With each step, runners pound their bodies — and the impact on the joints and back can be 3–4 times your weight. So it’s no surprise runners often struggle with ankle, knee and back pain. The repetitive motion and sport-specific training also tightens and shortens the muscles and, without enough elongating and loosening, this can lead to imbalances in the body that eventually cause injuries.
Thankfully, yoga’s got your back — and your hips, hamstrings, quads and knees. Yoga lengthens and loosens your muscles and supple muscles act as natural shock absorbers to keep your body in structural balance, helping you chase away pain so you can run for the long haul. On your off days, a regular, longer yoga practice keeps you limber. After a run, hold each of these poses for 5–10 breaths to elongate and loosen the muscles you just worked.
Runners often have strong legs, but a weak upper body and core. Plank is a total-body strength builder. It also lightly stretches the hamstrings and arches of your feet and stabilizes your spine and hips.
The move: Begin on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Engage your abdominals, tuck your toes and step your feet back. Keep contracting your abdominals so you create one long line from head to heels and avoid sticking your butt in the air or drooping your belly. Look slightly ahead of your fingers to keep your neck long. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
This pose opens hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Keeping these muscles long helps prevent shin splints and knee problems. This can be a tough pose for runners, so make it easier by taking your feet to the wide edge of your mat and keeping a soft bend in the knees.
The move: Begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Slide your palms forward so they rest forward of your shoulders, and tuck your toes under. As you exhale, press your palms into the ground and lift your knees, straightening both arms and legs. Your body will form a wide, upside-down V shape.
Push your thighs back, pressing your heels toward the floor, but don’t worry if they don’t touch. Broaden your shoulders by rotating your arms slightly so your elbow creases face the sky. Relax your neck, and take 5–10 breaths.
KNEELING LUNGE/LOW LUNGE
This pose stretches the thighs and groin while opening the hips.
The move: From down dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. It’s a big step, especially in the beginning. If your foot doesn’t make it all the way between your hands, inch it forward or use your right hand to help your foot along. Once your foot is between your hands, check your alignment. Make sure your right knee and ankle are in a straight line. Drop the back knee and slide forward slightly so you’re resting on the very upper part of the knee. Take 3–5 breaths here, then repeat the lunge on the other side.
COW FACE POSE
This stretches the hips, IT Band and the small, hard-to-stretch piriformis muscle deep in your glutes.
The move: Start in a comfortable, seated position and cross your right thigh over the left. Slide your feet out in opposite directions, as if you were tying a shoelace so that each foot rests next to the opposite hip. You’re aiming to stack one knee on top of the other, but a space between the two is normal. Try to sit evenly on your bottom.
Inhale and lift your left arm up overhead. Bend your elbow and rest your palm on your upper back or shoulder blade, depending on your reach. Use your right hand to gently press your left elbow down. Take the right around your back, palm facing out, and try to reach your left hand. If you can’t touch — and that’s common — take a towel or strap in your left hand and reach your right hand for the towel. Lift your left elbow toward the ceiling. Keep your spine tall.
After a minute or so, switch sides. Remember, if your right leg is on top, your right arm is the bottom arm, and if your left leg is on top, your left arm is the bottom.
SUPINE BIG TOE POSE
This pose lengthens and loosens the hamstrings, knee and calves. Loop a strap or towel around the ball of your foot to make the pose more accessible.
The move: Lie on your mat with your legs extended. Hug the right knee into the chest and loop a towel or strap around the ball of the foot. As you exhale, begin to straighten the leg, extending the foot toward the ceiling. Keep both hips flat on the ground. To lessen the intensity, bend the left knee and place your foot on the floor. To deepen the intensity, slowly and gently pull the straight right leg toward you. Hold for 5–10 breaths and switch sides.