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Yoga for Trail Running

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This article is part of our series: Training for Trail Running

A woman holds a yoga pose in a white room full of natural light

At first glance, the calm, introspective practice of yoga can seem worlds away from the jumbled, pulse-pounding experience of trail running. Yoga, though, can complement your trail-running regimen in several key ways:

  • Enhances balance and strength: so you perform better on all terrains
  • Increases breathing control: so you can run more efficiently
  • Extends range of motion: so you’re more flexible and therefore less likely to strain muscles
  • Improves focus: so you can find the best line on dodgy singletrack trails

The beauty of yoga is that you can do it almost anywhere. This article offers tips on how to fit specific yoga poses into your trail-running schedule. To learn proper technique, seek out a qualified yoga instructor. You can find classes in professional yoga studios as well as places like local parks departments and health clubs, as well as many REI stores.

Before you start, here are some tips for working yoga into your trail running training:

  • Start with meditation: “Quiet your chattering mind,” so you can relax and focus.
  • Hold poses for 3 to 5 breaths: This timing technique also aids breathing control.
  • If a pose hurts, don’t do it: You’re either not warmed up or not ready to try it.
  • Don’t forget your gear: Keep a sturdy yoga mat (plus blocks and a strap if you use them) in your car so you can pull them out and use them at the trailhead. 

 

Find a Yoga class at REI
Proper technique and poses to help with your favorite outdoor activities:

 

Video: Yoga for Trail Runners

 

Pre-Run Yoga Poses

Yoga poses offer an excellent way to slowly warm up. They help relax and focus you, and lengthen muscles so you can run more comfortably. You can start by adding any of the following asanas (poses) below to your current warmup:

downward dog yoga pose

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Opens up space in your upper body; stretches your full body, especially the back.

 

lizard yoga pose

Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana): Opens up your chest, releasing tension; also strengthens inner thighs.

 

half monkey god yoga pose

Half Monkey God Pose (Ardha Hanumanasana): Stretches the thighs, hamstrings and groin muscles.

 

seated spinal twist yoga pose

Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana) : Strengthens and stretches your spine.

 

seated forward fold yoga pose

Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana): Lengthens the entire back of your body from the heels through your cervical spine.

 

seated thread the needle yoga pose

Thread the Needle (Sucirandhrasana): Lengthens hip flexors and increases your range of motion (this pose can be done standing or reclined)

 

bridge yoga pose

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): Helps strengthen your legs, while also stretching your spine.

 

tree pose

Tree Pose (Vrksasana): Strengthens your legs and helps you improve balance.

 

triangle pose

Triangle Pose (Trikonasana): Stretches the hips and groins (using a block to do this pose helps keep you from straining hips and glutes).

 

low lunge yoga pose

Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana): This pose strengthens your psoas (major core muscles); as well as your quadriceps and glutes. Modify by placing your knee down.

 

standing straddle forward fold yoga pose

Straddle Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana): Loosens up your hamstrings, calves, outer ankles, back and neck.

 

 

Post-Run Yoga Poses

Doing yoga while your muscles are still warm and soft improves your flexibility. You also increase blood flow, shortening recovery time and reducing soreness. You can start by adding the poses below to your current cooldown and stretching routine:

 

standing thread the needle pose

Thread the Needle (Sucirandrasana): This pose, which lengthens hip flexors and increases your range of motion, is also beneficial after you run.

 

bound angle/butterfly yoga pose

Bound Angle Pose/Butterfly Stretch (Baddha Konasana): Stretches your hips, groins and inner thighs.

 

wide angle seated forward fold yoga pose

Wide-Angle Seated Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana): Stretches your hamstrings and calves; folding forward straightens and lengthens your spine.

 

child's pose

Child’s Pose (Balasana): Gently stretches hips, thighs and ankles; helps alleviate back pain.

 

garland pose/yoga squat pose

Garland Pose/Yoga Squat (Malasana): Stretches your hips and groins; also stretches your ankles, hamstrings, back and neck; aids in digestion.

 

cow face fold yoga pose

Cow-Face Pose (Gomukhasana): Stretches your piriformis (a major muscle in the glutes area); also stretches your glutes, hips and iliotibial (IT) bands. You can fold forward for a deeper version of this pose.

 

extended side angle yoga pose

Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): Strengthens and stretches your legs, hips and hamstrings; also opens up your chest and shoulders

 

head-to-knee yoga pose

Head-to-Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana): Stretches your spine, shoulders and hamstrings.

 

legs up the wall yoga pose

Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani): Stretches your hamstrings gently; also allows blood that has accumulated in feet and legs to recirculate in the body.

 

 

Yoga Poses for Cross Training

You can substitute an extended yoga session for a strength and endurance cross-training workout. You can also substitute a yoga session for a running session, a tactic that can help reduce your chances of developing an overuse injury.

Consider focusing on some, or all, of the following poses in your regular yoga practice to build strength and flexibility to benefit your trail running.

 

crescent lunge yoga pose

Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana): Great for building strength in your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Make it dynamic/vinyasa-based for even more strength-building (as an example, transition from low lunge to crescent lunge, matching your movement with your breath). 

 

warrior one, warrior two, and warrior three yoga poses

Warrior I, II and III (Virabhadrasana I, II and III): Strengthens and stretches the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and ankles. Also stretches the chest, lungs and hips. Warrior poses also build heat and increase stamina. Warrior III is great for core strength. 

 

extended side angle yoga pose

Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): This pose strengthens and stretches quads, hamstrings, hips, knees and ankles. In addition, it helps build heat and increase stamina. 

 

boat pose

Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana): Strengthens the abs, spine and hip flexors. Building core strength helps with any type of running.

 

plank and side plank yoga poses

Plank and Side Plank (Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana and Vasisthasana): Strengthens the abs and back.

 

eagle yoga pose

Eagle Pose (Garudasana): Helps with stability, balance and concentration. Strengthens calves and ankles, and your legs altogether. Also helps to stretch and strengthen the hips.

 

dancer yoga pose

Dancer Pose (Natarajasana): Improves balance, while still strengthening the legs and ankles. Also stretches quads, hips and abs. 

 

revolved pyramid yoga pose

Revolved Pyramid Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana): Great for loosening tight IT muscles and sciatica that tend to be common in runners, especially those who like to walk/run uphill.

 

half pigeon yoga pose

Half Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana): A favorite, deep yoga stretch for loosening the hip flexors. 

 

cow face pose and fire log yoga pose

Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana) or Fire log (Agnistambhasana): An intense stretch for many, but it’s a great hip opener. Do Fire Log as a modification if you have extra tight hips.

 

 

Related Articles

Yoga: How to Get Started

Yoga Gear: How to Choose

 

 


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Contributing Experts

Joyce Khremian

A lifelong athlete, Joyce Khremian has a degree in kinesiology and a 200-hour registered yoga teaching certificate. She is a fitness trainer and an Outdoor School Instructor at the REI store in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Kat Ochabova

Kat Ochabova, a marketing desginer at REI headquarters in Kent, Wash. is a 200-hour registered yoga teacher who has been teaching yoga for four years at several studios, including her own.