Yoga for Injury Prevention
Runners love to run and have longevity in the sport. Eager to get on the road and build up the miles. Sometimes ignoring how physically demanding the sport is on the body, dealing with injuries only when they occur.
Running is the most natural form of exercise; scientific evidence suggests the human body evolved quite literally to run. Our flexible legs and foot ligaments act as springs and our narrow midsection allowing arms to swing to propel forward, enlarged heel bone for shock absorption, and a big toe for better push off. During an average mile run, your foot will strike the ground a thousand times. The force of impact on each foot is about three to four times your weight. It’s not surprising due to the repetitive nature of the sport to hear runners complain of bad backs, knees, tight muscles and sore feet. The pain most runners feel is not from the running but from resulting musculoskeletal imbalances and poor biomechanics. If runners do not have enough awareness and connection to their own bodies, they may push to far and ignore the body’s signals. Eventually over time putting stress on joints, ligaments and muscles, leading to pain and injury.
This is what makes yoga the perfect complement to running and injury prevention. It shines light on all the blind spots you’ve developed over the years of training. By its very nature, yoga helps restore the body to balance and symmetry. Integrating a yoga practice into your training programme is an excellent way to safeguard against injury. A balanced yoga practice involves the entire body, stretching the overused muscles that are tight and strengthening the underutilised muscles that are weak. In this way, a natural balancing of stability and flexibility occurs which creates biomechanical balance over time. Unlocking your body’s full potential for movement and keeping you running safer for longer.
Along with the physical benefits of yoga it also cultivates a greater understanding of the body and how it works. Reminding us that everything is connected, the body is the sum of all its parts and impairment of one affects them all. Best form of injury prevention is awareness, listening and responding to messages the body sends you catching injuries before they occur.
I have put together my top five poses aimed to loosen tight spots, strengthen weak spots and hopefully make you a less injury prone runner. You may feel a little uncomfortable at first, especially if you have been running with tight muscles for a long time. Ease into poses and never push to a point of pain. Hold each pose for 10 breathes and repeat on opposite leg.
Toe Stretch/Ankle Stretch
What it Does: Helps prevent plantar fasciitis or tightness around muscles of the ankle by targeting the muscles and connective tissue on the sole of the foot. These muscle when shortened can constrict the muscles around the ankle, impeding movement and leading to ankle, heel and foot injuries.
Our feet are the foundation of every stride we take. The foot is the base of the lower quarter kinetic chain, thus any foot anomalies can lead to pain and secondary injury elsewhere up the chain.
Kneel on your mat with your toes curled under. Sit the weight of your hips back onto heels for 10 breathes. Then, point your toes, place your hands on the mat behind you, and lean back as you attempt to lift your knees off the mat to stretch front of shins and arches.
Supine Cow Face Pose
What it Does: Relieves tightness in the glutes maximus muscles, which attach to the IT band. The IT band originates from the TFL muscle and the gluteus maximus and is a thick band of connective tissue which doesn’t contract, lengthen or shorten so keeping the glutes mobile and strong, will help reduce your chances of pain, inflammation or injury in the IT band especially after long runs.
Lie on back and cross one knee over the other. Keeping your head on floor hug your knees towards your chest. Flex your feet, hold onto ankles, and pull them towards your hips. Hold onto shins if ankles are not accessible. Repeat with legs crossed the other way.
Eye of the needle Pose
What it Does: Stretches the piriformis muscle which when tight can lead to lower back pain, hamstring troubles and disrupt the function of the sacroiliac joint. If tightness or swelling of the piriformis compresses the sciatic nerve, it can cause a pain deep in the hip and buttock, or tingle, numbness or even weakness in the back and running down the affected leg.
Lie on your back with knees bent. Place the right ankle over left knee and flex the right foot. With your right hand, gently push the right thigh forward. Keep your hips, spine, and head on the floor. For a deeper stretch, clasp your hands behind left hamstring and hug it in toward your torso.
What it Does: Opens your hips and gives your lower body particularly groin and hip flexors a much-needed stretch while also opening the front torso, chest and shoulders which fatigue during long runs. It also strengthens your quads, glutes, ankles and core, while the balancing aspect helps to develop flexible stability reducing susceptibility to many common injuries.
From all fours position step right foot forward between your hands, keep your right knee stacking over ankle. Back toes curled under and raise back knee. Press back into left heel to activate the leg. Lift your torso upright, arms sweep overhead. Drop your tailbone towards the floor, gaze up.
What it Does: Targets under-worked muscles in your lower back, glutes and hips common culprits for hamstring strains. Engages core muscles which help strengthen and stabilise your spine and pelvis, providing balance and stability. Lengthens and strengthens hip flexors.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise your pelvis up by pressing into heels and engaging glutes and abdominals. Extend your right leg out and hold for five breathes. Release your leg back down. Perform 8 reps then repeat on opposite leg.