Yoga for Runners

These 8 moves can keep you healthy and focused.

With running’s outdoor ground pounding and heavy breathing, and yoga’s meditative, inward-focused nature, the two are like the yin and yang of movement. Balancing out your running week with a few key yoga poses can keep your body healthy and operating well—and help your mind stay calm and present. Plus, the strength, balance, and breath control gained from yoga can actually improve your running.

Since the jury is out on whether stretching is beneficial for runners or not, approach yoga with body awareness and a sense of individuality. Move into postures if it feels good to you—good as in, “this hurts but I need it,” and not in a way that has you feeling, “that shouldn’t be tugged”—and if your running doesn’t suffer from it. If not, don’t proceed. Otherwise, here are a few low-impact yoga moves that can work well for runners due to the muscles targeted, and focus required.

1. Mountain Pose

This seemingly simple pose, where you stand tall with feet together and hands in prayer position at your chest, serves as a foundation for building good posture. The pose calls for upright alignment of the spine and your shoulders back, instead of rounded forward. With your bare feet connected to the mat/ground, Mountain Pose also builds strength in your feet and legs as you work to stand still. Improved posture gained from mountain pose can help improve the flow of your breath—something that’s always good for runners.

2. Tree Pose

This pose, where you stand with one foot flat on the mat and place the other foot flat against either the inside of your opposite shin or above your opposite knee (never directly on your knee), works balance, strength, and flexibility. You’re increasing strength in your balancing leg, and increasing flexibility in your bent leg as you open your hip crease to face it forward with your bent knee pointing out to the side. Hip flexors do a lot of work while running, and this pose can help release built-up tension.

3. Chair Pose

We use the front of our legs incessantly while running, our quadriceps and hip flexors working with every stride. Tapping into our gluteus muscles by settling into the Chair Pose can both activate those muscles and strengthen them. In Chair Pose, bend at the knees and sit back into your glutes as if sitting in an imaginary chair. Keeping your arms straight, above your head and next to your ears, while keeping shoulder blades down your back instead of hunched up, can also help improve upper body alignment and overall posture.

4. Reverse Warrior/Warrior II

All Warrior poses work to open up the hips while building strength and balance, but with Reverse Warrior, also called Warrior II, you get an added bonus. With your legs in Warrior II position, Reverse Warrior has your front arm reaching up, over your head and toward the back wall with your palm facing down. That movement opens up your side body—your lat (latissimus dorsi) muscles, oblique, and intercostal muscles—all muscles that can get bound up with running, especially running with hunched-over shoulders. Opening those muscles can improve the flow of your breath.

5. Runner’s Lunge

Considering the name of this pose, there’s no denying its benefits to you. Runner’s Lunge—placing your front foot flat on the ground directly beneath your front knee and toward the outer edge of your mat, while your back leg extends behind you with either your knee resting on the ground or your toes flexed and lifting your back leg—stretches your hip flexors while it strengthens your lower leg and hips. This pose also works ankle flexibility and can provide a good calf and hamstring stretch in your back leg while strengthening the muscles around your knee in your front leg.

6. Revolved Runner’s Lunge/Low Lunge Twist

Adding a twist to the Runner’s Lunge opens up your chest and your back while working to stabilize your hips—and gaining all the benefits of the standard Runner’s Lunge. First, step your back leg a bit farther behind you and then twist at the torso and reach the arm on the same side as your front leg up above you as you open to the side. You’ll be twisting through your low-, mid-, and upper back as you open your chest. This pose can help relieve tension and can feel particularly good after a run.

7. Half-Pigeon Pose

Runners have notoriously tight gluteus muscles, and this pose lets you settle into a stretch that works to open up those muscles and everything around your hips. From a Downward Dog or plank position, you’ll bring one knee up toward the elbow on that same side while bending that leg. Place the outside of your front leg down as flat on the mat/ground as possible, with your back leg extended behind you. Keep your upper body upright and try to relax and sink into the glute muscles of the front leg. Don’t forget to breathe!

8. Corpse Pose

The Corpse Pose, or what yoga instructors will call your “Final Savasana,” has you lying flat on your back with your ankles loose and relaxed, your arms lying open at your side, and your eyes closed. This pose is meant to completely calm and relax the nervous system after a workout—running or yoga—and for runners, it can be hard to do. (We don’t always have the easiest time remaining still.) But settling into a corpse pose can is meant to be restful and rejuvenating. The more you can give into slowing down your thoughts and breath—and truly relax—the better. You’ll be raring to go when you next lace up those running shoes.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.