What do running and yoga even have to do with each other, you might ask.
While not strenuous like cross-training or intervals (few things are), yoga can increase a runner’s endurance, strength, and speed by working on one often overlooked necessity: muscle flexibility. You can increase this, and have better muscle health in general, by incorporating yoga into your running training regiment.
Below, we list and provide video examples of some of the best yoga poses for anyone interested in improving their running.
The Best Yoga Moves for Running
Otherwise known as “The Taxpayer,” this pose stretches your hips, quads, calves, and hamstrings, while also providing a good stretch for your back.
How-to: Start on your hands and knees, like you’re doing a push-up. Align your wrists beneath your shoulders, and your knees beneath your hips. With your weight pressed on your spread palms, lift your knees from the floor and straighten them, while gently raising your hips. Keep this pose for 10 seconds and breathe slowly and carefully. It’s a basic position, but can still be difficult for newcomers, regardless if you’re an advanced runner picking up yoga, or if you’re totally new to both.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with this pose from Grand Theft Auto 5. I’m still not sure why there are yoga minigames available there, but I suppose even a fictional character’s health is important. Your spine, core, and arms will get a good stretch out of this simple but necessary pose.
How-to: Lay on your stomach in a plank-like position, legs a little bit apart, toes untucked. With your arms touching your lower rib range, press your hands into the floor. With your arms, lift your torso and thighs slightly off the mat. This may take effort, especially in the thighs. Shoulders back, chest out, crane up neck up toward the ceiling. With your arms and thighs flexed, keep this pose for 10 seconds.
New Yorkers might dislike pigeons rightfully and vehemently, but the reclining pigeon yoga pose will work almost every muscle group you can think of–from the quads and the groin to the core and the neck.
How-to: Lay on your back and bring your legs up to your chest like you’re in the fetal position. Keep them parallel. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Put your left arm through the space between your thighs. Bring your right arm around so it’s outside of the right thigh. Clasp your hands around your right knee and flex the left foot. None of this is a joke. Hold for 10 seconds, un-pretzel yourself, and switch legs.
Also known as the Lizard (and not to be confused with a lounge lizard), this pose will strengthen your hamstrings and quads while giving your hips a good stretch.
How-To: Begin again in the pushup position. Move your right knee between your arms while lowering your left knee behind you. The top of your left foot should be facing the ceiling. Lift your upper body upright, and bring your arms overhead to a point, like the top of a tree. Hold the position for 10 seconds and then switch legs.
5-Reclining Hand to Big Toe
Please note, you’ll need a belt or something similar for this pose, which will work your hamstrings and quads.
How-to: Lie flat on your back like a well-behaved corpse. Lift your knee up like a salute. Bend the knee forward toward you. Use a belt to loop around the arch of your lifted foot. Hold both ends of the belt with your hands. Try to straighten your leg. Slowly pull your leg toward you as the hamstring relaxes. Do this for 10 seconds and switch.
6-Standing Forward Fold
There are many variations involving forward folding. They all work the back and hamstrings, though this standing version can be a bit intense.
How-to: While standing (obviously), keep your legs together and your weight centered on the balls of your feet. Inhale and stretch your arms over your head like a ref calling a touchdown. Bend forward at your waist while keeping your legs straight. Wrap your hands around the back of your legs or ankles. Tuck your head down toward your pelvic region in between your arms. Hold for 10 seconds.
This is a simple yoga stretch that will help stretch your quads, which will in turn make running a little easier.
How-to: Sit up on your mat. Keep your legs in front of you and turn them inward, so that the soles of your feet touch like a high-five. Lean forward so that you feel some stretch in the thighs. Hold for 10 seconds.
8-Cross-Legged Forward Fold
This is something of a hybrid of the Cobbler and Forward Fold poses above. Looking at once simple and intimidating, this pose will work several groups: back, shoulders, hips, hamstrings, and ankles.
How-to: Sit cross-legged. Lean forward so that your torso is over legs. You’ll feel a stretch in the outer segments of your hips. Hold for 10 seconds.
9-Legs Up the Wall
You’re going to need a wall for this one.
But it’s worth investing in one (if you’re a homeless, ambitious runner) because Legs Up the Wall will help circulation and relieve swelling. You will feel some stretch in your hamstrings and lower back, but this one is more about relief than anything else. It’s also a great beginner stretch for those not yet as flexible. And it’s a great start for anyone looking to improve their running with yoga exercises.
How-to: Make your body into a right angle with your legs up the wall. Swing your legs up and down the wall like windshield wipers. I’m sorry but there’s nothing much else to it than that. Keep this pose as long as you are comfortable.
The tree pose is one of the most recognizable yoga poses. I think it was also in GTA 5 with Upward Dog. Anyway, this pose is incredibly versatile, stretching and building strength in your shoulders, core, groin, thighs, calves, and ankles.
