Whether you’re hitting the mat beforehand or looking for a way to unwind after a race, there are many yoga benefits that can help.
Take a look below at 10 of the best yoga stretches for runners:
1. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
If you want a deep stretch ahead of a big run then it’s time to try the seated forward bend.
This exercise might look simple however it’s highly effective as you stretch out the whole back of your body.
Paschimottanasana really gets to work on tight hamstrings, which runners know is one of the most important muscle groups.
You’ll get a full stretch from your calves to your spine. Plus it’s an amazing mood booster, so ideal if you need an asana for anxiety.
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2. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Another of the great yoga stretches for runners, targeting those tight hamstrings, is downward facing dog.
World-renowned instructor Travis Eliot highlights it in his book A Journey into Yin Yoga.
He describes how downward dog:
Stretches the calf muscles, strengthens the arms and shoulders, and elongates the torso and spine”, all key areas for runners.
For tight hamstrings in particular he suggests spreading your feet the full width of the mat, as it makes the movement even more powerful.
Make the form part of your after-run routine to relax your muscles and joints.
3. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Running can put real pressure on your hips, that over time can take its toll on your performance.
Luckily bridge is here to help you build strength in your hip muscles.
Certified Yoga Therapist Kim McNeil recommends the exercise, describing that:
With our urban lifestyle where we’re often chained to a desk all day, and when we take on sports like running and cycling with a vengeance, the hip and spinal extension in Bridge Pose is a must for most.
We know how vital the gluteal muscles are too, and this stance can really help to target that posterior chain.
If lower back issues are restricting you, then definitely add this back pain relieving asana to your sequence.
Many recommend it as a great beginner’s backbend that can help to ease discomfort so you can get back to performing at your best.
4. Tree Pose (Vriksasana)
Your abs are another of the essential muscle groups to work on.
Vriksasana works on your torso to build strength, while also focusing on your balance.
Steph Creaturo who runs Mala Yoga studio in Brooklyn explains:
A popular balancing pose, Tree Pose… stretches the thighs, torso, and shoulders. It builds strength in the ankles and calves, and helps to remedy flat feet
Running is a one legged sport. Unless we run or do yoga, we’re not standing on one leg for any length of time as an adult. Which is a shame, because there is no better way to build functional balance skills.
Watch below for guidance on how to perform vriksasana effectively:
5. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Similarly to the bridge, low lunge is a great one for working on those all-important glutes.
It’s a powerful tool for developing stamina and really building up endurance in your thighs when you’re training for a long distance run.
If you spend hours and hours each day at a desk, then the low lunge can help to loosen up your muscles for your evening run.
You’ll also enjoy a better range of motion in your lower body.
6. Sleeping Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Sleeping pigeon is a really powerful hip opener, so another wonderful asana if you’re suffering from tight hips.
This restorative exercise can help to unwind the tight muscles while also helping to build strength.
Stretch your psoas muscle, the most important muscle in your hip flexors muscle group, while practicing.
Experienced yoga teacher Jason Crandell warns that you must master the sleeping pigeon properly to enjoy all its merits.
If practiced incorrectly you can lose the stretch, making the position ineffective.
There’s also a clue in its name for another major perk… it’s a powerful yoga pose for sleep!
Yes, thanks to its restorative properties it can help encourage your body and mind into a deep sleep.
7. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
Every hardcore runner knows that focusing on your upper body is just as important as your legs when it comes to preparing for a run.
So why not add upward facing dog to your workout?
Sage Rountree in her book The Runner’s Guide to Yoga: A Practical Approach to Building Strength and Flexibility for Better Running highlights the many merits of practicing ‘up dog’.
As well as offering stretches for the hip flexors, she also describes how it can loosen a tight chest as you stretch out the upper body and shoulders.
She suggests transitioning from cobra, or moving between upward and downward dog.
8. Scissor Down Belly Twist
Iliotibial Band (IT Band) Syndrome can plague many runners.
