Essential Yoga Poses for Runners Part 1: Legs and Spine

While running is a fantastic form of fitness, prolonged and unchanging usage and impact on the same muscles groups can cause problems. Yoga can counteract these effects and provide a well-rounded means of alternative training. When the right combination of poses is used, it can improve flexibility and musculoskeletal balance, relieve aches and pains and aid recovery.

These 5 essential poses, together with the following 5 in Part 2 (inspired by yogi and Boston Marathon athlete Rebecca Pacheco’s runner-geared yoga classes), work together to target key parts in the body most overused, tight and prone to injury including the hamstrings, calves and hip flexors, helping them elongate and loosen.

Part 1 focuses on standing poses that stretch and strengthen the legs and spine, while Part 2 sits you down on the floor and opens up your hips. The entire sequence is a versatile 20-minute full-body routine that can be performed as a cool down stretch post-run or in between running days to cross-train or restore the body.

Equipment: Yoga mat and yoga block (or a stack of blankets) can be used for support.
General Practice Tips
: Perform each pose slowly and steadily without using force or momentum to get to a position. Stretch to a point of slight discomfort without going too far. Hold each position for 5-10 full breaths (about 1-2 minutes), or as long as you like.

Standing Forward Bend

: Stretches hamstrings, calves, hips, and spine. Strengthens knees and thighs.

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart.
  2. Hinge forward at the hips, gently bend knees and let your head and arms hang down.
  3. Keep the spine straight and neck relaxed.
  4. When coming out from the position, tuck the belly in, place hands on hips, engage feet and rise up with a straight back.
  5. If hamstrings are tight, rest hands on a block for support.

Downward Facing Dog

Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings, calves, Achilles tendons, feet arches, shoulders, and hands. Strengthens legs and arms. Warms up wrists, toes, and ankles.

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart.
  2. Hinge torso over the legs and walk forward with hands to form an inverted ‘V’ shape.
  3. Arms and legs are straight with weight evenly distributed between hands and feet.
  4. Elbows face forward, while shoulders are rotated back and inward.
  5. If heels are not touching the ground, bend knee and pulse heel one at a time to loosen up the calves and Achilles tendon.

Low Crescent Lunge

Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the thighs, calves, and ankles. Stretches the torso and neck. Strengthens the shoulders and back muscles.

  1. From Downward Facing Dog, raise one leg behind you and hold for a couple of breaths before bringing it forward and placing the foot between your hands.
  2. The front knee is at a 90-degree angle directly above the ankle, while the back knee is down on the mat.
  3. Square your hips and push it forward.
  4. Raise your arms, open your chest and tuck your pelvis under.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Half-Split (with Iliotibial Band Stretch Variation)

: Stretches lower back and back of the legs, especially hamstrings and calves. Improves overall balance and alignment.

  1. From a Low Crescent Lunge, place the hands down on the mat or on blocks for support.
  2. With back knee still on the ground, move the hips back and straighten out the front leg.
  3. Flex the front foot toward the sky.

Variation: To stretch the IT band, turn the outer edge of the front foot down, so it touches the mat. Walk hands to the outer edge of the front leg. Twist and look over the shoulder. Repeat on the other side.

Lizard (with Quad Stretch Variation)

: Stretches and strengthens the hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads. Strengthens calves and ankles.

  1. From a Low Crescent Lunge, place the hands down on the inside of the front leg.
  2. Walk the front foot towards the edge of the mat.
  3. To intensify the stretch, place the forearms on the mat.

Variation: To stretch the quads, come up off your forearms and onto your hands. Lift up the inner edge of the front foot slightly and balance on the outer edge. Bend the back knee and catch the back foot with the opposite hand. Pull to feel the stretch.

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