Do you dream of standing on the winner’s podium, draped in a flag with a medal around your neck? Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just lacing up for your first 5K, incorporating yoga into your workout routine can help you run faster, better, and more comfortably. “Yoga works the entire body, whereas running is very repetitious and uses the same muscles again and again—but yoga counteracts that, which can help prevent injuries,” says Jennifer Heister, a certified yoga instructor in New York City who runs marathons and half-marathons. Plus, “the breathing techniques [from yoga] are good for calming you, helping you build bigger lung capacity, making you more focused for races, and keeping your breathing under control so you can push yourself harder.” Practicing yoga can also improve your strength, balance, and flexibility, as well as giving you a mental escape from the daily grind—a winning formula, indeed.
Here’s how to incorporate yoga into your workout regimen effectively.
Learn the basics. If you’re starting your yoga practice from scratch, find a class near you where you can get familiar with the moves. There are also streaming videos or apps that teach beginner-level yoga. It’s important to learn how to pose properly and with the right alignment, not only to prevent injuries but also to maximize your benefits from the practice. Some yoga studios and gyms now offer classes specializing in yoga for runners.
Tailor the moves to your needs. Runners often have tight shoulders, hip flexors, and hamstrings, making certain poses especially beneficial. These include the Down Dog (which releases tension in the chest and shoulders), the Crescent Lunge (for the hips), the Forward Fold (for the hamstrings), and the Eagle and Tree poses (both of which strengthen and stretch the whole body). Restorative poses like Legs-Up-the-Wall and the Child’s Pose also ease muscle tension in the back, hips, and legs and promote relaxation. Don’t know how to do these poses? It’s easy to find illustrations and descriptions online.
Put time on your side. Take advantage of the perks of stretching after a run. “Yoga can ease soreness after running,” Heister notes. “The body becomes more malleable and you’ll find more ease in the poses,” which can help you attain a greater range of motion. Still, if you’re new to yoga, it’s wise to start slowly and heed certain precautions: Don’t push a stretch excessively or try the highest level of a pose. “Be mindful of your body and go easy on yourself,” Heister advises.
Stretch your workout clothes. To keep your yoga gear clean and soft, use a detergent with a fabric softener every time you do laundry. Think of this as a way of giving your workout wear maximum (cleaning) power and freshness, the same qualities you want from your workout routine.