How-to: Stand with your feet together, arms straight at your sides. Keep good posture. Your weight should be focused on your feet. Shift your weight to your left foot. Fold your right knee and bring your right foot to your inner thigh. If you can’t do it naturally, place it there with your hand. It’s important to remember not to balance any weight on that right foot. Don’t press the foot into the inner thigh. If you do, press back with the inner thigh to negate the pressure. The pelvic and groin region should be tucked. Keep your hips aligned for balance. Hold for 1 minute and switch.
This one’s great for the spine, hips, and quads.
How-to: On your back, knees pointed to the sky. Keep your back straight and relaxed. Keep your knees aligned with your hips and let your fingers touch the heels of your feet. Lift your torso up through a pelvic scoop. Use your hands for balance. Left the hips and keep them aligned. Your neck should be looking straight up at the ceiling and relaxed. It should not feel any tension during this pose. Hold for 10 seconds.
12-Reclining Spinal Twist
To the surprise of no one, this exercise will help realign the spine. It will also help work out the glutes, hips, and the abs a little bit too.
How-to: Lie down, facing up. Knees bent. Arms at your sides. Bring your right knee toward your chest while your left remains straight. Shift your hips to the right and drape your right knee over your left. Then place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Allow your knee to progressively drop toward the floor again. Keep the pose for 10 seconds and switch.
This pose is great for balancing, and for your quads and hamstrings. Many also get a good stretch in the core, too.
How-to: Stand with your feet set wide apart, arms out horizontally, palms facing down. With your hip, turn your right toes away from your body. Also with your hip, turn your left toes toward your body. Bend forward with the right side of your hip, down toward your right toes. Keep your body’s posture long and straight. Rest your right hand at your right shin. Eventually, you’ll be able to touch your hand to the floor. Don’t worry about that for now. Hold for 10 seconds. Then with your weight on the ball of your right foot, slowly move back to your starting position. Then switch.
This pose will focus on your quads and hips.
How-to: Start on your belly and use your elbows to rise up a bit. Lift your right knee toward your back and meet it with your right hand like in a quad stretch. Pull back toward the ground and again toward your body for the stretch. Go as far as you can. Doesn’t matter how much. As time goes on you’ll be able to go farther and farther. Use your left forearm for balance. Hold for 10 seconds and switch.
15-Sugarcane in the Half Moonlight
No, this has nothing to do with Joker’s similar line from Batman (1989) or the also similarly titled Deep Space Nine episode. This is a rather exciting yoga pose that will work your hamstrings, quads, and hips. Due to the awkward posing, you may want to have something nearby for support until you can balance easier.
How-to: Stand with your feet together. Lean forward so that you’re balancing your weight on the heel of your right foot and hand (which is pressed on the floor). Carefully and slowly bend your left knee and hold it by the foot with your left hand. Balancing as best you can and try to hold the pose for 10 seconds. Then switch. It may not be possible to bend and hold your knee to your hand. If you can’t, just place your hand along your hip. Flexibility will come in time with practice.
This doesn’t look too fun, but with time your flexibility will improve. The Camel Pose will help your core and hips.
How-to: On your knees, place your hands on your lower back. Lift your chest while slowly and carefully arcing backward, focused on the lower back. If you can, crane your neck back as well, looking up toward the ceiling. Those with more advanced flexibility might reach back farther and hold their heels with their hands. Find your comfortable stretch zone and hold it for 10 seconds. Use your legs or your core to return to your starting position.
17-Toes Squat Pose to Ankle Stretch Pose
This is more of a preventative exercise than anything else. Feet are very vulnerable and runners ride them hard and put them away wet. This can result in injuries like plantar fasciitis. Toe squats help strengthen the area and toughen the foot. It has the added benefit of stretching your shins and the arches of your feet. Admittedly, the pose looks very uncomfortable, but the best yoga poses do. In time, it’ll become normal.
How-to: Sit on your knees with your toes curled under your behind. Essentially, you’ll be using your feet as a cushion. Make your toes into points and carefully lean backward with your hands on the floor behind you. Once you find your balance, attempt to lift your knees–not your feet–off the floor. They don’t have to get too far, just enough to feel the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds.
Venison is rather gamy, but it shouldn’t matter for you here. The Twisted Deer will help relieve tension and add flexibility for your lower back, hips, and quads.
How-to: While sitting on your mat, create a pinwheel shape with your legs: one curled in front of you, the other curled behind. Twist your spine to the left, feeling some stretch along with it. While turned, carefully lay yourself down on the mat with your legs still curled. Hold for 10 ten seconds and lift yourself back to your starting position. Switch legs and twisting direction to repeat.
And there you have it; all you needed to know about running and yoga. So figure out where you can use some more flexibility and add these yoga poses throughout your warm-ups. Over time, and with discipline, you will see gains.
Do you have a yoga regimen as part of your running workout? Tell us how it’s worked for you–leave a comment below!