I am not a huge fan of the cross training days, at least not like I am with my rest days. (Give me a good rest day and I will more than embrace it!). However, I realized that I likely would not be improving in my marathon times if I didn’t follow through with a form of cross training at least one day a week. In looking at my options, I decided to commit to yoga once a week to see how that helped me in my running. I am pleased to say that after about two months of attending practices, I do actually see a difference, and I feel that my Louisiana marathon PR time was 95% due to honouring this aspect of training in the weeks leading up to the race (especially when I consider that I ate and drank too much – along with dropping my miles – during the two weeks around the holiday season).
I chose yoga first and foremost because I enjoy it. I discovered an interest in it when I moved to Cayman in 2009, and my then coworkers talked me into a seven-day diet and yoga cleanse. (Side note: I don’t recommend that be the first introduction to yoga if you have never done it before. I was MISERABLE. And I swore up and down that I would NEVER attend a yoga practice again. Clearly I have adjusted my attitude and enjoy an on again/off again with regular practices. I’m back to being Team Yoga right now!) Anyway, once I survived that week of torture (ha!), I realized that I could enjoy the practices, learning about how to better listen to my body, rest my mind and concentrate on being in the moment.
By the way, all of these are invaluable tools to have when you run long distances.
Of course, the strengthening and stretching of the practices also serve runners very well, helping to open up areas of the body that may become tight or need extra attention because of the beating the body takes with the amount of running they may do.
So to honour my yoga practice, I want to share my top five favourite poses that help me to be a better runner.
Target areas: hip flexors, hamstrings, core
Low lunges are great for so many reasons! Not only are you stretching crucial running muscles (hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, etc) but you are also working on your balance, which strengthens your core muscles.
How to do it: Stand with your feet together. Step the left leg back, and slowly lower down onto your left knee, ensuring that the right knee is stacked directly over the right ankle. Depending on your level of flexibility, you may already be feeling a stretch in the left thigh. If you do not feel much of a stretch, or wish to go deeper into the pose, slowly move the right foot forward until you have the stretch you want. Ensure your tailbone is pressing down. For your arms, if you are comfortable with your hands on your hips you can leave them there. Alternately, you can put your hand resting on your right knee. If you wish to go into a move advanced version of low lunge, start to bring your arms up over your head alongside your ears. Continue to reach up, even taking a slight back bend if that is available to you. After breathing deeply in this post for about 10 breaths, lower your hands to the ground and use them for support as you tuck the toes of your back foot under, and push up into a standing position. Repeat this pose on the other side.
Target areas: legs, core
The act of balancing on one leg is great for strengthening both the leg and the core muscles. This is one of my favourite poses because I feel so strong in this pose, rooted down and held up by my own power. I can let my mind more easily go in tree, and love the varations that I can implement when it comes to my arms – from stretching them high to taking reverse prayer pose, which opens the chest.
How to do it: Begin by standing with your arms at your sides and your weight distributed evenly to both feet. Shift your weight to your right foot. Reach down and grab your left ankle. Bend your left knee and use your hand to place your left foot along the inner right thigh. (You can also rest foot on the inner right calf; DO NOT rest foot on the knee!) With all your weight on the right leg, adjust your hips so they are level. Lengthen your tailbone to the floor. Put your hands together in prayer position at your chest. (You can take variations of your hands being above your head or in reverse prayer pose behind your back, if you choose). Keep your gaze steady. Breathing should also be steady. Hold this pose for about one minute, then gently lower your arms and legs to again stand on both feet with your arms at your side. Repeat this pose on the other side.
Target areas: back, core
Having a strong core is critical to good form when running long distances. When your core is strong, you can maintain good form for a longer period of time, meaning that you are less susceptible to injury. This pose opens up the back, which counteracts the hunched over posture one may get when running.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your feet hip distance apart, arms at your side and your heels close enough to your hands where your fingertips lightly brush your heels. Pushing down with your feet, lift your hips up to the sky. Try to keep your body in a straight line, ensuring that your core is engaged. If you want to take it a little further and open the chest, clasp your hands together underneath your pelvis. Roll your shoulder blades toward each other so your arms are beneath your back.
Target areas: hips, glutes
This is a great stretch to release tension in your hips. It does the same thing as regular Pigeon pose – but without the extra stress on the knees.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Cross your right ankle over your left quad so your legs are in a figure four. Reach your right hand through the figure four and your left hand to the outside of your left leg. Clasp your hands together behind your left hamstring and gently pull the leg toward your body. Keep your feet flexed. Repeat on the other side.
Legs up the wall
Target areas: hamstrings
Have tired legs? This is one of the best ways to rest them! It is also great for people who have lower back problems (unfortunately, me). Legs up the wall stretches out your hamstrings and your glutes, while releasing tension in your legs at the same time. I love getting into this pose and staying there for 5-10 min, concentrating on my breathing and relaxing.
How to do it: Begin the pose by sitting with your left side against the wall. Gently turn your body to the left and bring your legs up onto the wall. Lower your back to the floor and lie down, resting your shoulders and head on the floor. Scoot your buttocks close to the wall by shifting your weight from side to side. When your body is in position, open your arms wide to your sides, with the palms up. Hold this stationary pose for 5-10 minutes, with your eyes closed and breathing gently. When you are finished, slowly push yourself from the wall and slide your legs down to one side.
Maybe one day I will take on another form of cross training (in addition to yoga), but for now, I am finding a contentment with how I am reconnecting with my body during practices. Then I love seeing how it serves me as I hit the pavement for my next run!
Do you practice yoga? What are your favourite poses that help your running/training to move forward? What other forms of cross training do you love?