As many runners ramp up their training for Fall races, they start focusing on training plans, nutrition to support their training and fueling strategies for race day, and of course, injury prevention. Often, yoga becomes a big part of it. However, the runners’ bodies often need a special practice that’s tailored to complement their main sport. Yoga for runners needs to take into account not just the muscles that promote the movement but also the reciprocal muscle groups, in order to maintain a balance in the body.
Reciprocal inhibition is the process that our body uses for movement: one set of muscles contracts while the opposing set relaxes to create smooth movement. For example in when you are running as you lift your leg to propel yourself forward, your quadriceps must contract to lift the knee forward, and the hamstrings must relax. When the muscles are balanced they have the right combination of inhibition and facilitation during movement. When the inhibition and facilitation are not in the right combination, muscle imbalances may occur, leading to inefficiencies at best, and injuries at worst.
Many runners often step on their mat looking for relief for tight and achy iliotibial (IT) bands that are giving them trouble. I see people collapse into Pigeon Pose with blissful expressions on their faces. The stretch feels good. But more often than not there are no lasting results. You may even find that the stretches muscle group is tighter the next day.
In my experience with teaching yoga, running, and learning from my own injuries, the key to Yoga for Runners is reciprocal stretching and strengthening. It is critical to stretch both muscles groups in the reciprocal pair. So if you spend some quality time in Pigeon Pose to stretch the outer hip, your next stop should be Frog Pose, to show you adductors the same kind of love!
- Start on all fours and bring the right knee forward to touch your right wrist.
- Inch the right leg forward until the right foot is just below the left hip.
- Lengthen the left leg parallel to the long edges of the mat.
- Softly lower the pelvis to the floor. If your left hip ends up higher than the right, tuck a block or a blanket under the right side to level the hips.
- Walk your hands forward as you lengthen the torso on the inhale. Exhale as you fold forward over the right leg.
- You can have either your forearms or hands on the mat, which will support more of your weight. If there is more space in the hip, you may want to lower your torso all the way to the mat.
- Start on all fours and bring the knees farther apart, as wide as sustainable over a minute or two, as you hold the stretch.
- Keep the hips directly over the knees. Bring the shins to form a 90 degree angle with thighs, and the feet to form a 90 degree angle with the shins. Flex the feet.
- You can have either your forearms or hands on the mat, which will support more of your weight. If there is more space in your adductors, you may want to lower your torso all the way to a bolster or to the mat.
- On an inhale lengthen the spine and engage the core just enough to prevent the low back from arching.
- Pad the knees with a blanket if needed.
- Use deep, unforced yogic breath to relax and soften into the stretch. This helps prevent pushing past your limit and resulting in microtears in the muscles being stretched.
- If you feel a spasm in the opposite muscle group, this is due to the extra flexion work the reciprocal muscle has to go in order to stretch out a tight muscle group. If this occurs, gently back out of the stretch for a few seconds before returning to it.