Running coach and yoga teacher Sage Rountree weighs in on why runners should be careful when adding yoga to their training—and how they can do so.
Yoga is widely prescribed as a panacea to all that ails. Depressed? Do yoga? Anxious? Do yoga? Got a tight runner’s body? Well, then, most definitely do yoga.
Yet yoga—like any activity—carries with it the risk of injury. And many runners’ competitive nature coupled with a tight body elevates that risk. To find out some ways runners can stay safe while getting their om on, I spoke with Sage Rountree, a USA Triathlon-and RRCA-certified coach and yoga instructor and author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga. Here are three tips she recommends.
Watch for trouble spots.
As mentioned above and as a polarizing New York Times article “How Yoga Wrecks Your Body” details, yoga is not without its injuries. The most serious injuries occur in the lower back, the shoulder, knees, and neck, with wrists and hips being two more places of vulnerability. And with runners, hamstrings can also be of special concern, says Rountree. “The number one injury in students who run is a high hamstring tear,” she says. These can happen during running or other activities, usually from causes like rapid pace changes or being overly aggressive. But a hamstring injury can also occur during yoga. Rountree says a high hamstring tear feels like a pain in the buttock, typically on just one side of your body. It occurs up near the sitting bone and, and ironically feels like if you could simply stretch it out to make it feel better. During such poses as forward folds, runners may become overly aggressive and push their stretches past the point that is appropriate—and safe. Of course, such aggressiveness can cause a number of other injuries, particularly when it’s combined with lack of experience.
Consider a basics class to learn proper alignment.
On the note of experience, anyone—not just runners—interested in yoga would do well to start with the basics, and this is especially true if you know you tend to push yourself. As a runner, you may be drawn to the flow/vinyasa or power yoga classes, which can evoke the intensity and movement of running. These are the classes that move quickly through series of poses, usually with sun salutation A and B as their foundation, and some with the added element of heat. The problem is that with that fast motion, there simply isn’t the necessary time to break down the fundamentals of a pose, or even, in many cases, for the teacher to offer corrections. In addition, heated yoga may raise the risk of overstretching. Not good. As mentioned above, you can injure your body doing yoga—especially in a crowded group classes or in classes where you’ll be too tempted to keep up with the bendy advanced regulars. If you’re new to yoga or coming back from a long break, it’s worth investing in slower-moving basic classes in alignment-focused styles such as hatha yoga or Iyengar, or at the very least, a basics flow/vinyasa or power class.
Leave your Type A personality at the door.
At the core of far too many yoga injuries is ego. As in I’m going to keep up with the people around me! “It’s tempting to make yoga about being bendy,” says Rountree, “but you don’t need to get your foot behind head to help yourself through yoga.” In fact, she says that yoga doesn’t have to look stereotypically flexible to be helpful. Everyone is different, but as a runner you only need a certain amount of flexibility—not much even—to smooth out your stride. Rountree recommends that if you’re a serious runner, you need to approach yoga with a eye to balancing your running rather than adding to the intensity, especially during high-mileage periods; the idea is to complement, not undermine. Yoga can complement running; it can encourage balance, focus, back strength and flexibility, and connect you to your breathing. But to create this symbiotic relationship, it’s helpful to know your own body, what your running plans and goals are, and how various poses can help you. That’s why it’s important to go with a knowledgeable teacher and to always listen to and respect what your own body is telling you.
- Sage Rountree’s Stretches/Poses for Runners on Runners World
- Sage Rountree’s Yoga for Athletes Column on Yoga Journal
- Four Yoga Mistakes That Can Cause Knee Pain
- Safety Tips for Yoga
Do you run and do yoga? What has worked well for you?
Photo by Drewski Mac; from Karma Spot