Yoga for runners: How yoga can help running, and why you should start regular yoga classes today

How yoga can help running may surprise you, says Sarah Finley. It's not just about breathing, but can help with balance and coordination, too.

How yoga can help running: woman meditating by water
(Image credit: Getty Images / Ridofranz)

Never knew about how yoga can help running? You're not alone. If you’re a runner, like me, chances are you’ve had an injury or two, and most of us are guilty of not doing proper warm-ups and cooldowns – mainly because we haven’t got time. 

However, stretching for runners is essential – it helps to strengthen those tired muscles you’ve been working, improve your running stride and also prevent injury.

Other benefits of yoga are mindfulness and breathing techniques, which again will help you get through tough runs. So, as important as it is to invest in a pair of the best running shoes for women, spend some time on the yoga mat and you’ll really see the benefits.

How yoga can help running

Yoga is a series of postures and stretching sequences that aim to stretch your whole body and work muscles that you may have been neglecting in your training. But just how yoga can help running?

Chatty Dobson, yoga teacher and owner of FLEX Chelsea, says: “When we run, muscles contract and shorten, and if they’re not stretched sufficiently, they can stay that way. One of the less frequently considered benefits of yoga for runners is the strength aspect that involves. 

“Minute movements in a yoga practice build strength in places that other workouts don’t – hip flexors, feet, ankles and more.”

When I first started to run, I was time-poor and, for me, yoga seemed slow and as though it wouldn’t help me achieve my goal of getting fitter. However, after a few injuries – and definitely not enough warm-ups and cooldowns – I signed up to do a few yoga classes to see if it could help. At first, it felt a little awkward, but as I moved into poses such as downward dog and went through my sun salutations, I realised that my body had been craving it and there was a sense of relief in my body and mind.

The next time I ran, I could feel the improvements in my stride – it gave me more flexibility and also helped to control my breathing. 

Why yoga is great for injury prevention

When I was training for big races previously and not stretching, I’d had niggling injuries in my glutes and Achilles tendon, which in turn stopped me from training and pushed my schedule back until they healed. Chatty says that yoga a couple of times a week can help strengthen areas prone to injury during running: “Yoga focuses on micro movements and micro muscles, enabling you to build strength in areas often missed with other training. The feet, ankles, knees, glutes and hip flexors stabilise the entire body. 

“The body twists a lot while running and the thoracic rotation found in several yoga postures encourages this spinal mobility. Recovery time is also greatly improved with the stretching aspect of yoga, particularly when it comes to the psoas muscle and IT band connective tissue.” 

The more yoga classes I took, the fewer injuries I had, meaning I started to achieve PBs in my races and even on my training runs. 

Woman doing yoga outside

(Image credit: Getty Images /Patrik Giardino)

Better breathwork – from yoga to running

Breathwork is a key element to yoga, taking deep breaths in either through your nose or mouth. As you breathe, it allows you to move deeper into your pose, providing more flexibility and strength to that particular muscle. 

This sort of breathing technique can also help with controlling your breath as you run. As soon as your body picks up speed, your diaphragm starts to work harder and your body goes into fight or flight mode, so using meditative breathing when you run is essential.

Chatty agrees: “Yoga teaches you to move with your breath – essential if you want to boost your running training.”

When I started yoga and adapted this breathing technique to my running, I relaxed into it more. Previously, I’d struggled to control my breathing, but yoga breathing helped me to adapt to a meditative state of breathing, allowing me to focus on other elements, such as my pace and running style.

What type of yoga can help running?

I personally love a vinyasa flow class, as it works your cardiovascular health, as well as improving your strength. However, there are many other different types of yoga, including restorative, which gives you longer in deeper poses, and also power yoga, which is a faster set of sequences, allowing you to burn more calories as you stretch muscles.  

Most gyms have yoga classes on their schedules, plus there are more boutique yoga gyms popping up all over the country. If you don’t want to do yoga in a studio, there are plenty of apps, including WithU, Down Dog and the Peloton app, that can show you the basics of yoga classes, then allow you to progress on to harder classes as you become more flexible. 

If you don’t have time for a whole yoga class, Chatty suggests a few moves before or after you run: “Downward dog stretches the calves brilliantly – peddle out the feet if you’re feeling tight, remembering to keep the spin long and bend the knees if necessary. Supine twists are great for winding down after a run and also encourage spinal mobility, while low lunges stretch out the hip flexors nicely.”