I have to be honest. I am not a huge fan of yoga, and the reason is, I am not flexible at all. I can barely touch my toes (I know that’s really bad). So for this same reason I know I should do more yoga, not just to become more flexible, but also to improve my breathing, balance and also my mental concentration. However, in the past years I have tried different types of yoga classes and I often got hurt. I am not sure if it was because I was doing something wrong, or I was staying too long in the same position, or in case of hot yoga,
I was getting overstretched by the heat and also getting dehydrated like crazy. I have this theory that runners should be a little bit tight to protect the muscles and joints from the repetitive running motion. I shared this thought with Susie Stephen an amazing runners and yoga instructor, and to my surprise she told me:
“Yes – it is important to retain a certain level of muscle ‘stiffness’, which is all linked to the physics of running and the release of stored energy in the leg muscles as the foot pushes off the ground. But we don’t want to be so stiff that we loose our range of motion through key joints such as the hip and ankle, and risk the damaging the key muscles that allow the efficient transfer of that energy needed to make you a fast runner. So we need to find a balance between stiffness, or strength and flexibility. Running causes muscles to tighten and yoga allows them to lengthen. But as with most things in life, yoga in moderation will help you to achieve a beneficial level of flexibility. Mostly it’s really important to learn and understand what is going on in your own, unique body as a runner and have respect for it. Become aware of what it needs the most – is it strength or flexibility, or a mixture of the two? Practising yoga gives you time to zoom in on the small details that make you a balanced runner.”
That said, there is the right type of poses for runners, that are gentle on our tight muscles and joints. Susie is an incredible runner, she has been running since she was 11, and she has been teaching yoga for the past 4 years. So I asked her to show me a few poses that runners should do to improve the flexibility while respecting our limits.
Here a few of the poses. Hope you enjoy it! I loved it! Thank you Susie!!!
BENEFIT: to warm up & gently stretch out the hips and lower back.
HOW: rotating the hips, making big or small circles depending on how your body feels.
DURATION: 5 breathes rotating to the right, 5 breathes rotating to the left.
WARM UP SQUATS
BENEFIT: to warm up & to stretch hips, inner thigh and groin, hamstrings, glutes and quad muscles.
HOW: opening the feet wider than the mat. Turn the feet slightly to point out and then slowly squat down pointing the butt out, keeping the spine straight. Let the arms follow the movements. Arms up when legs are going up, and then arms down when going in to the squat.
DURATION: 10 deep breathes (inhale when going up, exhale when going down).
RUNNING IN PLACE
BENEFIT: to warm up the legs, core and arms in general.
HOW: balancing in one foot and move the opposite leg as you are running, and moving arms as you are running also.
DURATION: 10 deep breathes with each leg.
MOUNTAIN POSE – Tadasana.
BENEFIT: improves posture, strengthens the legs and core.
HOW: standing tall and straight with feet slightly apart (beginners), lift the knee caps by gently firing the quad muscles. Draw the shoulder blade together behind you, slightly lift the chest but keep the chin parallel with the floor. Arms by the side of the body, palms turn to face forward.
DURATION: 10 deep breathes.
STANDING FOWARD BEND – Uttansana
BENEFIT: stretches the hamstrings, calves and hips. A calming pose – stress relieving, and an aid to digestion.
HOW: have a block or some form of prop nearby (maybe even a foam roller). From Mountain pose, take the arms over head (or put your hands on your hips), bend the knees a little and start to fold forward from the hips, keeping the back flat. Hinging the torso over the legs, fold as far forward as the hamstrings allow, and then let the arms hang down towards the ground. Let the hangs reach your ankles, feet or the ground – or maybe place them at this point on the block or prop. This allows you to keep the back straight. Inhale to lengthen the spine and exhale to fold deeper.
DURATION:hold for 5-8 rounds of breath. To come back up to standing either uncurl slowly or hinge back up with an inhale, reversing the process, ie. keeping the back flat.
RECLINING COW FACE POSE – Supta Gomukhasana
BENEFIT: stretches hips and glutes.
HOW: laying down on the mat, cross the legs and reach the arms forward until you can hold on to the opposite shin, ankle or foot – depending on how your body feels. With the head and shoulders on the ground, deepen the stretch by drawing the feet towards you, and maybe even from side to side.
DURATION: 5-8 breaths on each side.
BENEFIT: to stretch and massage the lower back, hamstrings and glutes.
HOW: laying down on the mat, hug the knees into the chest and roll gently from side to side.
DURATION: breathing freely, rock a few times back and forth to each side.
HAPPY BABY POSE – Ananda Balasana
BENEFIT: calming stretch for the inner groin and back. Great for a tired body and legs!
HOW: laying down on the mat, bend the knees towards the middle of your body, taking the feet up so that the ankle is directly over the knee. Extend the arms and hold onto your feet, or ankles/ shins with your hands. Flex the feet and then gently push the feet into the hands, and you pull the feet down.
DURATION: 10 deep breathes
GARLAND POSE/ YOGI SQUAT – Malasana
BENEFIT: stretches the ankles, groin, and back.
HOW: **NB: If any history of knee injury sit on a chair for this pose, take the knees apart and lean forward – keeping the feet ahead of the knees.** If ok to squat, but the knees and ankles feel tight, sit on a block or place a rolled up towel underneath the ankles if they lift off the ground. Squatting down keep the feet as close together as possible, then separate the knees. Fold the body forward, then bring the hands into prayer position. Press the back of the elbow into the inner knee and lengthen the spine and front of the body.
DURATION: Susie said you can stay for up to 10 minutes, but because I am very, very tight, 30 seconds to 1 minute is enough to start with, whilst sitting on the block.
LEGS UP THE WALL – Viparita Karani
BENEFIT: gentle stretch for the back of the legs. Relieves tired and/ or cramping feet and legs. Ideal after a long run!
HOW: if you have a wall handy, sit the right hip alongside the wall then sit back on the hands as you pivot around to swing the legs up. Keep the tailbone fairly close to the wall, but it doesn’t have to be right up against it. But the legs can go up on a chair, sofa, or if you don’t have any of those nearby use a block, or a rolled up towel – placing the prop under lifted hips – and then take the legs up. Allow the back to settle comfortably along the ground, and the arms to fall naturally to the side of the body, palms face up.
DURATION: 10 deep breaths, or anywhere from 5 – 15 minutes.
RECLINING BOUND ANGLE POSE – Suppta Baddha Konasana
BENEFIT: to stretch the inner thigh muscles, groins and knees. Improves general circulation and is a great stress reliever.
HOW: in a seated position bring the soles of the feet together, taking the knees out to the side. Start to lean back on the hands and lower the body down onto your back. Allow the pelvis to settle into the mat, and sense the groins sinking down. It is tempting to try and push the knees away and towards the ground, but this is counter-productive. As the groins and inner thighs stretch, the knees will slowly sink on their own. Hands can rest along side the body, or you can stretch them up, and then release the arms to the ground behind you, feeling the shoulder blades draw down your back.**If the inner thighs and groins feel very tight, place a block under each knee for support, and/ or under the feet. Additionally to deepen the pose place a block under the base of the pelvis.
DURATION: to begin with stay in the pose for 10 breaths. Progress slowly and stay for 5 – 15 minutes.
Susie thank you again for sharing, showing and describing in details those awesome poses fo.
While Susie was showing me these poses, she also shared a lot of great tips and on how to make the pose more comfortable and efficient for runners. But those tips are hard to show in photos, so we had the idea to make videos specific for runners.
Susie already made one (check below). We are planning to do a few more videos…What do you think?