My last post was about how to prevent running injuries. Yoga is definitely a useful tool for incorporating prevention strategies. Yoga obviously can be a form of stretching but it can also be an effective way to strengthen the body. By practicing breathing and meditation, runners may find that they are more connected to their bodies and may recognize tweaks early on and adjust their training programs before outright injury can set in. Vinyasa (or flow) yoga can be a good cross training activity and restorative yoga is the perfect activity for rest days. Scheduling rest days into a training schedule is an essential part of injury prevention. A restorative yoga practice is extremely beneficial for runners, especially after long, hard runs to facilitate the body’s need for rebuilding and rejuvenation.
Here are some common running-related injuries and yoga poses that may be helpful in preventing those injuries:
Iliotibial Band (ITB) Syndrome - This is a very common injury for marathon runners. It can be associated with tightness of the ITB, over-pronation of the foot and weakness of hip abductor muscles.
- Standing Forward Fold/Utanasana variation with crossed legs - This pose will stretch the ITB along with hamstrings.
- Tree Pose/Vrkasana - When done well, this pose is excellent for increasing strength and awareness of the hip abductors as well as the foot and ankle muscles.
- All of the following are good stretches for the hip muscles including the piriformis, gluteals and small external rotators:
- Sage Twist/Marichasana
- Pigeon/Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
- Cow’s Face/Gomukhasana
- Bridge/Setu Bhandasana variation with single leg. This is a good pose for strengthening the gluteals and oblique muscles of the trunk.
- Chair/Utkatasana variation with strap for isometric abduction and external rotation - This pose is excellent for strengthening the quadriceps and gluteals as well as improving awareness of biomechanics and alignment of the knees, hips and ankles.
- Triangle/Trikonasana - strengthens the quadriceps and intrinsic foot muscles, stretches the hamstrings.
- Half moon/Ardha Chandrasana - This pose offers all the benefits of triangle plus even more strengthening of the hip abductors and external rotators.
- Down Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana - This classic pose is great for stretching the gastrocnemius and Achilles tendons. A dynamic version where you pedal the feet by dropping one heel at a time is particularly nice for working the ankles and calves.
- Standing Hand-BigToe Pose/Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana - This is a challenging balance pose that requires good flexibility of the calves and hamstrings as well as much action in the muscles of the foot and ankle. Be sure to do this pose with a neutral foot position (outer heel in line with pinky toe, weight equally distributed, arch slightly lifted). Use a strap if the hamstrings are tight.
- Thai Goddess Pose- This pose involves sitting on the heels with the toes curled under. It is an intense stretch of the plantar fascia and also of the big toe. It may not be appropriate for those with acute plantar fascitis but it is an excellent stretch for those with chronic foot or leg pain who lack range of motion in the first metatarsalphalangeal joint. Runners need at least 70 degrees of extension in order to have good gait mechanics. I have seen many runners with various injuries who improved dramatically as they gain motion in their big toes. Thai Goddess is usually taught in prenatal yoga classes as a practice in relaxing during intense sensations (i.e. labor contrations) but runners can also benefit from this mental practice of relaxing in the midst of discomfort.
Image from Zen Girl in the City