Should you do yoga before a run?

Running injuries: Should you practise yoga before you go running?

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We all know that warming up is a vital part of running, but does a pre-run yoga session count? Yogi and runner Lisa Bowman explores whether it’s a good idea to get flowing before you head out or if it’s better to stick with a standard warm-up.

I always thought yoga as a workout warm-up was a big no-no, until I did runner and yoga teacher Sanchia Legister’s 30-minute ‘pre-wheeze’ yoga routine. Now I don’t go for a morning run without it.

I’m not the sort of person who can roll out of bed and hit the streets after a few minutes of lunges and squats – I need time to ease my mind and body into the day. Lululemon ambassador Legister’s routine does just that, as well as giving me the ability to run harder and longer, with less discomfort post-run.

However, when I told a friend about my warm-up, they were horrified: “Yoga is for after the run – you’ll get injured from stretching too much before!” They’re right about the stretching part, but this is where many people get confused – yoga is not stretching, and stretching is not yoga… 

Yoga sequences can be ‘dynamic’

There’s a common misconception that yoga is simply static stretching. While there are plenty of sequences that do focus on lengthy holds (like yin, which is great for releasing muscle tension post-run), dynamic flows like Legister’s work every muscle in the body, getting your heart rate up, breaking a sweat and perfectly preparing you for your morning 5k.

So, what makes yoga ‘dynamic’?

“In yoga, ‘dynamic’ means moving from one posture to another at a quick pace,” explains Ruth Stone, Sweatband.com’s consultant PT and qualified yoga teacher. “In sun salutations, one inward breath corresponds with one posture, while the outward breath corresponds with the next posture and so on, giving real pace to the yoga practice.

“Transitions can be dynamic too. Jumping from narrow feet in mountain posture to wide feet for a warrior pose can create additional aerobic demand on the body when you’re using yoga as a preparation practice for a run.” 

Why dynamic stretching is the ideal warm-up for a run

Experts recommend that we do dynamic stretching before a workout as it activates muscles, whereas static stretching relaxes them and aids flexibility. If you hop into a static stretch cold, you actually increase your risk of injury pre-run. 

Activating muscles strengthens them, helping your joints to move properly – pretty important when running. Plenty of studies have proven that dynamic stretching is key for a better run, showing it can improve endurance in long-distance runners and increase range of movement and enhance muscle force. There’s also proof of athletes displaying loss of strength and ability when choosing static holds as their warm-up.

So what is dynamic stretching? Put simply, it’s using movement to encourage a stretch, rather than settling into long holds, e.g. doing 10 one-second lunges rather than one 10-second lunge.  

Why dynamic yoga might be more beneficial than other dynamic stretches

Yoga is about so much more than simply making shapes. Because of that, doing a yoga warm-up over your more traditional fast-paced squats and lunges offers tons of additional benefits.

“On a physical level, I find a dynamic yoga practice before my run makes the run feel better,” explains Legister.

“My body feels prepared to do something so the run doesn’t feel like such a shock to my system, and the post-workout DOMS is a little bit kinder. I’m sure lunges and squats are great too as most of us could do with firing up our glutes a bit more especially for running. However, you don’t just run with your legs – it’s your whole body – and yoga works and opens the whole body.”

She goes on to explain that yoga offers an opportunity for ‘more’. For Legister, it’s an opportunity to check in with herself, acknowledge what she needs from her run and listen to her body: “It’s a chance to connect my head, heart and gut, to consciously breathe and maybe have a more mindful run too.”

I definitely find my yoga practice aids my breathing technique when pushing myself on harder runs, so the focus on breath is key.

“In yoga, breath is prana, the energy and life force. Using the ‘one breath, one posture’ principle increases the flow of this energy,” Stone tells us. “The movements open the joints which, when they’re tight, block this flow and so enable a more complete journey of the energy and freer movement of the joints, thus reducing the risk of injury thanks to the release of synovial fluid.

“Using the breath and movement in a coordinated way is also a good habit for a runner to nail down, so using yoga to set this principle in advance of running is a great way to develop breath awareness and control.” 

How to start practising pre-run yoga

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to fitness (you’ve always got to listen to your body and do what works for you) but if you’re keen to give pre-run yoga a go, both Legister and Stone recommend sun salutations to warm up your body (and mind).

As Stone explains: “Sun salutations keep you mobile, stable and strong as every muscle action has a counter action too. Running involves repetitive muscle movements so pre-run sun salutations may help address imbalance in the body that running can create over time.”

Quick warm-up flow

If you’re familiar with yoga asanas, she suggests the following short standing sequence, moving fluidly with your inhales and exhales. (If new to yoga, it’s safer to follow along with a video like Legister’s.)

  1. Stand in the middle of your mat facing the long side
  2. Inhale in mountain pose (standing with legs together, core engaged, arms by your sides)
  3. Exhale to forward fold
  4. Inhale back to mountain
  5. Jump the feet wide on an out breath
  6. Inhale and lift the arms
  7. Exhale and bend the knees into wide squat
  8. Staying low, inhale and turn the feet to warrior II with arms wide (front knee bent, back leg straight, face looking forwards)
  9. Exhale to triangle (straightening the front leg and bending forward to bring the same side hand to the floor, opposite arm stretched above you)
  10. Inhale to warrior II
  11. Exhale to wide squat with arms raised
  12. Inhale and jump the feet, landing in chair pose (knees bent, legs together, back straight with arms straight slightly ahead of you)
  13. Repeat on the other side

Keep flowing until you feel sufficiently warmed up.

How about trying a 15-minute mobility flow? Hop on over to the Strong Women Training Club for the perfect warm-up.

Images: Getty

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