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Yoga for runners

Different styles and their benefits

We already know that yoga is a definite asset to runners. The benefits from regular yoga practice cover a broad spectrum and, when properly integrated into a training plan, can help all runners physically (improving strength, endurance, power and flexibility) and mentally (sharpening focus), and can also give our nervous systems a chance to reset aiding recovery and reducing the risk of injury writes, Sherry Mannion

Do you know which style of yoga you should do? Or the various benefits you receive from each style? Or when to schedule yoga in your training cycle? And should you practice hot yoga or not? There is a lot to consider and when starting out, this can be overwhelming. There are a huge array of yoga styles available from fast paced vinyasa to slower paced yin yoga. Some styles of yoga will give you a great workout, whereas others are easier on your body and focus more on recovery. Knowing not all yoga is created equal, so you should be selective when choosing a yoga style to supplement your running. No one style is right for a runner. The type of yoga a runner practices depends on what goals they’re hoping to achieve and where they are in the training cycle. Every runner is unique and moves through phases of learning to run, building miles, peaking with higher volume and intensity weeks, tapering, racing and recovery. This all needs to be factored in when choosing a style of yoga to practice. My hope for this article is to walk you through the best styles of yoga for runners with emphasis on the styles of yoga you should try depending on your needs during your training cycle.

Yin

Yin is a form of slow moving and calming yoga. While the movement isn’t vigorous, many people find it very challenging both mentally and physically. Poses are held for three to five minutes, so it requires incredible focus in the face of discomfort – which can be a very helpful practice for runners. Yin aims to release dense tissue, particularly fascia of the body. Runners have an opportunity to counteract tightness that normal stretching just can’t touch.

Benefits: 
Restoration, stress relief, flexibility, body awareness.

When to use:
At any point in your training cycle, best used on recovery days, in times of high stress or at the end of your season.

Recommendation for runners:  
Yes, for recovery.

Restorative or gentle yoga

The focus of restorative yoga is just that – restoration. Much of the session is spent on the floor using props (bolsters and blankets) to create maximum comfort and support for prolonged relaxation and extremely mild physical sensation. Gentle can feel a lot like a restorative practice, although you’re not holding poses as long. It’s a great way to reset your nervous system. As we go for a new PB or new distance, the nervous system is having progressively more stress placed on it to perform. It can only do that when we rest and recover.

Benefits:
Restoration, stress relief, body awareness.

When to use:
At every stage or intensity level of training. Off days, recovery days, in times of high anxiety or stress.

Recommendation for runners:
Yes, great option for runners who log up high mileage and do lots of speed work.

Medium-intensity yoga

Hatha

All physically focused styles of yoga are, technically, ‘hatha’ yoga. You can expect something in between power yoga and yin depending on the teacher. In general, it’s simple and basic, holding poses for a short length of time or for several breaths. It gives athletes time to think about how they are moving and how they are breathing.

Benefits:
Flexibility, balance, stress relief, restoration, body awareness and focus.

When to use:
Best for early stages of training, but if you find a lower-intensity class, it can be used in middle of season.

Recommendation for runners:
Yes, for beginners, it is a great starting point.

Iyengar

Like Hatha, Iyengar focuses on holding poses, but in this case, props are incorporated to get you into the right position for each pose. There is only one ‘right’ position in this type of yoga, so whether you’re flexible or stiff, you’ll be aiming for the exact same alignment with varying degrees of assistance from blocks and straps.

Benefits:
Flexibility, balance, stress relief, body awareness and focus.

When to use:
Best for early stages of training, or potentially in middle of season.

Recommendation for runners:
Yes, for beginners just starting out as it is focused on alignment and precision.

High-intensity yoga

Vinyasa/Power

These styles of yoga are very common, and intensity of these classes can vary widely. Vinyasa means to place in a special way. It’s more of a constant motion with breathing, rather than holding poses. Poses are often put together in specific sequences and emphasise put on fluid transitions between poses. Power, put simply, is a more strengthening form of Vinyasa with more emphasis on strong poses and longer holds than flowing. The classes tend to be on the more vigorous end and are great for people who like to move. It can also help to calm busy minds because you must stay focused on your movement and breath.

Benefits:
Building strength, endurance, body control, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular improvements and mental focus.

When to use:
Best during the off-season or base-building phase of training. Great for cross training modality on top of hill repeats and fartleks and long runs.

Recommendation for runners:
Yes, to be used as a cardiovascular or strength building workout.

Ashtanga

Extreme version of Vinyasa yoga, this style uses the same set sequence of movement patterns while still focusing on breathing patterns. Good for those who like consistency and, due to the repetitive nature of the class, allows you to see progress along the way.

Benefits:
Body control, flexibility, balance, strength, focus, cardiovascular improvements.

When to use:
Start of season, base-building phase or stand-alone workout.

Recommendation for runners:
Yes and no. Although these classes are viable choices for building strength, stamina, flexibility and focus, they’re quite intense and put you at risk of overloading your nervous system in addition to your muscles. If, as a runner, you are very body aware and have previously practised yoga, this is a possible yoga choice otherwise, I would recommend avoiding this style.

Bikram/hot

Both done in heated rooms, ‘hot yoga’ can refer to any style while Bikram is a set sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises.

Benefits:
Body control, flexibility, balance, strength, cardiovascular improvement.

When to use:
For runners in training, I generally don’t recommend these styles.

Recommendation for runners:
No. For several reasons these styles are not suitable, with the main one being risk of dehydration. Heat also creates a feeling of false flexibility, which can lead to major soreness and injury. In hot yoga, you enjoy this ‘new-found’ flexibility and, really, you’re borrowing it from your body before your muscles and tendons are ready to go there.

Intensity - generally speaking

As a general rule, over the whole season, the intensity of training and intensity of yoga move in opposite directions. Think about the intensity of your weekly schedule when planning your yoga session. If you have a particularly intense training week or tapering for a race a slower paced, less intense style would be more beneficial. On lower-volume running weeks, you can increase the intensity and frequency of your yoga practice.

At the start of your training cycle or base-building phase, adding high-intensity vigorous yoga classes to the same day where you have high-intensity run sessions is a good idea, this acts as a stronger stimulus for adaptation. Keeping your rest days completely free yields greater recovery and body tends to respond better.

When you start adding yoga to your training plan, try to add it to easy training days. While there are many benefits to attending a yoga studio, such as having an instructor to correct your form and various styles to choose from, practicing yoga at home is another option. It allows you to practice on your schedule. As runners, you already spend a lot of time training and the last thing you want is to make yoga something you dread. But, like anything, consistency in yoga is essential. Infrequent yoga is irrelevant yoga. Doing yoga two to three times a week for 15-30mins will show you plenty of good shift in your body and has the potential to revolutionise your running performance. The key is to find the perfect class duration, frequency and teacher (or online teacher) to stay motivated.

The best yoga for runners is simple and consistent that moulds to your individual needs. No crazy poses. Doing more frequency in your yoga practice and less duration yields best results.


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