Running can be a stress-burning, outdoors-exploring, heart-pumping source of fun—but it’s also monotonous, with the forward motion repeatedly taxing the same exact muscles, mile after mile. This is why smart runners rest, stretch, and cross train to strengthen other muscles, to increase flexibility, and to prevent injuries. The challenge is to maximize running time while still squeezing in everything else. Fortunately, there is a simple practice that can check every box in a single workout.
Yoga combines strengthening, stretching, and—depending on the pace of the type you practice—enough cardio to really elevate the heartrate. It can be relaxing and restorative and often prevents injuries, too. That was the experience of runner and certified yoga instructor Annelie Stockton, who teaches yoga and running classes at Empire Fitness and loves to help runners incorporate yoga into their routines.
Before she found yoga about seven years ago, “I was always dealing with running injuries,” she says. “It was really debilitating.” Through consistent yoga, she was able to address sciatica and muscle imbalances. She hasn’t been injured since.
“With yoga you get your strength training, core work, stretching, and recovery all in one,” says Stockton. Her preferred practice, vinyasa, “is fast-paced, so you’re moving pretty quickly.” Flowing through or holding poses can strengthen small muscles like those around the ankles and knees that are often overlooked in weight training workouts. Yoga works muscles in a fluid and challenging way that yields big results.
“You can do all the sit-ups in the world but you won’t get the same core strength as you will doing yoga,” Stockton says. “I try to lift weights, but I find that I don’t always have time for everything. If I was going to pick two, it would definitely be running and yoga.”
Those who practice it know that yoga impacts more than just the body. “I think it’s a very mental workout,” says Stockton. “Running takes a lot of mental toughness, and I find that yoga really complements that. It’s challenging, but also really calming.”
She notes, though, that it takes time to build to that calm feeling. “In the beginning, I couldn’t do a pose without my mind racing.” For those who practice consistently, yoga brings both physical and mental benefits. “It’s really cool to see not only how your body changes, but for sure your mental state.”
Stockton’s preferred routine is to follow a run with a vinyasa class a couple of days each week. On other days, she spends a few minutes post-run on poses, taking care to target the hips and low back. “Runners have tight hips, so it’s super important to work on them,” she says.
Her favorites include yogi squat, down dog, low lunge, pigeon, half split, cow face (author’s note: I adore this one for both the puzzling name and the deep hip stretch), and child’s pose.
(Author’s other tip: though it’s ideal for new yogis to begin with in-person classes with real-time instructor feedback, if that’s not feasible during this never-ending pandemic, check out the excellent YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene, which includes tutorials for beginners.)
Stockton has an article online about her yoga practice that goes through favorite restorative poses and a series of yoga flows at www.teamrunrun.com.
Sarah Hauge is a writer and editor who lives in Spokane and tries to maintain COVID-19-era sanity by running and practicing yoga as often as possible.