Four reasons to try yoga (and be a better runner)

Just like a couch potato might be completely baffled by your desire to go log miles every chance you get, a lot of runners just don’t understand the appeal of yoga.  Sure, running and yoga are both physically and mentally challenging activities that are great for fitness-minded folks, but there isn’t always a lot of overlap between the two camps — at least not as much as there should be.

Why should runners consider spending some time on a yoga mat?  We can think of a few good reasons.  Here they are!

Stretching shouldn’t just bookend a workout.  We all know that stretching is important, but how often do you do it aside from before or after a run?  Chances are, if you are stretching as part of your warm-up or cool-down, you’re more focused on limbering up or wrapping up your workout than you are with really pushing yourself to increase strength and flexibility.  Spending dedicated time working on your flexibility, especially on a day when you aren’t running at all, can pay dividends.  If you’re looking for some specific routines to get you started, there are a number of great posts over at Runner’s World that can give you some good recommended yoga moves geared towards runners.  

You’ll get stronger (physically).  Yoga is a workout.  If you’ve done it, you know.  If you haven’t, give it a shot and you’ll be sold.  But more important than the physical challenge of the yoga session itself are the amazing benefits that come along with having more flexible muscles.  Quite simply, the more elastic and flexible your muscles are, the stronger they’ll be.  If you really care about improving your strength and building speed in the real world, even a single day of yoga a week can be an unbelievable investment.

You’ll get stronger (mentally).  Any serious runner can tell you that a huge portion of the running equation is mental.  Whether you are pacing yourself out for a personal best or just toughing through a particularly challenging workout, what’s in your head can be every bit as important as what’s in your shoes.  And while running can be a great tool for sharpening your mental toughness, there’s a lot going on in the heat of a run that can distract you from learning who you are between the ears.  Yoga, on the other hand, is built around mental focus and allowing time to breath and concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment.  Give it a try and see if it doesn’t pay off next time you’re facing the wall during a tough run.

Yoga is great for preventing injury.  If there’s one thing that can separate successful runners from the pack over the long term, it’s injury prevention.  Taking responsibility for your body and making sure you don’t end up hurt is a huge part of being able to run hard year after year without ending up sidelined on the couch, derailing your training for weeks or worse.  Yoga will strengthen your core, help integrate your muscular systems, and make you generally less prone to injury.  It’ll also improve awareness of your body so that if something does start to give you trouble, you might pick up on it before you end up taking a funny step off the curb and finding out the hard way.

We came up with this post after reading this one from Stephanie Taylor Christensen at MindBodyGreen.  She’s a solid distance runner with a great perspective on yoga if you’re looking to learn more.

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