to yoga postures are baddha konasana (butterfly pose), paid rajakopatasana (half pigeon pose), adhomukha svanasana (downward dog), setubandhasana (glute bridge) and uttanasana (forward bend).
According to Bindra, the best asanas or postures for runners are the triangle pose, tree pose, child pose, downward facing dog pose, butterfly pose, standing forward fold pose and the low lunge. The triangle pose helps strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, hips and groin. It also increases stability and improves balance. The tree pose strengthens leg muscles, ankles, feet and groin and also improves balance while the butterfly pose, a hip-opening posture that relieves tightness and enhances flexibility, helps loosen the lower back muscles, hips and inner thighs.
Other useful postures include the low lunge, which opens the groin and hip joints and stretches the thigh muscles, and the standing forward fold, which stretches the hips, hamstring and calves, and strengthens the thighs and knees. It also helps improve flexibility.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.