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Address muscular imbalances with yoga

This is an excerpt from Yoga for Runners-2nd Edition by Christine Felstead.

Yoga quickly reveals and has the capacity to address muscular imbalances and strengthen weak zones that may lead to injury. A yoga practice that increases range of motion in the joints, stretches out the tight spots, and strengthens the weak ones will help the body’s overall alignment and reduce risk of injury. An early observation of many runners who start practicing yoga is discovering the differences in strength, mobility, and flexibility between their right and left sides. Likewise, many people make the unexpected discovery that they have a weak upper body, core, hips, and glutes, and they learn how this can contribute to injury. Often most astonishing is the discovery that their legs may be strong for running, but when challenged in static isometric holds, they quickly become jelly-like.

Take a simple lunge, for example. It is not uncommon for runners new to yoga to be very unstable and shaky in this pose, doing all they can to stay upright and not fall over. The ability to be grounded through the feet, stable in the legs and trunk, and able to straighten the arms overhead while maintaining even and calm breathing is extremely challenging. The position of the legs in a basic high lunge (figure 4.1) appears similar to a running stride, but a running stride involves momentum and movement. The lunge, though, is static, requiring stability and isometric contraction of some muscles in the legs and torso, along with grounding and stability in the feet and ankles, while allowing some parts of the body to relax. It’s impossible to escape the work involved in static holds and challenging to find the balance of effort and ease to hold the pose for a period of time.

Figure 4.1 High lunge.
Figure 4.1 High lunge.

When executed with some basic alignment and attention to detail, the high lunge holds many benefits for runners:

Bent Front Leg

  • Strengthens the hamstrings
  • Strengthens the ankle
  • Stretches the glutes
  • Strengthens muscles of the front shin
  • Strengthens the inner quadriceps
  • Stretches the outer quadriceps

Straight Back Leg

  • Stretches the sole of the foot
  • Mobilizes the ankle joint
  • Strengthens the glutes
  • Stretches the upper and lower calf
  • Stretches the hip flexors

Torso

  • Elongates the spine
  • Strengthens the abdominals
  • Strengthens the arms
  • Mobilizes the shoulder joints

Overall

  • Improves stability and balance
  • Improves focus and concentration

Lunges are typically challenging for runners as the body and brain adapt to new physical demands. However, the balance of strength and mobility gained offers tremendous benefit. As the body gains familiarity and ease with lunges, running strides become easier and lead to improvement of athletic performance. Moreover, remaining in the pose for a period of time requires focus of mind and control of breath, just like successfully crossing the finish line at a race. And these are the benefits from merely one pose! Compound this effect with the number of yoga poses done in a full yoga practice, and the results are truly astounding.

More Excerpts From Yoga for Runners 2nd Edition