Renowned running coach Jeff Galloway says that it’s one of the most common injuries that he encounters.
He has seen how much it can limit track athletes and how difficult it can be to treat.
Scissor down belly twist is a great asana for any IT band issues that you might be experiencing.
Acclaimed yogi Gail Boorstein Grossman demonstrates the movement in her book Restorative Yoga for Life: A Relaxing Way to De-stress, Re-energize, and Find Balance.
She goes on to explain that:
Everyone can do this pose to some degree, but it is especially good for runners and cyclers, as it helps to open up the iliotibial band, the ligament that often becomes aggravated during running and cycling.
Grossman says that closed twists such as this one are great as they put real pressure on the abdominal muscles.
She recommends staying in the position for a minimum of three minutes to enjoy the full range of advantages.
9. Reclining Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
If you’re preparing for a marathon then you want your body to be in optimum condition.
So it’s essential that as well as training you take the time to rest.
Reclining spinal twist is ideal as it has so many restorative benefits.
The activity can create tension in your lower back which can inhibit your performance and cause you pain and discomfort.
Canadian Running explains how reclining spinal twist can relieve that tension, while also stretching the hips and rotator muscles allowing your body to rest and restore.
See below a step by step guide to mastering the Reclining Spinal Twist:
10. Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani)
We know that legs-up-the-wall can relax and rejuvenate your mind and body, particularly if you’re looking for stretches for sleep.
However serious runners also rave about the rewards of the movement, describing how it not only loosens up their hamstrings but also helps to relieve tension in their back and neck.
In the aforementioned book The Runner’s Guide to Yoga, Sage Rountree highlights how great viparita karani is for recovery.
Rountree adds that you should stay in the position for at least 10 minutes, up to twenty minutes if you can manage it.
She recommends trying to relax entirely to feel the full reward, using only as much energy as you need to hold your legs up the wall.
Want to smash your PB?
Working on becoming more flexible could help you shave off the seconds…
Become more supple with these yoga poses for flexibility.
- Gaudette, J. (2023). How to Strengthen Your Hips, Glutes, and Hamstrings for Running [Online]. Runners Connect. Available from: https://runnersconnect.net/hips-hamstrings-and-glues-are-the-key-to-running-faster/ [Accessed 4 July 2023]. ↩
- McNeil, K. (2023). Yoga Therapy Tip: Bridge Pose, Four Ways [Online]. Available from: https://kimmcneil.ca/writing/blog/bridge-pose-four-ways [Accessed 4 July 2023]. ↩
- Hodges, A. (2023). How to Train The Three Most Important Muscles in Running [Online]. TrainingPeaks. Available from: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/how-to-train-the-three-most-important-muscles-in-running/ [Accessed 4 July 2023]. ↩
- Creaturo, S. (2014). How Tree Pose Can Make You a Kick-Ass Runner [Online]. Mala Yoga. Available from: https://malayoganycblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/how-tree-pose-can-make-you-a-kick-ass-runner/ [Accessed 4 July 2023]. ↩
- Austin, S. (2014). Simplify Your Sleeping Pigeon [Online]. Yoga Fever. Available from: https://www.yogafevergr.com/simplify-your-sleeping-pigeon/ [Accessed 4 July 2023]. ↩
- Crandell, J. (2023). Support Yourself in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana [Online]. Jason Crandell Yoga Method. Available from: https://jasonyoga.com/2016/06/27/eka-pada-rajakapotasana/ [Accessed 4 July 2023]. ↩
- Jeff Galloway Training (2023). IT Band [Online]. Available from: https://www.jeffgalloway.com/learn/it-band/ [Accessed 4 July 2023]. ↩
- Zickl, D. (2022). Legs Up the Wall Benefits: What I Learned From Trying This Pose [Online]. Runner’s World. Available from: https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20866611/legs-up-the-wall-benefits/ [Accessed 7 July 2023]. ↩