Yoga

Yoga For Athletes & Runners

By November 17, 2020December 9th, 2020No Comments
Anjaneyasana - Lunge pose for Athletes

Dear athletes and runners, what functional training protocols are you following to prevent muscle and joint injury and to aid recovery?

A major study posted in recent years on the Harvard Health Publishing website talks about data analysed from more than 55,000 people over 15 years. This study found that running (even as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day) was associated with 45% reduced risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, as well as 30% reduced risk of death from any other ailments. This is a fantastic piece of information and validates why running has become a major passion and fitness activity for many fitness enthusiasts.

While we do want our lives to get prolonged, we also want a pain-free, injury-free life with all our physical and mental faculties functioning optimally throughout. Several major studies** over the years have proven that endurance runners and athletes experience a high rate of injury especially to certain joints, ligaments and tendons owing to the amount of shock the body absorbs as it hits the ground running.

On an average, runners hit the ground with at least 2 to 3 times the body weight and this can cause tremendous strain on the joints, muscles and muscle attachments if care is not taken to release that accumulated strain and tension. Apart from joint issues, stress fractures where fatigued muscles transfer weight to the bones, shin splints that cause inflammation of the connective tissue joining shin bone to calf muscles and Runner’s knee are fairly common, not to mention Plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.

What does this convey to the average athlete, runner or marathoner?

The need for an effective functional training plan that builds endurance, strength, coordination as well as enhances flexibility and recovery. The purpose of such training is to allow individuals to not only live injury-free but also maximize performance of everyday tasks.

And it’s a well researched fact that yoga has now become an integral part of most functional training curriculum, with most top research institutes as well as magazines expounding the benefits of a consistent yoga practice for professional as well as recreational athletes.

Yoga’s emphasis on improving breath quality, mental focus, muscle quality (length, strength and flexibility), not to mention specific practices that release blocks in the joints, is precisely what one may need to stay in consistent top form.

On that note, I would like to present eight key postures that provide the perfect balance between strengthening and stretching, that will help release pent-up soreness and tightness within and most importantly aid muscle recovery.

Seated Postures

Upavistha konasana – Wide-angled seated forward bend

Upavistha konasana

Excellent stretch for hamstrings and calf muscles. Releases tightness from the groin and lengthens the spine. Especially helps release stress from spinal ligaments and discs that act as shock absorbers while running.

Points to note:

  • Flex the toes inward to maximize stretching back of the legs safely.
  • Lean forward from lower back for optimal extension for the spine.
  • Ensure torso stays parallel to the floor and align the neck with the spine. Avoid rounding the back.
  • If lower back is sensitive, sit on a block. Fold forward maintaining straight spine.
  • Beginners can use a firm cushion or block to place your hands on for support.

Supine Postures

Supta kapotasana – Reclining pigeon

Supta kapotasana – Reclining pigeon

Provides a good stretch to muscles on the outer hips (hip abductors) and buttocks. Massages lower back and if done with deep, long, mindful breaths it helps ground the body and calm the mind. Very effective posture to aid muscle recovery after a long, running stint.

Points to note:

  • Ensure your neck and shoulders are relaxed as you hold the posture.
  • Focus your awareness and breath on the areas with maximum sensation to help better release.

Supta Gomukhasana – Reclining cow face pose

Supta Gomukhasana – Reclining cow face pose

A wonderful hip release and also complements the Reclining pigeon pose perfectly. Stretches and releases the glutes. Overall another important posture that aids relaxation and muscle recovery.

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Points to note:

  • Ensure your neck and shoulders are relaxed as you hold the posture.
  • Hold your ankles and with every exhalation gently pull the bent legs towards chest.
  • Don’t stress if you are unable to precisely stack your knees on top of each other. Allow the body to guide you and do the posture to the best of your current ability.

Supta Dandasana – Reclining staff pose

Supta Dandasana – Reclining staff pose

Enables effective blood circulation towards upper body, while engaging core and strengthening lower back. I personally practice this each time I go brisk walking or running and it gives good relief to the calf muscles and feet by reversing pressure from the lower part of the body.

Points to note:

  • Keep knees slightly bent in case lower back is sensitive. For more challenge, keep hands over head.
  • For a more restorative option, place both legs against a wall and hold for upto 5 min.
  • Deep breathing through the thoracic region and feel the abdominal engagement.

Lunges

Anjaneyasana – Low lunge

Anjaneyasana – Low lunge

Opens up the hips, tone the glutes and most importantly stretch the hip flexors that tend to tighten and shorten if we are seated for long duration. Tight hip flexors can cause lower back and hamstring injuries as well as issues with running, causing one to lean forward and push pelvis back which negatively impacts running dynamics in the long term.

Points to note:

  • Can place a cushion under back knee, in case of sensitivity.
  • Ensure front knee and ankle are in the same line.
  • Focus on deep breathing, upward movement for spine and downward movement for hips for optimal benefits.

Standing Postures

Parshvottanasana -Intense side stretch pose

Parshvottanasana -Intense side stretch pose

Gives a deep stretch to the hamstrings and calf muscles. Opens up the chest and release stress from the shoulder and neck region. Also helps decompress and lengthen the spine.

Points to note:

  • Move from lower back and keep micro-bend in the front knee if the stretch is too intense.
  • If unable to squeeze shoulder-blades together, try the supported version with both hands placed on the mat or blocks on each side of the front foot.
  • Ensure you practice this on both sides – left and right, for better alignment.

Prasaritta Padottanasana – wide legged forward bend

Prasaritta Padottanasana

Another great stretch for inner thighs and hamstrings while also strengthening the leg muscles. Offers a gentle inversion, allowing blood to circulate towards brain and upper body. Decompresses and lengthens spine.

Points to note:

  • Feel free to place head on a block if it doesn’t reach the mat yet. Or place palms in front for more support.
  • Ensure you engage your thigh muscles and move forward and down from the lower back (lumbar region) for optimal stretch to the spine.
  • Both feet face the front. Spread open the feet nicely for better stability.

Utkatasana – Chair pose

Utkatasana – Chair pose

It’s a standing squat that helps build up the thighs, hips, glutes as well as torso. It’s a complete workout combining both stretching and strengthening. The squatting action helps warm up the body as well as grounds it. The stretching upward movement of spine strengthens core and arms.

Points to note:

  • Keep feet an inch apart for better balance, ground and spread your feet on the mat.
  • Ensure arms are straight, engaged and in line with neck and head.
  • Deep breathing to energize muscles while you hold.
  • Align knees to toes and bring thighs almost parallel to the floor.

If you are keen to practice these postures, I will be doing a two-day yoga workshop live on Zoom where I will place them into a well-designed sequence for optimal effect. The workshop is happening on November 20 & 21 at 6pm India time. Class and registration details here

**Source – Foot Strike and Injury Rates in Endurance Runners: A Retrospective Study by Harvard University, Cambridge, MA & Harvard University, Boston, MA.

Deepa Hegde

Deepa Hegde

Deepa Hegde has been an avid yoga practitioner since 2014 and a yoga instructor since 2017. She is also a student of Ayurveda and Vedic chanting. Follow her on Instagram @ahamdeepa.

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