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Yoga for injury prevention

Eager to get on the road and build up the miles, runners sometimes ignore how physically demanding the sport is on the body, and only think about injury prevention when the injury occurs

Sherry Mannion,
Yoga instructor for sports, athletics & life

Running is the most natural form of exercise. Scientific evidence suggests the human body evolved quite literally to run: our flexible legs and foot ligaments act as springs, while our narrow midsection allows arms to swing and propel us forward, an enlarged heel bone provides shock absorption, and a big toe delivers better push off. During an average mile run, your foot will strike the ground a thousand times. The force of impact on each foot is about three to four times your weight. It’s not surprising due to the repetitive nature of the sport to hear runners complain of bad backs, knees, tight muscles and sore feet. The pain most runners feel is not from the running but from resulting musculoskeletal imbalances and poor biomechanics. If runners do not have enough awareness and connection to their own bodies, they may push too far and ignore the body’s signals. Eventually, over time, this puts stress on joints, ligaments and muscles, leading to pain and injury.

Balance and stability
This is what makes yoga the perfect complement to running and injury prevention. It shines light on all the blind spots you’ve developed over the years of training. By its very nature, yoga helps restore the body to balance and symmetry. Integrating a yoga session into your training programme is an excellent way to safeguard against injury. A balanced yoga session involves the entire body, stretching the overused muscles that are tight and strengthening the underutilised muscles that are weak. This improves biomechanical balance and unlocks the body’s full potential for movement, keeping you running safer for longer.
Along with the physical benefits of yoga, it also cultivates a greater understanding of the body and how it works; reminding us that everything is connected, the body is the sum of all its parts and impairment of one affects them all. The best form of injury prevention is awareness, listening and responding to messages the body sends you and catching injuries before they occur.
I have put together my top five poses aimed to loosen tight spots, strengthen weak spots and, hopefully, make you a less injury-prone runner. You may feel a little uncomfortable at first, especially if you have been running with tight muscles for a long time. Ease into poses and never push to a point of pain. Hold each pose for 10 breaths and repeat on opposite leg.

1 - TOE STRETCH/ANKLE STRETCH

Toe stretch/ankle stretch
What it does: Helps prevent plantar fasciitis or tightness around the muscles of the ankle by targeting the muscles and connective tissue on the sole of the foot. These muscles, when shortened, can constrict the muscles around the ankle, impeding movement and leading to ankle, heel and foot injuries.
Our feet are the foundation of every stride we take. The foot is the base of the lower-quarter kinetic chain, thus any foot anomalies can lead to pain and secondary injury elsewhere up the chain.

To do:
Kneel on your mat with your toes curled under.
Sit the weight of your hips back onto heels for 10 breaths.
Then, point your toes, place your hands on the mat behind you, and lean back as you attempt to lift your knees off the mat to stretch front of shins and arches.


2 - Supine cow face

What it does:
Relieves tightness in the glutes maximus muscles, which attach to the iliotibial (IT) band. The IT band originates from the tensor fasciae lata (TFL) muscle and the gluteus maximus. It is a thick band of connective tissue, which doesn’t contract, lengthen or shorten. So, keeping the glutes mobile and strong will help reduce your chances of pain, inflammation or injury in the IT band, especially after long runs.

To do:
Lie on your back and cross one knee over the other.
Keeping your head on floor hug your knees towards your chest.
Flex your feet, hold on to the ankles, and pull them towards your hips. If your ankles are not accessible, hold on to your shins.
Repeat with legs crossed the other way.


3 - Eye of the needle

What it does:
Stretches the piriformis muscle, which when tight can lead to lower back pain, hamstring troubles and disrupt the function of the sacroiliac joint. If tightness or swelling of the piriformis compresses the sciatic nerve, it can cause a pain deep in the hip and buttock, or tingle, numbness or even weakness in the back and running down the affected leg.

To do:
Lie on your back with knees bent.
Place the right ankle over left knee and flex the right foot.
With your right hand, gently push the right thigh forward.
Keep your hips, spine, and head on the floor.
For a deeper stretch, clasp your hands behind left hamstring and hug it in toward your torso.


4 - Crescent lunge

What it does:
Opens your hips and gives your lower body, particularly groin and hip flexors, a much-needed stretch while also opening the front torso, chest and shoulders, which fatigue during long runs. It also strengthens your quads, glutes, ankles and core, while the balancing aspect helps to develop flexible stability, reducing susceptibility to many common injuries.

To do:
From an all-fours position, step right foot forward between your hands, keep your right knee stacking over ankle. Back toes curled under and raise back knee. Press back into left heel to activate the leg. Lift your torso upright, arms sweep overhead. Drop your tailbone towards the floor, gaze up.


5 - One-legged bridge

What it does:
Targets under-worked muscles in your lower back, glutes and hips, common culprits for hamstring strains. Engages core muscles, which help strengthen and stabilise your spine and pelvis, providing balance and stability. Lengthens and strengthens hip flexors.

To do:
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Raise your pelvis up by pressing into heels and engaging glutes and abdominals.
Extend your right leg out and hold for five breathes.
Release your leg back down.
Perform 8 reps, then repeat on opposite leg.


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