During the course of an average mile run, your foot will strike the ground 1,000 times. The force of impact on each foot is about three to four times your weight. It’s not surprising, then, to hear runners complain of bad backs and knees, tight hamstrings, and sore feet.
The pain most runners feel is not from the running itself, but from imbalances that running causes and exacerbates. If you bring your body into balance through the practice of yoga, you can run long and hard for years to come. Although yoga and running lie on opposite ends of the exercise spectrum, the two need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, running and yoga make a good marriage of strength and flexibility.
Even the most centred and relaxed runner can face injury. Damage to a runner’s body is often the result of overuse instead of collisions or falls. It all comes back to balance, symmetry, and alignment.
The body is the sum of its parts and impairment of one affects them all. A bad back is going to affect your ankles just as weak knees can throw off your hip alignment. For example, shin splints are the result of a seemingly minor misstep: an uneven distribution of weight that starts with the way the feet strike the ground. Each time the foot hits the pavement unevenly, a lateral torque travels up the leg, causing muscle chafing and pain up and down the tibia known as shin splints.
Knee pain, too, is related to other parts of the body. If the ankles are weak or the hips are not aligned, that can put strain on the anterior ligaments in the knees. Meant to work like a train on a track, a knee thrown off balance is equivalent to a train derailing. Due to constant forward motion, hip flexor muscles shorten and tighten and can cause hyper extension in the lower back. This constantly arched position holds tension in the back and can hamper the fluidity of hamstring muscles as well.
What does this mean for the runner with pain in his lower back? Or a painful heel condition? First of all, don’t ignore your body’s signals. Take a break when your body needs one. Learn to intuit when rest is appropriate. Secondly, start incorporating yoga postures into the warm-up and cool-down portions of your workout. Think of running as the linear part of your workout and yoga as its circular complement.
There’s no need to be sidelined by injuries and discomfort brought on by your running program. Chronic injuries can eventually self-correct through a gentle yet consistent yoga practice. Remember, your body is on your side. It has an inherent intelligence to bring about a state of equilibrium no matter how many times your feet hit the pavement.
Yoga is a discipline centred around physical, mental and spiritual poses. Studies have shown that yoga squashes stress, aids weight loss, eases pain, helps people stick to an exercise routine, and even improves running times. The strength and flexibility developed on the mat can help you run more efficiently and stay injury-free.
Additionally, holding challenging poses builds tenacity that’ll pay off on the road. Yoga poses give runners more than just foot strength, they can help build mental endurance.
Choose your time
Your yoga practice should have a direct relationship with your training. When you’re keeping up mileage and having hard workouts, stick with relaxing sessions. When your training eases up, you can increase the intensity and frequency of your yoga workouts, says Sage Rountree, yoga instructor, triathlon coach, and author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga. If you take on a rigorous practice in the midst of a monster training month, “you’ll interfere with your body’s recovery and risk hurting yourself,” Rountree says.
It can take years to master yoga poses, so don’t go to your first class (or your first 20) expecting to be the star pupil, no matter how many races you’ve run or how fast your PRs are. “Focus on yourself, not what the person on the mat next to you can do.
Runners’ high pain thresholds together with their competitive natures can make them more prone to injury. If you have a tight spot you’d like to target, talk to me about ways to modify poses so you can target that area without pushing too hard or damaging yourself.