Guest Blog by Alexandra Parren, Sundried
If you’re a runner, staying strong and supple are very important for both your performance and to prevent injury. I think most of us are guilty of not stretching enough, even though we know that it is imperative for improving flexibility, range of motion, and helping us stay pain-free. There are other lesser known benefits to stretching too, such as improved balance, as stretching can help with fine muscle coordination. You only need to find around 10-15 minutes a day to dedicate to this important training supplement, and you’ll be feeling the benefits all day!
Yoga and running go hand in hand for a number of reasons, and you can use the two to really complement each other. Focus on each element and see how you can use yoga to improve your running.
There are many yoga poses which will target your core strength and help you switch it on while you’re running. The side plank pose is useful for really engaging your abdominal muscles and also strengthening your obliques which are the muscles on the sides of your torso. To perform a side plank, lie on your side on the floor and place your hand on the floor directly under your shoulder. Straighten your legs and stack your feet on top of each other. When you’re ready, use your core muscles to lift your torso up of the floor and make sure your hips are high. Raise your other arm straight up into the air and squeeze your core in tight and keep your entire body aligned. Hold the pose for around 30 seconds before switching to the other side. This is a tough exercise but you’ll feel the benefits instantly! Having a strong core while running is important as it will prevent your legs and back from overcompensating and therefore getting injured.
This may seem like an obvious one, but having strong legs is key to a successful run. Running can feel very natural, so you may not realise just how much pressure and strain is being put on your legs. Having strong leg muscles is crucial in protecting your knees, hips, and ankles from exerting too much pressure and getting injured. The warrior pose is perfect for building endurance in your leg muscles as well as your glutes. From a standing pose, step one leg out sideways and bend the knee so that you are almost in a lunge. Turn the foot at a 45 degree angle so that it faces away from you and turn your body so that it faces the same way. Slowly stretch your arms out, lift your ribcage, and then lean into the front leg. You should start to feel a burn in the quad! Hold this pose for as long as you can, while keeping your breathing slow and controlled.
One of the biggest elements of yoga is breathing. Every pose has a set breathing pattern and you should be very aware of your inhalations and exhalations every time you move. This translates very well into running as breathing can become laboured which can in turn cause you to lose your concentration. One of the worst things is becoming too aware of your breathing and it becoming strained! But if you control it properly, you can really use it to your advantage. The formal practice of controlling your breath in yoga is called Pranayama and there are many different techniques you can try. Start by closing your eyes and tune into your natural breathing rhythm. Notice the length of the inhalations and exhalations. When you’re ready, start to consciously alter your breathing my making the intake longer; count to 4 while breathing in, and the same on the way out. Your breathing should be audible to you, but not to anyone around you; it should be soft and relaxed. Try to apply this practice while you are running, particularly if you find yourself at a point in the run where you are struggling.
Finally, your mind plays a big role when you are running. Especially if you do not listen to music while running, it’s a long time to be alone with nothing but your thoughts! If you focus too much on how much your legs hurt and how out of breath you are then any run will become long and arduous. Meditating is a common practice which is not just bound to yoga, but knowing how to meditate effectively may really help you during those long and unrelenting miles. Meditating has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as helping in dealing with pain (which is something runners know all too much about!) Before you set off on your run, sit quietly for a few minutes and practice Pranayama. While you are running, make a mental list of all the things that you are seeing around you. You can also incorporate other senses so that you list the things you are feeling and hearing too, for example “I can hear a dog barking, my skin feels hot..” Finally, focus on loosening and relaxing your entire body. Your jaw, your shoulders, your arms, even your hands. These body parts can become very tense when you are running, so it’s important to make a conscious effort to relax and just try to enjoy the run!