These days, it seems more and more marathon runners are recognizing yoga as a great way to complement their intense training programs. And the love isn’t limited to runners, either: Yoga is the most popular form of group exercise across all age groups, according to a 2019 report from MINDBODY.
“There’s been a shift in the last couple of years where now it’s less talking about what [yoga] is and more about how yoga can support you from a cross-training perspective,” says Heather Peterson, yoga instructor and chief yoga officer for CorePower Yoga.
If you haven’t already made yoga part of your training plan, now is the time. Here are just a few of the benefits you can expect from incorporating yoga into your running routine:
YOU’LL GET STRONGER ALL OVER
Many runners make the mistake of only running, which can lead to muscle weakness and imbalance, and — ultimately — pain or injury. For example, a 2018 study in the Journal of Biomechanics shows running with weak core muscles may cause your other muscles, particularly those in your lower back, to kick in with up to 45% more force to compensate. Over time, this can lead to lower back pain and injury, and when you’re training to run 26.2 miles at a stretch, any muscle weaknesses and imbalances get amplified.
Yoga is a low-impact form of resistance training, and when done regularly, can strengthen muscles, like those in your core, that are often neglected during a run. According to a 2017 review in the International Journal of Sport and Health Sciences, yoga poses like low plank and side plank are especially effective for strengthening the core.
Research also shows it doesn’t take much to see improvements in strength. In fact, you may see gains in muscular strength — plus cardiovascular endurance and flexibility — simply by adding an hour-long hatha yoga class to your schedule once per week for 12 weeks, as demonstrated by findings published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
THE TRANSITION INTO RUNNING WILL BE EASIER
Yoga places a lot of emphasis on breathing through a series of breathing techniques (also known as pranayama) and linking breath with poses (also known as asanas). These breathing techniques help you achieve greater calm and focus.
When you learn how to slow your breathing, and coordinate your breath with your movements, you’ll be able to transition from your busy life to your running session more easily, which may be especially helpful if you have a long or intense run ahead of you. “Sometimes your mind is so scattered from work or life that it’s hard to be present,” Peterson says. However, meditative breathwork can help you slow down and focus, and perhaps even achieve runner’s high earlier in your run: “Instead of waiting until mile 10, you can get there earlier on. The entire run becomes this more in-the-zone place,” Peterson notes.
Get a taste for the kind of breathwork — plus stress-relief — you’ll experience during a yoga class by taking a few deep breaths before each training run. While standing or sitting, close your eyes and inhale on a count of four. Then, exhale on a count of four. Continue this pattern for two minutes.
YOU’LL RECOVER BETTER
Yoga may help you recover faster from your hardcore marathon training sessions, and how well you’re able to recover from your training runs dictates how well you’ll be able to perform on future runs — and how much progress you’ll make overall.
A study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research reveals people who practiced yoga on a regular basis (roughly one hour per day) had lower levels of inflammatory markers after moderate and strenuous exercise than a non-yoga group. These findings suggest yoga may improve your inflammatory response to strenuous exercise (like marathon training), and aid the recovery process.
Yoga also helps reduce stress and fatigue, which can help you calm down after an intense training session (or a busy day at work), giving your body the opportunity to fully heal. Adults with mild-to-moderate levels of stress saw reduced stress and anxiety after 10 weekly hatha yoga sessions, according to a study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine
Many yoga poses can also help relieve tight hips, hamstrings and calves — all common problem areas for runners.
Styles like yin, hatha, iyengar and restorative tend to be slower and may be better recovery-focused options.
HOW TO INCORPORATE YOGA INTO YOUR MARATHON TRAINING PLAN
You’ll experience benefits from a wide range of yoga styles, so find the class that best suits your preferences, schedule and ability.
Hatha, yin, iyengar and/or restorative yoga are typically gentle and beginner-friendly. More fluid yoga styles like vinyasa, ashtanga and Bikram can also be great for beginners, but are often more intense.
When Peterson works with marathon runners, she typically recommends incorporating 2–3 weekly yoga classes into their program. “Some of those days can be with your run or they can be an active recovery day,” she says.