It’s November in Philly, which means marathoners and runners of all kinds are training in full force all across the City of Brotherly Love. And why not? Running is great for your overall health – and while it’s a basic exercise, it can also be one of the most challenging. As any runner knows, it’s not just about clocking the mileage – proper flexibility, strength, muscular endurance and recovery are all crucial components to making the most of your run and preventing injury while you’re at it. So how, exactly, can you prepare your body for safe and successful running? Yoga.
Not what you expected, right? But it’s true. Yoga is one of the simplest and most effective ways to address the challenges your body faces when running. Here’s what I mean.
Be honest with yourself. How flexible are you? Runners naturally have tight hamstrings and hip flexors. The forward flexion pattern of running makes this nearly unavoidable. Both of these muscles attach to your pelvis, which is the grounding point for your back musculature and home base for all the muscles that control your hip. It does not take long for any type of imbalance to cause pain or discomfort. Added to the complexity is the fact that most people do not know which muscles are tight and how each affects the running pattern differently. Without directly focusing on it, many yoga poses will assist with stretching and strengthening this impressive muscular complex.
Over the past few years, the core (or the muscles of the back, abdomen and hips) has been one of the most focused on aspects of the human body in the fitness world, and rightfully so. A strong core will assist with maintaining proper pelvic alignment; this in turn protects the back and hips, resulting in fewer injuries to the knees, ankles and feet. Nearly every pose in yoga requires the core to be actively engaged and solid, helping you build your strength.
Any experienced yogi will tell you it’s not about the pose, the strength, or flexibility, but about the breath. Breathing is so intuitive, which is why most don’t think about it. “Finding” the breath is what good yoga practice is all about. This is not all that different from running. When you’re running, especially long distances, you need to do whatever you can to conserve energy. Yoga focuses on the breath and one’s ability to control and maintain the breath under some pretty strenuous conditions. Applying yoga’s focus on the breath to running will assist with achieving regular, rhythmic breathing, allowing for efficient intake of oxygen and removal of CO2. This will allow the body to perform optimally, especially when mileage starts to increase.
For any runner, adequate muscle recovery is a necessity. The most important thing for healing muscle tissue is blood. Our blood carries the nutrients our tissue needs to heal, as well as removes all the by-products (lactic acid is a big one) that are produced by damaged healing tissue. As muscles are gently elongated and shortened during yoga, the blood flow increases. Simply put, this brings in more of the good and removes more of the bad.
So there you have it! Yoga is the perfect complement for runners, so think about giving it a try. Yoga classes are offered at studios and gyms throughout the city, as well as at Magee Riverfront’s Health and Wellness Center. Call (215) 219-3900 for more info.