Yoga And How It May Increase Flexibility and Balance for Runners

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“The practice of yoga as part of traditional training methods enhances the components of fitness that are the essential components of sports performance.” International Journal of Yoga, 2016 Jan-Jun; 9(1): 27–34.

Image from Runner’s World

My first time to do yoga was in 2014. I was invited to cover a yoga event. This was during the peak of my running career. I took about two months of consistent practice and actually improved my cadence (stride) and faster recovery after a race. I practice twice a week and train for a race also twice a week. Back then, I was also hitting the gym daily working out at free weights and joining group classes. Yup, I was an energizer bunny then.

I was actively running until 2018 even when I moved to Baguio for work. I tried taking road races occasionally, going down to Manila to join the race. But I was focusing on managing a gym and so running outdoors eventually became indoors on treadmills. On 2020, I was about to celebrate a decade of running, getting a minimum mileage of 2 to 3 miles when pandemic happened.

I returned to practicing yoga on 2018 and then on 2020, I became a yoga teacher (RYT®200 Yoga Alliance) under Vinyasa and took another 200 hours for Hatha and Ashtanga the following year. I returned back home in Manila and while the alert level is slowly normalizing, it is already a necessity to have a face mask as part of your running gear.

Supported Studies

In a preliminary study made in 2016, male college athletes improved their flexibility and balance after taking 10 weeks of doing yoga. Two controlled groups took yoga in addition to their usual activities twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday), and took assessment tests before and after the period with specific yoga poses: downward facing dog, right foot lunge and chair pose. These athletes are members of basketball and football teams and no specific yoga was defined in the study. They practiced yoga before any physical activity and showed an enhanced athletic performance and in the flexibility and balance for the group who practiced yoga for 10 weeks. In comparison, the group without yoga resulted to no improvement and even declined for some of the athletes in that group.

In 2007, a research to answer, “Does practicing hatha yoga satisfy recommendations for intensity of physical activity which improves and maintains health and cardiovascular fitness” was made. The group consists of 20 intermediate to advanced level of yoga practitioners. There was little to no significant evidence to show any improvement in health and cardiovascular fitness.

Then in August 2020, a study released by The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness took the effect of a 6-month moderate intense Hatha yoga for middle-aged sedentary women. The practice is made 3 times a week with progressive Vinyasa flow for 60 minutes, these women had no previous physical activity related and was measured pre and post training (practice). Results came out as a significant improvement in health related fitness and their body composition.

In 1998, a study was made to study the effect of 6 weeks of yogasana (asana practice) for young girls age 12 to 16 years to their athletic performance. These girls were kho kho players, a traditional game in India like the play of tag. The study showed a significant improvement in agility and endurance of the girls who practiced yoga versus those who did not.

So what’s the real score?

While there are limited studies that would show directly benefits of yoga to running, the studies suggested several results: (1) there is a significant improvement to flexibility and balance in relation to athletic performance; (2) there is no significant difference to practicing yoga and walking on treadmill for those semi-active individuals; (3) there is a significant improvement in health related fitness and body composition for sedentary individuals; and, (4) there is a significant improvement in agility and endurance for young individuals.

The consistent practice of yoga shows an overall therapeutic effect and improvement in the quality of life.

The Similarities Are Uncanny.

Running is more like yoga.

Image from California.com

Aesthetic, just minimal you say: tops are almost the same and you wanted dri-fit attire. You invest on a long lasting running shoe; you also invest for a long lasting yoga mat. You promised to spend only for a running shoe, but you got yourself a specialized hydration flask, a visor, compression tights, even a sports watch–correction: a running watch. You thought you would only want a yoga mat; then you also wanted that cork blocks, an environment friendly yoga strap, a yoga bag for your mat and your water bottle.

Mindset: you think clearly and your goals have action plans after how many kilometers of running. Suddenly you are grateful how you live and how alive you are after a few sun salutations. One more kilometer you say, or one more surya!

Joint and Bone Density: non runners and non yogis alike would always tell you, will it affect your joint or your bone? There are already studies to show that there is a growth and improved health to bones when it comes to constant movement.

Your overall health and quality of life really change when doing both activities: yoga and running.

So where do I start?

Some of us are afraid even hearing the Sanskrit terms: Vinyasa, Hatha or Ashtanga. Runners would complain that we already have our mileage to worry about! Do not worry.

I would always recommend starting with Vinyasa and Hatha. Vinyasa in Sanskrit means “to flow in a special way”, so this is a good start for runners who wanted variety in their practice. Vinyasa starts with meditation or breathing techniques (called Pranayama), then warming up with a couple of sun salutations or even mobility movements or poses (called asana), then there will be a special flow the teacher introduces and you will end with breathwork again and a rest. Same as with Hatha (meaning forceful or the sun and the moon), it is a low to medium impact movement as you hold poses for about 5 to 10 breaths (think of counting). Just like Vinyasa, all yoga classes will have rest at the end to regulate the heart rate and decompress the joints and the muscles.

For seasoned runners, we tend to let go of the post workout dynamic stretching. And I suggest that adding yoga to your activity will not only improve your running performance but also to you overall health. You may start with practicing yoga once a week on your rest days or off peak runs, then increase to twice or 3 times a week in between long mileages. Days before race, try to practice a gentler Vinyasa yoga for only 15 to 45 minutes as part of your recovery.

References:

Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. M Jay PolsgroveBrandon M Eggleston, and Roch J Lockyer, International Journal of Yoga, Jan-June 2016.

Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Catherine Woodyard, International Journal of Yoga, Jul-Dec 2011.

The effects of a 6-month moderate-intensity Hatha yoga-based training program on health-related fitness in middle-aged sedentary women: a randomized controlled study. Michał T BoraczyńskiTomasz W BoraczyńskiZbigniew WójcikJan GajewskiJames J Laskin, J Sports Physical Fitness, Aug 2020.