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.
Video: Yoga for Trail Runners
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 Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Opens up space in your upper body; stretches your full body, especially the back.
Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana): Opens up your chest, releasing tension; also strengthens inner thighs.
Half Monkey God Pose (Ardha Hanumanasana): Stretches the thighs, hamstrings and groin muscles.
Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana) : Strengthens and stretches your spine.
Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana): Lengthens the entire back of your body from the heels through your cervical spine.
Thread the Needle (Sucirandhrasana): Lengthens hip flexors and increases your range of motion (this pose can be done standing or reclined)
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): Helps strengthen your legs, while also stretching your spine.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana): Strengthens your legs and helps you improve balance.
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 (Anjaneyasana): This pose strengthens your psoas (major core muscles); as well as your quadriceps and glutes. Modify by placing your knee down.
Straddle Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana): Loosens up your hamstrings, calves, outer ankles, back and neck.
Thread the Needle (Sucirandrasana): This pose, which lengthens hip flexors and increases your range of motion, is also beneficial after you run.
Bound Angle Pose/Butterfly Stretch (Baddha Konasana): Stretches your hips, groins and inner thighs.
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana): Stretches your hamstrings and calves; folding forward straightens and lengthens your spine.
Child’s Pose (Balasana): Gently stretches hips, thighs and ankles; helps alleviate back pain.
Garland Pose/Yoga Squat (Malasana): Stretches your hips and groins; also stretches your ankles, hamstrings, back and neck; aids in digestion.
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 Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): Strengthens and stretches your legs, hips and hamstrings; also opens up your chest and shoulders
Head-to-Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana): Stretches your spine, shoulders and hamstrings.
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.
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 (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 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 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 (Paripurna Navasana): Strengthens the abs, spine and hip flexors. Building core strength helps with any type of running.
Plank and Side Plank (Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana and Vasisthasana): Strengthens the abs and back.
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 Pose (Natarajasana): Improves balance, while still strengthening the legs and ankles. Also stretches quads, hips and abs.
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 (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana): A favorite, deep yoga stretch for loosening the hip flexors.
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.