Yoga can be immensely beneficial for runners. A consistent practice strengthens the core, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors, which supports an ideal stride. Plus, the increased flexibility will help runners move with ease and their full range of motion.
Poses with spinal flexions and twists can help prevent injuries to the spine, which is often strained when running.
Here are eight yoga poses for runners:
1. Cat-Cow (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
Align your spine and strengthen your core with spinal flexions and extensions. A strong core is essential for runners as it influences how well your pelvis, hips, abs, and lower back all work together.
How to: Start on your hands and knees, with the wrists under the shoulders and knees under the hips.
Press firmly into the hands, activating your arms. Engage your core by pulling your belly button in and up. Keep your spine flat.
As you inhale, drop the belly, raise your chin and look up. As you exhale, tuck the chin and round your spine. Continue flexing and extending your spine, flowing with your breath for about 30 seconds.
2. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Standing at the top of your yoga mat with feet hip-distance apart, take a big step back with the left foot and bend the right knee into a deep lunge. You can reach your hands to the floor with tented fingers or flat palms.
Left knee bends and comes down to the floor. Release the top of the left foot.
Inhale deeply and raise the arms overhead. Release the shoulders down so that they’re not hunched up towards the ears. Breath long, easy breaths while grounding into the right foot and left knee. Draw your energy up through your naval center and through your spine to the crown of your head.
Variation for a deep quad stretch: From the low lunge with your arms above your head, exhale and twist to the right, placing your left wrist on the outside of your right knee.
Lengthen your spine and settle into the twist. Right arm reaches behind you. Raise your left foot and reach for it with your right hand. Don’t lift the foot if it bothers the left knee.
Gently pull your left foot toward your glutes, paying close attention to the depth of your quad stretch. Be careful not to overextend your joints. Repeat on the other leg.
3. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
The posture is perfect for runners, activating the quads while stretching the hamstrings and calves. It also lengthens the spine and engages the core.
How to: Start on your hands and knees with your wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Tuck your toes and press your tailbone up while drawing your hips back. Knees may be bent.
Draw your heels toward the floor while your hips rise up.
Plant your hands into the floor and externally rotate the arms with the elbows back and in toward your ears. Press into the knuckles, especially the thumb and first finger, to protect the wrists.
Relax your shoulders and release your neck, looking behind you between your feet.
Hold for five to ten rounds of breath.
4. Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
Triangle pose suits runners because it stretches the hips, groin, all the muscles around the knees. It also improves balance and strengthens the ankles.
How to: Stand with feet wider than hip-distance apart, along the long edge of your yoga mat. Turn your right toes toward the short end of the mat and the left toes squared perpendicular or at a 45-degree angle, toward the long end. Raise your arms straight out to your sides at shoulder height.
Moving as though you are standing between two panes of glass, legs firmly planted, hinge at the hips. Reach forward with the right hand then drop it towards the floor, resting it on your shin or touching the floor if you’re flexible.
Rotate your heart open to the right and raise your right hand to the sky. Your right hand is at 12 o’clock and your left hand is at 6 o’clock.
Hold for five to 10 rounds of breath.
5. Boat Pose (Navasana)
This pose is a powerful core strengthener.
How to: Sit with your knees bent in front of you, soles of the feet on the floor.
Raise the arms to shoulder level, reaching out in front of you. Reach your heart forward. Relax the shoulders back and raise your feet off the floor.
Your knees may be bent at 90 degrees or, for an increased challenge, straighten the legs, toes extended toward the ceiling.
Practice three sets of five breath cycles.
6. Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
This backbend will strengthen your back, core, and quads while opening your hips.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent, soles of your feet on the floor. Your arms should be by your sides with your palms facing down.
Press into the soles of your feet and your palms and raise your hips up towards the sky.
Breathe deeply for 30 seconds,
When you come down, stretch your legs down the length of the mat, and extend your arms overhead onto the floor behind you.
Inhale and stretch your body from toes to fingertips. Hug your knees to your chest and relax.
7. Reclined Pigeon (Supta Kapotasna)
This hip opener allows you to easily control the intensity of the stretch based on your practice.
How to: Lie on your back. Bend your knees to 90 degrees. Cross your right ankle over your left knee and hug your left knee to your chest. Squeeze the left knee closer to the chest while pressing the right elbow into the right thigh to deepen the stretch.
Practice on each side for five breaths or more.
8. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
This is a deep stretch for the back body. Forward folds stretch the hamstrings while releasing the spine and neck.
How to: Come to seated and extend both legs straight in front of you. Flex your toes toward the ceiling. Place your hands by your sides on the floor. Sit up tall, lead with your heart and fold forward, hinging at your hips.
Keep your chin tucked and your back relatively straight. You don’t have to touch your toes. You can bend your knees if necessary. Breathe into your hamstrings for five to 10 breaths. Listen to your body and you’ll find more flexibility with consistent practice.
Restorative variation: Place a large bolster pillow or some folded blankets under your knees and fold forward with a rounded back and tucked chin.
With consistency, these postures will bring more endurance and efficiency to any runner’s practice. Beyond these postures, an exploration of yoga, pranayama, and meditation will further enhance athleticism and increase enjoyment of the sport.