Whether you run for fun, as exercise, or to collect as many medals as possible, yoga can be your perfect running partner. Think of yoga as the yin to your running yang. While running is all about repetition, yoga’s all about range of motion.
Here’s the lowdown on why yoga is so important to incorporate into your routine — plus, the best yoga poses to choose when you do.
Will yoga hit your next PR for you? No. But it can help get your bod in tip-top shape to cross that finish line ASAP! Here’s why.
Improves your performance
“There’s a saying, ‘as above, is below,’” says Valerie Ugrinow, a master yoga trainer with YogaSix who’s also a runner. “The muscles of the body work together, so it is important to maintain full-body strength and mobility to maintain optimal health and performance.”
And running as your only form of exercise can leave you off-balance. “Many runners tend to be weak or tight in their hamstrings from living a sedentary lifestyle,” says Ugrinow. “When the quads are doing all the work, this creates an imbalance in the legs and can lead to injury.”
And that’s not all of it. “Weak glutes, or glutes that are inhibited by weak or tight hip flexors, can become problematic and lead to knee pain,” explains Ugrinow. “Finally, the calf muscles are a key player in mobility and agility, and weakness can lead to shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and inflammation of the Achilles tendon.”
Increases your flexibility
Yoga is probably most known for increasing flexibility, which can foster more stability while running.
“Many runners find that they have tight piriformis muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and IT band,” says Michelle Young, a certified yoga therapist and experienced registered yoga teacher and the founder of My Vinyasa Practice. “Many of the hip openers found in yoga work to release the piriformis, quadriceps, and hamstrings.”
Expands your body awareness
Ugrinow says that yoga can help expand your awareness of your body while running.
“It helps us to identify where we may be using unnecessary effort or holding onto tension,” she explains. “This can be extremely beneficial for runners in identifying an unbalanced gait or in releasing tension in the shoulders and arms.”
Develops your breathing
Yoga can also help you develop better breathing practices while running.
“In yoga, there is an emphasis on breath and, more specifically, diaphragmatic breathing,” says Ugrinow. “Learning how to breathe consciously can help in those moments of high adrenaline when there is a tendency to hold the breath.”
Strengthens your mindset
But the benefits are more than just physical.
“Yoga helps expand our capacity to handle stress, boredom, and discomfort without reactivity,” explains Ugrinow. “So, in those moments on your run when you are likely to quit, you can more easily tap into a calm and focused mindset that will allow you to keep going.”
You can’t really go wrong when it comes to your yoga practice. But these specific poses come highly recommended by our running and yoga experts.
1. Best pose overall: Downward-Facing Dog
A yoga classic, Downward-Facing Dog combines strengthening and lengthening.
“While strengthening the quads, back, and shoulders, Downward Dog is a great stretch for the feet, ankles, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and lats,” explains Ugrinow.
How to do it:
- Start on your hands and knees, with wrists directly under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Push back through your hands, straightening legs and curling toes under so you can lift your hips into the air.
- Spread fingertips and push down through hands.
- Engage your quadriceps (top thigh muscles) to take some of your body’s weight off your arms.
- Move shoulders away from ears and let your head hang heavy.
- Keep tailbone high and try to drop your heels to the floor.
- Keep hands and feet shoulder- and hip-width apart.
Pro tip: Don’t worry about touching your heels to the floor. “Keeping them slightly lifted with your knees soft allows you to find greater length in your spine while still benefiting from the stretch in your legs,” says Ugrinow. This gentle motion also helps prevent injury.
2. Best pre-run pose: Mountain Pose
Need a little pre-run pick-me-up? While it may look like you’re just standing there, Mountain Pose is great for building confidence, harnessing focus, and warming up your muscles before a run.
How to do it:
- Stand with your two big toes touching and a little space between your heels.
- Press thighbones back while tilting tailbone forward.
- Pull shoulders back and soften your ribs.
- Press down through your feet while lengthening your body.
Pro tip: “Pretend like a string is pulling you up toward the sky from the crown of your head,” says Allison Felsenthal, a certified running coach, personal trainer, and performance exercise specialist and the founder of Runwithalli Run Coaching.
“Keep both big toes touching each other while driving your mid-foot into the ground, keeping both feet parallel to one another.”
3. Best pose for tight hamstrings: Forward Fold
Remember the days when you could easily bend over and touch your toes? If years of running have left you with particularly tight hamstrings, consider Forward Fold your ticket back to your childlike flexibility.
How to do it:
- Stand up straight with feet hip-width apart.
- Exhale while slowly bending at the hips (not at the waist), keeping your back as flat as possible.
- Bend elbows and hold on to each elbow with the opposite hand.
- Let your head hang heavy.
- Press heels into the floor and try to lift your sit bones.
- With each breath in, try to lift and lengthen your torso.
- With each exhale, sink deeper into the pose.
Pro tip: Young recommends modifying with bent knees. “Over time you will be able to get into Forward Fold with straight legs, but at the beginning, you want to bend your knees to release the hamstrings,” she explains. “This will help to alleviate tension and tightness in the back of the legs.”
4. Best pose for your lower back: Bridge Pose
Running into back pain? “The Bridge Pose helps alleviate lower back tension or pain by keeping your glutes engaged, your tailbone tucked under, and your abs flexed to maintain a neutral spine,” says Felsenthal.
How to do it:
- Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Bring feet as close to your sit bones as is comfortable.
- Place your arms on the floor, exhale, and lift hips up into the air, keeping thighs and feet parallel.
- Clasp hands together under your pelvis to help you stay on top of your shoulders.
- Try to lift your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping knees directly over heels.
- Keeping the back of your neck long, tilt chin slightly away from chest.
