If you want to get stronger at running, it makes sense that you get out there and run, right? Wrong. According to Lina Nielsen, 400m hurdler and Jennis yoga coach, by adding yoga into your schedule you can transform your running times, improve recovery, prevent injuries and much more…
Has your running performance plateaued? Then the secret lies in regular yoga sessions, as we discover when we take a break with Lina Nielsen, yoga ambassador for Jennis Fitness .
Although yoga appears pretty serene, it’s incredible for helping you build muscle strength. “You might not think it,” says Lina, “but in yoga you're engaging lots of underused, small muscles in your body that might not get worked in more traditional styles of fitness.
“All those small muscles work together to help the bigger muscles engage and strengthen – and the knock-on effect is that you get stronger, which positively impacts your running performance.”
“Take a balancing pose, such as the triangle pose,” says Lina. “As you practice this, you’ll feel your feet shift one way and another to help you stay upright. It’s almost imperceptible, but this switches on muscles through your foot, calf and quad – which are all essential for running.”
Increases stride length
One of the biggest and most surprising outcomes from yoga is that it can give you a longer running stride. “By encouraging flexibility in the hamstrings and hip flexors, you increase your stride length when you run,” says Lina.
“This means you’ll cover the same ground in less time and you’ll run faster. Whether that’s a 5k, 10k or a marathon, if you can use fewer strides to run that distance, you’ll hit a quicker time.
“In the last couple of years, it’s been my personal goal to run 15 strides to cover the first five hurdles in the 400m hurdles distance. Last year, I really struggled to meet the target because my stride length was too short, which meant I was hitting hurdles and falling over them.
“This year, partly because of my training and partly because yoga has helped my hips become more open, I’ve managed to hit my goal; it feels like I can lift my knees higher and get off the ground that little bit further.”
Whether that's a 5k, 10k or a marathon, if you can use fewer strides to run that distance, you'll hit a quicker time
If you’re a regular runner, you’ve probably noticed some tightness in your hips and calves from time to time. That’s where the introduction of yoga can help. “Moves like downward dog that stretch out the calves, or hip openers such as warrior pose, can definitely relieve tightness,” says Lina. “Not only will this increase your flexibility, but by having a bigger range of motion in your hips, for example, you’ll move more easily and efficiently.”
Another surprise benefit of yoga is the impact breathing during our yoga flows has on our endurance capacity.
“In yoga, you hold the poses for quite a long time. For example, you might hold downward-facing dog for anywhere between three to 10 breaths. This means you have to tap into your inner strength and breathe through any tiredness and soreness that comes up. “I think this really helps for endurance runs as you’ve learnt to breathe through any discomfort, which then mean you can run for longer.”
Ever feel like one side of your body is tighter than the other? Whether it’s your hamstrings or glutes, it’s pretty common for muscles on one side of your body to take more impact than the other, resulting in inconsistencies and risk of injury. The good news is that regular yoga can help balance things out.
“If one of your legs or arms is stronger," says Lina, "this can naturally unbalance your gait, leading to risk of injury over time. Practicing yoga lowers the risk of injuries caused by unbalance because you are working consistently to balance the body on both sides.
“In addition, a lot of yoga poses allow your muscles to both contract and stretch out at the same time," says Lina. "This builds elasticity and helps prevent overextension of your stride when running – another potential cause of injury.”
Paying attention to your posture isn’t usually top of anyone’s running to-do list, but it definitely should be. “A lot of people run with rounded shoulders hunched forward,” explains Lina, “especially towards the end of their run when they're feeling tired.
“Because yoga switches on and strengthens your core muscles, it can improve your posture so that you run tall and strong, you’re more efficient and there’s less risk of injury.”
Because yoga switches on and strengthens your core, it can improve your posture so you run tall and strong, you’re more efficient and there’s less risk of injury
Finally, if you’re feeling a bit frazzled, yoga can help you find inner peace by practicing detachment and discipline. “Stepping onto the mat is a great way to devote time and energy to yourself and to put the stresses of daily life to one side,” says Lina. “It gives you the space to detach from your to-do list and reconnect with yourself, clearing your mind and moving your body in a way that feels good to you.”
“Having the discipline to show up for yourself comes in handy with running sessions, too. The more you practice discipline and detachment, the easier you’ll be able to distract yourself from any discomfort or tiredness and stick with it, pushing harder and faster each time. Before you know it, you’ll be beating your personal best.”