That’s definitely true. What have you see, specially, that’s harder for runners when it comes to yoga? What is it about a runner’s body that can be hard to overcome?
There’s going to be usually–and I’m speaking in blanket statements here–plenty of tightness in the hips and legs, especially in the calves, really even more than the hamstrings. Sometimes we think that all runners must have tight hamstrings, and that’s not even necessarily true. Sometimes it’s the hip flexors that are tight, so it’s sort of a front/back imbalance there. But calves can definitely get really tight in runners–especially in folks that are running well, because they’re using their calves a lot. So it makes a pose like Downward Facing Dog look very different than it might look otherwise, and it makes a squat into a really intense experience where, for a ballerina, a squat is nothing. They could do that all day.
There’s also a tendency–and this is true generally of Americans and men, and then also generally true for endurance athletes, especially if they spend a lot of time on a bike, but runners exhibit this, too–it’s this overtightness in the front and overstretch in the back, so that we get this kind of rounded shape. And we get that from sitting in our desks and typing and driving, but also from running where we have the elbows bent and the shoulders a little bit lifted, and it’s easy to get too strong in the front, and not strong enough in the back. So that shows up as well.
Can I ask your opinion on stretching? We’ve discussed “dynamic” stretching with a number of runners and coaches, and most often, they say that doing yoga before a run is actually much better than static stretching. Can you speak to that a little?
Right. So, the studies have been showing that if you go into a long, static stretch before the workout, you’re going to diminish the power that you can put out for the short term. And if for a distance runner, especially someone who’s going to go just log out, like, a dozen miles, I don’t think it’s a huge issue. But for folks who are trying to get a super high-quality track workout, or for sprinters where maximum power is really important, dynamic stretching is definitely the way to go before the workout, just to increase range of motion and start to get the muscles warm and the joints ready for the strain of running. And then afterward, static stretching is way you’re going to really see long-term changes in your flexibility.
And we get both of them in yoga. If you’re doing Vinyasa and you’re flowing through Sun Salutations, that’s dynamic. Or in some styles, you know, you wind up holding your standing pose for five breaths, or 10, or 15, or what feels like forever because the teacher is walking around giving everyone adjustments, and then that’s static.
Yes, it is. I’ve been doing Bikram lately and it’s very static.
Oh yeah, you gotta hold it for the full 60 seconds!
Have you found that there’s a specific kind of yoga practice that you’ve found to be especially helpful for going longer distances?
Well, there’s Yin yoga, which is really interesting. Have you ever been to a Yin class?
I haven’t ever.
So, it’s like, long, slow, deep, holds the floor. Say like Pigeon pose, you’d hold for six minutes. The theory behind it is that you’re targeting the connective tissue. So yo’re making changes to the fascia, and stimulating the ligaments around the joints. And sometimes I hesitate to recommend it to runners, because if someone is really hard-core, they can kind of push it too much and eventually hurt themselves. But that’s true of anything at all.
But it is really interesting to stay with the growing intensity; imaging being in Pigeon, and staying in Pigeon, and staying in Pigeon, and you’re still in Pigeon, and it just keeps going. And the mental process is very similar to what you go through over the course of a long run or a race. So that can be an interesting mental training tool, too.
What else should our readers know about running and yoga and how they’re interconnected?
For folks who are recreational runners, or semi-competitive runners, I think it’s absolutely fantastic and you should sample a wide range of classes, and try things out, and see what works for you. And a piece of advice, also, that I give folks is “keep trying if you don’t like the first class.” Just like with running shoes–some brands are going to work for you, and some people need more support, and some people need less support, so it’s good to try them all.
But if you are getting more competitive, you need to be careful not to get involved in a super-intense, rigorous yoga practice too close to your workout, or else you’re going to start to sacrifice your recovery. And without your recovery, you’re going to get hurt. So if you’re doing hot yoga or a really powerful Vinyasa yoga, as you get closer to your race, or even closer to your really long runs, you’re going to have to dial that back in some degree, or you’re never going to have time to see the gains of your work.
And that’s hard. Especially because running, itself, gives you such an endorphin rush, and so does yoga! So it’s really tough. And if you’re really type-A, it can be hard to go to a gentle yoga class, or a restorative yoga class, even though that’s really where you’re going to see a good compliment in the peak of your training.