As runners we tend to think of yoga as a tool that can help maintain or improve our flexibility or we turn to our mats when we are injured and need to nurture our bodies. What we may forget is that yoga can also be a powerful tool to help build strength in all the right places, which may help prevent injury in the first place.
A strong core can help keep your pelvis, hips, and lower back aligned, and promote the right muscle groups to fire when you run, reducing risk of injury and improving performance. Core strength also significantly improves balance, helping you on technical trails as well as crowded sidewalks.
We may think of the core as just the abdominal muscles, but really anything between our shoulder girdle and hips can be grouped under this category. And it’s all the more relevant for distance runners to address not just the muscles in the front body, but also the upper and mid back, as our form begins to suffer towards the end of long runs or races. This can not only slow you down, but also open you up for potential injuries. Building a strong core helps maintain good posture longer into your runs.
Boat Pose and Locust Pose are complementary in that they allow for the reciprocal strengthening and stretching of the front body abdominal and hip flexor muscles as well as the spinal erectors and the upper back, thus addressing and balancing all of the core.
- Start seated on your mat with your legs extended in front of you. Bend the knees, and place the feet on the floor. Place the hands on the mat a little behind your hips, fingers pointing towards the toes.
- Sit on the “tripod” of your two sitting bones and tailbone. Lean the torso back, while lengthening the tailbone into the mat, and extending the spine up.
- Catch the backs of the thighs with your hands, and lift the feet off the mat on the exhale.
- If possible, straighten your knees, raising your toes to about eye-level. If this isn’t possible, keep the knees bent, and perhaps lift the shins parallel to the floor.
- Extend the arms alongside the legs, parallel to the floor. If this isn’t possible, keep the hands either on the backs of the thighs or on the floor.
- Keep the abdominals engaged to find balance and avoid rolling off the sitting bones and onto the tailbone.
- Relax the shoulders and allow the breath to flow with ease.
- Start laying on your mat face down, with your arms by your sides, palms facing up. Bring the big toes together and inwardly rotate the inner thighs.
- Lift the head, upper body, arms, and legs off the mat on inhale. Reach through the heels and toes to lengthen the legs.
- Firm the glutes to support the lift of the legs without scrunching them so as not to compress the low back.
- Reach the arms in front of you and stretch actively through the fingertips.
- Face the palms towards one another, broaden the shoulder blades, and press them firmly down your back. This allows you to fully engage the spinal erector muscles as well as deltoids and trapezius.
- Look at the mat a few inches in front of you as opposed to too far forward to avoid hyperextending the neck.
- In both postures soften your shoulder blades away from the ears and lengthen through the neck.
- If you can’t stay in Boat pose without rolling off your sitting bones and onto your tailbone, bring one foot down and place the toes on the mat to help balance yourself. Switch feet after 20 seconds.
- If you can’t lift both arms and legs in Superman without feeling compression in the lower back, try alternately lifting right arm and left leg, holding for 20 seconds, and switching to left arm and right leg, and holding for another 20 seconds.