Why you should stretch those hammies. A yogis insight for runners.


  In my experience, the hardest person to get onto the yoga mat can be the one who needs it the most. Runners resist yoga like a child resisting medicine. There is a bit of a misconception that efficient runners shouldn't be mobile.  To be faster you need to be tighter.  This is the kind of thinking that causes injuries to manifest.  To move more swiftly and safely the muscles need to be pliable as well as strong.  Yoga is a well known vehicle for achieving that dynamic.  

    Often the image we associate with yoga is of limber yogis twisted up like contortionists.  In reality most poses are accessible maneuvers for everyone that marry the stretch to the strength.  Many postures utilize what is called an eccentric contraction of the muscle - actively increasing the engagement of the muscle as it lengthens.  {This type of muscular engagement creates greater range of motion as muscles can extend further with control. } Meaning yogis strive to cultivate equal flexibility and strength.

     The repetitive motion of the legs required for running can create excessive tension in the joints. This tension unnecessarily strains the knees and spine and can be crippling over time.  Tight or overdeveloped hamstrings also begin to pull at the lower back, robbing the spine of its innate buoyancy.  This is the beginning of a plethora of other issues that trickle up and down the body from the neck to the feet. Dense IT band tissue and inner thigh musculature can tug at the knees causing pronation and supination (the turning in and out) in the feet.  Continuous impact on the feet at an inward or outward angle with the increased force of running degrades the knees. As the body seeks to transfer pressure and weight the damage moves into the hips, into the low back, and - you get where I am going with this. Not stretching equates to the inevitability of not running.

     Beyond the immediate muscular benefits, yoga is also unique in its ability to enlighten areas of the body one might not otherwise acknowledge.  The muscle memory grown in a regular yoga practice serves runners as it will train the weaker muscles to engage and stop the stronger muscles from taking the bulk of the work. For example, Weak hip stabilizers- the muscles that turn in and out the legs - have been associated with an ailment known as runner's knee. When these smaller hip muscles don't support the proper alignment of the femur bone and knee they cause pain with every step. In yoga there are many postures that support the engagement of such muscles that are smaller and more elusive to feel in other activities.  These poses counteract the weakness by building strength while simultaneously addressing the tightness of overused areas. This helps to realign the bones and keep the moving body safe and stable.

    I could go on at length about all of anatomy jargon that supports yoga's benefits. Inevitably, what it comes down to is balance. For long term sustainability the muscles have to be inversely worked.  Bruce Lee said it perfectly: "Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind."

    Yoga will not only sustain your body and prevent injury, it will also increase stamina and mental focus.  Yoga encourages practitioners to breathe deeply while engaging the stomach.  This technique, called diaphragmatic breathing, trains the body to take in more oxygen while maintaining the engagement needed to perform successfully. Breathing this way will make it possible to run at longer distances and at faster speeds. The meditative quality of a good run is heightened by consistent yoga practice as well.  It is another way to increase mental clarity while striving to achieve new running goals.

    I'm not saying that it's easy.  My guess is that for most people,  the first time running was a challenge as well.  Like anything that is worthwhile, stretching takes commitment, consistency, and patience for the greatest results.  Yoga is a tool for exercising all of those qualities. {The benefits for runners far outweigh the excuses. } It's time to stretch those hamstrings and maintain a flexible mind.