Why you should take up yoga if you want to be a better runner
Jessica Skye wants to mix up your marathon training — chiefly, by lying down and putting your feet up. The Nike ambassador and founder of Fat Buddha Yoga isn’t your typical running guru: she surfs, she DJs and, most importantly, she downward dogs a number of times a week. And she says you should too, if you want to run better.
Yoga and running may feel like very separate tribes but, in fact, they are the perfect union, Skye insists. Yoga is the yin to running’s yang: it fills the gaps running leaves in its wake, boosting stability, improving breathing and helping to prevent injury, especially when you’re tapering before the big day.
She recently teamed with running group LDN Brunch Club to host a series of run and yoga meetings in the lead-up to Sunday’s 26.2-miler after being “appalled” by the lack of proper stretching in fitness classes.
Her monthly sessions at The Hoxton hotel involve a 5k run followed by an hour of focused yoga before a brunch. The class is tailored to target the muscles you use while running, and “people really comment afterwards”, she says. “Everyone who’s new to yoga always follows up to say how much of a difference it’s made.”
Her sessions take an athletic approach. “It isn’t an overly hippy-dippy yoga class,” says Skye. It’s all designed to target your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and T-bands, while strengthening your core and loosening your shoulders. She also focuses on lunge positions, like the pigeon pose, which stretches the groin, outer hips and hip flexors. She recommends the dragonfly position for the groin and hamstrings, and the saddle for the quads.
The benefits are fourfold. Chiefly, it boosts stability, which is especially important for long-distance runners. “Towards the end of long runs or races, your form begins to suffer,” says Skye. This not only slows you down but also opens you up to potential injuries. Building strength in your core — the chest, back, abs and obliques — keeps your torso upright, reducing wobbling, thus using less excess energy as you push through mile 25.
Injuries also arise when muscles get too tight. “After you run, your muscles do naturally just get tighter, so most running injuries are from tight muscles pulling on your joints. Hip flexors can do that, tight hamstrings can start to pull on your lower back, so yoga is a good way to stretch it all out.” It calms the muscles and stops you “walking like a duck” the next day.
Breathing is often ignored by runners, too. “Yoga teaches you to breathe properly and to use the full capacity of your lungs. It helps your intake but the exhale also calms your nervous system,” she says. This keeps you relaxed and ensures your muscles receive enough oxygen while moving, which aids recovery.
Crucially, practising your downward dog also has mental benefits.
“There’s a mini sports-psychology session in every practice,” Skye says. She always makes people set an intention at the start of her classes to “help them get in the zone”. Visualising achieving your goals is a popular technique, especially for marathon runners, for whom the full distance can seem daunting.
She recommends doing yoga at least once a week, and holding poses for two to four minutes to ensure a deep stretch. “It’s prevention, it’s recovery, it’s maintenance while you’re training, and just being aware of your breath, your body and yourself.” Training for a marathon requires focus, but that doesn’t mean being single-minded about exercise. Find your balance.