Yoga helps build runners’ strength and flexibility

The repetitive forward motion of running often causes tightening and shortening of muscles, creating imbalances that lead to pain and injuries. How many of us have experienced tight calves, rigid hamstrings or sore hip flexors?

When stretching, cross training or rest don’t solve the problem, many runners find relief through yoga.

Ultra-runner Megan Finnesy was dealing with many of these issues after training and competing in the 2012 Hardrock 100.

“Let’s face it, you can’t run those kinds of miles and not have tightness develop, causing all kinds of pains,” said Finnesy, who began doing yoga to recover from the Hardrock. “Yoga is a great option to create balance, core strength and flexibility. It breaks up adhesions and reduces pain from tight muscles.”

Local yoga instructor Jennifer Kiel, a 10-year practitioner of the discipline, concurs about its benefits for runners.

“Yoga can help bring symmetry, balance and alignment back to the body,” Kiel said. “Runners can use yoga to balance strength and also train their body and mind. It teaches you how to coordinate breath with movement, making the body more at ease and more efficient.”

Ron Wheeler began a regular yoga regimen after experiencing several lower-leg issues while attempting to ramp up his running mileage.

“I developed stiff and sore calves, Achilles tendons and other low-leg pains,” Wheeler said. “I tried stretching, which helped marginally. Practicing yoga has completely eliminated these issues. I rarely have any lower-leg pain.”

“Yoga can be practiced daily, in as little as 15 minutes before heading out the door for a run” said Kiel, who speaks enthusiastically about the nonkinetic (nonmotion) benefits of yoga. “When relaxed, the body is more effective at using and conserving strength. Pranayama (breathing exercises) benefits runners by soothing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and increasing VO2 Max (aerobic capacity), which is vital for competitive running success.”

Kiel encourages runners to use yoga for recovery, as well.

“Pranayama teaches your body how to bring in and utilize more oxygen by relaxing your mind and body for a quicker recovery,” she said.

In 2009, Scott Perkins was training for a half-marathon and began experiencing iliotibial band pain. He had practiced yoga some years earlier but had gotten away from it. In 2010, he ran his first marathon, and the IT band issue came back and continued to plague him, eventually forcing him to quit running.

He jumped back into yoga practice and hasn’t stopped practicing since.

“I find yoga to be such a total body workout for both strength and flexibility,” Perkins said. “I also agree that the mental aspect of holding yoga positions helps strengthen the mind, particularly when distance running.

“Since getting back to yoga, I have run three marathons and a 50K and have had no injuries,” he said. “I guess there is no way to say that yoga is the primary reason, but I can absolutely say that my energy level, strength and flexibility have increased tremendously.

“I hope to never get away from yoga again,” he said.

Reach Marjorie Brinton at runswim55@gmail.com.