Core strength refers to the combined strength of the abdominals and the muscles that support the spine. Building core strength is important for running because it improves our posture and causes less strain on our bodies. If we have weak abdominals our back muscles often compensate in order to maintain an upright running stance. This can lead to aches and pains in the lower back and an imbalance in our running stance. With a strong core we are able to keep our torso stable while we run and avoid unnecessary twisting of the upper body as we move through our stride.
Strong abdominal muscles and core strength are also vital to maintaining breath control when we run. In my post about breath control, I explained that it takes more abdominal strength to control our exhalations while running than our inhalations (due to the fact that the body’s physical position while running encourages inhalations). Accordingly, core strength allows us to expel the breath completely, leaving greater room for oxygen to flood into the body as we inhale.
Here are three postures to improve your core strength, so you can finish your runs upright and (hopefully) smiling!
1. Boat Pose
2. Side Plank
For more ways to "yoga your running" check out seven postures to stretch and strengthen your running muscles.
Photo credit: lululemon athletica flickr stream
Muscle aches and stiffness can be a natural consequence of running, especially when we’re increasing our mileage or adding things like speedwork or hill running to our training regimen. Our muscles become stronger by rebuilding and repairing themselves as they adapt to more challenging activities. But for any change of routine, it is important to be able to differentiate between the body’s natural response to increased training (adaptation) and pain that is caused by injury or overtraining.
Yoga encourages a deeper awareness of our body, and this is a valuable tool when it comes to challenging our body’s limitations. As we gradually hold poses for longer periods of time, we naturally become more familiar with the body’s signals. And the more we are attuned to our body, the better equipped we are to recognize early signs of injury. Normal muscle fatigue, aches, or stiffness may well fade after a good stretch, an Epsom salt bath, or a sports massage; but persistent or recurring discomfort, sharp pain in the joints, or any type of continued muscle distress should be attended to promptly by a qualified professional.
Try this series of seven postures to stretch and strengthen all of your major running muscles.
3. Cobra Pose
5. Single-Legged Bow Pose (variation of Bow Pose)
6. Bridge Pose
7. Seated Spinal Twist (variation of Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
If you want to read more about how to "yoga your running," check out how yoga can increase breath control.
When I first started teaching yoga fourteen years ago, and writing about how it can benefit athletes, my running buddies were skeptical. But in the years since then, yoga has become mainstream, specific classes for runners are on the rise, and yoga and running are no longer mutually exclusive activities. Whether it’s through greater breath control, increased leg strength, better posture, relief of post-run tightness or simply a deeper awareness of the way our bodies move, yoga is a great complement to any type of running training.
Since YMC is participating in the RBC Run For the Kids on Sept 21, I’ll be posting a series of articles over the next few weeks outlining yoga tips, exercises and poses to help you with your running training. Whether you’re joining us for the 5km run, walk or stroll, or whether you’re training for something different, check back regularly to see how you can “yoga your running.”
Breath is energy, and breath control can help us run to our full potential. Breathing is something we often overlook until we’re literally “running” out of breath. When we feel out of breath it means the body is craving more oxygen to be delivered to the muscles. It’s a signal to ask ourselves: Are we intentionally pushing the limits of our body to increase our fitness level or performance? Or do we need to slow down our pace and breathe a little more deeply on this particular run?
Having an awareness of the breath can help us distinguish between the positive effects of challenging the body and the negative effects of overexertion. When our breath becomes shallow our heart rate increases. Naturally, if this continues over a long period of time it can be taxing on the heart and the muscles of the body. On the other hand, by being conscious of our breath and learning how to control it, we can bring energy to the body, reduce muscle tension, and encourage a deeper sensitivity to the body’s signals.
The physical act of running places the body in a position that encourages deep inhalations; it is the exhalations that we need to be more aware of. (It takes more abdominal strength to control the exhalation).
To strengthen and increase your breath control, try this exercise at home:
This exercise can be done lying on your back or sitting upright. Place your hands on your stomach just below your ribcage. Take a few breaths and feel the ribcage and stomach expand and release as you inhale and exhale. To start the counting breath, breathe in for the count of four, hold the breath for the count of four, and exhale for the count of six. If this seems easy, increase the count for each. Repeat 10-20 times.
To incorporate a variation of this exercise into your runs, aim to make your exhalations at least as long as your inhalations when running. (For example, inhale for the count of two running steps, exhale for two or three steps, etc.) This will keep you aware of your breathing, and will also keep you focused on something other than how long you’ve been running!
For more training information, go on over to Sweaty Mummy’s blog for fitness and nutrition tips for running, check out my poses for Happy Hamstrings if you're chonically tight, and read about how to practice yoga safely.