Yoga for Runners

By Lisa James

As a yoga teacher teaching runners, there are a few complaints I hear over and over from my students – typically related to tight hamstrings, impossible hips, a weak core, and lazy or tight glutes.

And, full disclosure, it’s not just students.

As a runner myself, I also know this all too well personally too! Because – in my experience – as a collective we’re a group known to under-stretch, over-run and rarely cross-train.

Which is all well and good of course… until the day of the dreaded injury!

So here’s the first in a series that sees me introduce some of what yoga has to offer as a complement to our running – and this week we’re focused on those ever-troublesome glutes.

These poses can of course be practised outside of a class to help support your training but are intended to be taught in-person. If you have any pre-existing injury, please take advice from a medical professional and regardless, (yes, I’m biased!) I highly recommend giving a class a go as part of your regular regime – you’d be amazed at the difference it can make!

Strengthening Poses

Bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana)

  • From lying flat on the ground bring the feet in towards the body, flat on the floor with knees up towards the ceiling. Take a breath in and exhale to engage the glutes and slowly peel the bottom, hips and back off the ground – lifting up towards the ceiling into bridge pose and opening the whole front of the body in the process (picture one). Hold here, spreading the weight between the feet and shoulders, and maintain a steady breath before using an exhale to slowly unfold the spine back down into the ground. Repeat within the boundaries of your own strength.
  • If you feel strong and controlled in bridge pose you can begin to add in a leg extension – maintaining an even height across the hips, and extending a single leg up towards the ceiling (picture two). Ensure a balanced weight distribution between the grounded foot and the shoulders, and keep the glutes engaged.

Chair pose (utkatasana)

  • From standing, with the feet and legs pressed together, inhale and take the arms up overhead then exhale and sink back into your ‘chair’ – drawing the belly button lightly back towards the spine and engaging the legs and glutes. Don’t let your knees come forward of your toes. See what you can do to take the shoulders around onto the back, keeping the chest nice and open so as to maintain the breath. Hold for a few breaths before inhaling to come out and then repeating.

Revolved chair pose (parivrtta utkatasana) with a step back to revolved lunge (parivrtta anjaneyasana)

  • Start in chair pose (see previous instruction). Bring the hands together to the heart in prayer position and, keeping the knees aligned and pointing forwards, hips even and sitting low – twist through the spine and abdomen to hook the left elbow over the right knee (picture one). Press the arm to the leg and leg to the arm – elbows are in line, forearms perpendicular to the ground and the shoulders draw back together.
  • Spreading the toes and grounding through the four corners of the right foot, start to slowly bring the left foot off the ground towards the left glute so you come to a balance (picture two). You’ll want to press the thighs together for balance. This might be as far as you come and that is perfect. Be sure to engage the right glute and take care to not ‘pop’ the left hip away to the side.
  • If stage two is managed with ease you can step the left foot to the back of the mat, all the time staying in your twist and staying strong and engaged through the right leg and glute (picture three). To come out – step back up to the revolved chair pose, draw the belly button back towards the spine to engage the core and release the arms from the leg and release up to standing.

High lunge (anjaneyasana) with knee drop

  • Begin in a high lunge position with the front knee stacked over the ankle and the back knee lifted with the toes tucked. Inhale to take the arms up towards the ceiling, wrapping shoulders around onto the back and opening the chest (picture one). Think about pressing back heel towards whatever is behind you, and lifting the top of the back thigh up towards the ceiling.
  • Find the breath in this pose and then, on an exhale slowly release the back knee to the ground, inhaling to lift it back into high lunge. Repeat this action with the breath – exhaling down, inhaling up – keeping the breath long, fluid and easeful. Do the same on the other side.

Low lunge (anjaneyasana) with leg lift

  • Begin in a low lunge position (picture 1) with the front knee stacked over the ankle and the top of the back foot flat on the ground. Inhale to take the arms up towards the ceiling, wrapping shoulders around onto the back and opening the chest.
  • Find the breath in that low lunge and then, on an inhale engage the glutes and press strongly into the feet to raise the back knee off the ground. Repeat this action with the breath – inhaling up, exhaling down – keeping the breath long, fluid and easeful. Do the same on the other side.

Table top with side extension

  • Start in a table top position with hips stacked over knees, wrists under shoulders and the belly button drawing lightly back towards the spine for a flat back (picture one).
  • Inhale and extend the left arm forward and right leg back – maintaining, as far as possible, the flat back position (picture two).
  • Exhale to take the left arm and right leg away to opposite sides. You’ll need to be very strong through the right glute, maintain the drawing back of belly button and engage the remaining arm and leg muscles for stability and to avoid putting excess pressure in the right wrist.  

…and release

Cow face (gomukhasana) legs

  • Come to a seated position, crossing your left leg over the right so that the knees come to stack on top of each other. Your left foot comes to rest outside of the right thigh, and the right foot outside of the left thigh. Thighs are together (picture one). If the knees don’t meet, place a prop of some kind (cushion/blanket for example) between the knees to pad the gap. Sit up tall, bringing length to the spine. You can rest the hands on the feet.
  • If it feels good for you, from here you can come into a forward fold (picture two). Keep the spine long as you walk the hands forward, hinging forward from the hips (rather than collapsing from the belly). Hold and breathe before repeating on the opposite side.

Firelogs (agnistambhasana) pose

  • Sitting cross-legged, slide your left foot under the right leg bringing the foot underneath the right knee and stacking the right foot on top of the left knee (picture one). We’re looking for a triangular-shaped opening as you gaze down at the legs. Rest the fingertips on the floor to the outside of the hips and sit tall, finding the breath.
  • Again you have the option of adding a forward fold – keep the torso long as you exhale and fold forward from the hips and not the belly. Hands come to the floor in front of you and the bum remains pressing back into the ground. Hold and breathe before repeating on the opposite side.

Pigeon pose (eka pada kapotasana)

  • From our table top position (see earlier) walk the hands about a hand span forward of the shoulders. Tuck the right toes and bring the left knee forward to place it down on the mat just behind your left wrist. Your shin will be on the diagonal, with the left heel pointing towards the right hip (picture one).
  • You’ll want to know walk the right right back along the mat so that the front of the right leg flattens down onto the ground. The right toes can be untucked so the top of the foot comes to rest on the ground too (picture two). Use your arms for support and make sure the hips are square to the front of the mat. We’ll also want to support and level the left hip so this likely means adding some padding underneath – a cushion or blanket, or even a nice chunky book.
  • If this is comfortable, and there’s no pain or discomfort in the knee, you might walk your hands forward and come down on the forearms (picture three). Again propping the forearms up on some height might be helpful here. Release the weight of your body and relax into the pose.
  • Wherever we land – breathe long and easy while you hold and then repeat on the other side.

Legs up the wall (viparita karani) and/or corpse pose (savasana)

  • After all of that it’s time for some rest! Take the legs up the wall (bum right in to the wall) for a few minutes for some restorative time (picture one) and/or take the body all the way down onto the ground, releasing all holding into savasana for as many minutes as you’d like of relaxation (picture two).

Lisa James teaches specific yoga for runners, and yoga for sport in the Cardiff area – a class timetable can be found online at soon yogalust.co or you can contact her at Wānkāner lisa@yogalust.co.