Pro tip: Bridge Pose is great to do after a run. “This pose is excellent to open up the front part of a runner’s body after being somewhat hunched over at times during any long run,” says Felsenthal.
5. Best pose for posture: Tree Pose
Good form requires good posture. Felsenthal says every runner should incorporate Tree Pose into their routine because it will help with proper running form and running mechanics.
How to do it:
- Stand up tall with feet hip-width apart and hands pressed together in front of you in prayer position.
- Slowly shift your weight onto left foot and raise right foot off the floor.
- Place the bottom of right foot on the inside of left thigh. Your pelvis should be straight and your toes pointed down.
- Stretch arms up over your head, pressing your palms together.
Pro tip: “Perform this pose on your active recovery days or after a run,” recommends Felsenthal. “I love the Tree Pose to restore balance and mindfulness into my daily routine around my runs.”
6. Best pose to increase focus: Plank Pose
Running is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one, especially when it comes to running long distances. Plank Pose may be popular for core strengthening, but it’s also a great way to build up your mental focus.
How to do it:
- Start in Downward-Facing Dog, and then inhale as you move your body forward until shoulders are directly above wrists.
- Engage your core and try to keep your hips down so your body is in a straight line.
- Keep head in line with spine; don’t let it drop.
Pro tip: If your form starts to fail, it’s time to make a change. “If your lower back is sagging or your chest and shoulders are collapsing, then lower to your knees and/or forearms,” says Ugrinow. “You can still build strength, stamina, and focus in a supported variation.”
7. Best post-run pose: Lizard Lunge
When you’re done with your run and all you want to do is take a long, hot shower, consider dropping down into Lizard Lunge first. Ugrinow says this pose is great for stretching your quads, hip flexors, and hamstrings to maintain mobility and prevent injuries.
How to do it:
- Starting in Downward-Facing Dog, bring right foot up and place it on the outside of right hand so you’re in a lunge position.
- Lower your left knee to the floor and press into your hips.
- Make sure front heel is directly below or slightly in front of knee to avoid putting excess pressure on your knee.
- Slowly lower your forearms onto the floor, keeping back flat and head in line with spine.
- Straighten left leg while pressing up on the ball of your foot.
Pro tip: Ugrinow says you can make this even more of a cooling pose by lowering your back knee down to the floor. “The more you slide your knee back, the greater the stretch will be in that hip flexor and quad,” she says.
8. Best pose to release the piriformis muscle: Reclined Figure Four
Your piriformis is a little muscle with a big job: It’s in charge of stabilizing your hip joint. For runners, the piriformis tends to work overtime. To give it a much-needed break, sit back, relax, and recline in Figure Four.
How to do it:
- Lie faceup and bring knees toward chest.
- Cross left ankle over right knee.
- Keep left foot slightly flexed.
- With both hands, grab the back of right thigh and gently pull your legs closer to your chest.
Pro tip: Young recommends holding the pose for a minute or two while breathing deeply. “Imagine that you can send the breath to the muscles that are experiencing sensation to help release tension,” she says. If you need to, Young recommends using a strap to modify the move.
9. Best hip opener pose: Half Pigeon
It’s true that your hips don’t lie. All the repetitive motion of running could have your hips saying they’re too tight. But don’t worry, it’s nothing a partial Pigeon Pose can’t fix.
How to do it:
- Start in Downward-Facing Dog and bring right foot up to right wrist.
- Lay your right shin and knee on the mat.
- Straighten back leg down onto the floor. Your legs will look like the number seven.
- Depending on your flexibility, move your heel as far from your groin as possible, moving your shin toward being parallel to the front of your mat.
- Align right knee with right hip and flex right foot.
- Walk hands forward as far as you can and lower your forehead onto your mat.
Pro tip: If you’re having trouble getting into this pose, Young recommends using a block under your back hip. “Once you find the pose, hold the pose for a minute to 2 minutes while breathing slowly and deeply,” she says.
10. Best pose for tight psoas muscles: Warrior II
The psoas muscle isn’t exactly winning any awards for most popular muscle, but it’s def important for your hips and lower back. Chances are that if you’ve heard of it, it’s only because the little-known yet super significant muscle is causing issues in your body. If that’s you, it’s time for some Warrior II.
How to do it:
- Start in Mountain Pose and exhale as you step or slightly jump your feet about 4 feet apart, keeping heels aligned.
- Turn one foot out 90 degrees and bend that knee into a lunge.
- Slightly turn back foot inward so it’s at a 45-degree angle.
- Raise your arms parallel to the floor with palms facing down and relax shoulders away from ears.
- With each exhale, try to sink hips lower until front thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Turn your head toward your lunging side and look over your fingertips.
- Draw belly in and keep torso up straight — do not lean toward your front leg.
Pro tip: Young says to be sure your front knee is stacked over your ankle. “If the knee is tracking in toward the middle of your mat, you could twerk the knee and potentially cause instability,” she explains. “If you need to adjust your feet so that your knee is in line with the ankle, that is fine.”
Wondering the best way to incorporate yoga into your running routine? According to our experts, there are no rules. Just find what works for you.
Here are some general recommendations to help you get started.
- Do strengthening or heat-building poses as a warmup or on a non-running day.
- Do poses that are more cooling after a run.
- Do more stretch-focused yoga (like Yin yoga) once or twice a week to help your muscles release.
- Do more strength-focused yoga (like power yoga) on non-running active-recovery days.
Bottom line: Yoga can make you a better runner in every way possible. Incorporating yoga into your routine will help you prepare your body for a run, recover from a run, and maintain good running form.
There’s no need to stress over fitting an entire yoga class into your training schedule, though. Simply add a couple of the poses listed above and your muscles (and mind!) will be on track to reach your personal best.