RUNNER: The fantastic plastic and elastic machine!

A student once said: “Yoga practice is good for my running but running isn’t good for my yoga practice”. I would disagree. Let’s look a little deeper into this comment. This is a comment by one of my students. If yoga is helpful for running it’s probably because of an improvement in agility, mobility, circulation, functional core strength, posture and breathing.

But on the other side what do they mean by “bad’ for yoga? Is it that running makes the legs stiffer so it becomes harder to perform those postures that require hip mobility or long hamstrings? From that perspective, if we are judging our yoga practice by how bendy and stretchy the body is, then yes, that is true, running makes the legs and hips tighter. That must be accepted. But there is more to yoga than being flexible. If you are a competitive yogi and you measure the success of your yoga by how far you can bend then I would say that you may have actually missed the point. It’s not a competition with yourself or anyone else.


Should we stretch?

There is a meme going around in running and training circles that says stretching isn’t good for runners because they need to keep the tension in the legs to avoid injury. There is some truth in that but there is stretching and there is stretching. Not all methods are the same and so not all methods will have the same result.

If we could do an experiment , hypothetically, to increase the range of motion of all parts of the body evenly, say for argument’s sake we took all joints and increased their range by 10% the result would be that some of the stiffer areas would be more mobile but the looser, and weaker areas would also be more mobile. The problem or disfunction will then show up in the more mobile part. 

But if we could hyperthetically do the opposite and make the body 10% stiffer, then we would probably run into a problem of restriction at the tight area. 

So the art of good yoga practice is to work in a way that gives stability where it is needed, and more mobility to the stiffer parts. The stiff part gets looser and the loose part gets stiffer. This brings an integrity throughout the whole body. 

Runners definitely benefit from yoga asana practice as a part of their training. I have seen it many times. In my experience, if a person is a serious runner, they are putting in plenty of ‘tightening’ time and they have done so for long enough that their tissues are strong. That’s a really good starting point for developing a bit more range of motion. Joints that are well supported by strong muscles and tendons are safe.

Being too lax in the ankle, knee or hip will predispose a runner to injury. There is evidence of that. For example, FAI is more prevalent in athletes with high degrees of mobility. Athletic and stiff people often say to me after yoga class ‘I have a long way to go. I am so stiff’. My response is to say ‘No, actually being stiff is the best, because it means that your body is strong. If we take a weak but flexible body and try to build it up to have a good balance of strength, that’s much more difficult and complex as a process.’

But being restricted in some joints like the ankle or hip will also bring problems. Tight hip flexors will alter the way that a runner strides. Tight ankles will alter the way that the leg climbs hills. Tight chest and forward slumping shoulders will reduce the efficiency of the breath. Therefore, if the yoga and stretching routine is well targeted, then it will bring good results. This is the concept of alignment. Using accurate and targeted stretch of strengthen techniques to improve the overall efficiency and function.

There is no hard evidence that says that generalised stretching improved running performance or prevented injuries but I still think yoga, not just stretching does both by mechanisms that have not yet been studied.


Were we born to run? There is some interesting evidence to suggest that we did evolve as running primates:
Each foot and ankle has twenty six bones and thirty three joints. It’s an engineering masterpiece with more than one hundred muscles.

  • The lower leg bones are positioned like a mortice that can pivot like a hinge on the top of the Talus. So that as force is transferred down onto the talus which sits on the Calcaneus (the heel bone) and also has some degree of pivot but at an angle which gives more scope for the foot to work at angles other than just the sagittal plane. Force transfers down into the tarsal bones which act like a ‘keystone’ of the bony arch made of the tarsals. it distributes more or less evenly throughout the other bones of the foot. The arch will depress slightly and rebound due to the collection of spring like ligaments that bind the foot bones together.
  • The make-up of the arches of our feet. The three arches of the foot are placed to operate like a set of springs. Like old fashioned leaf springs in a car, they absorb the shock of a landing and transfer it directly back into upward propulsion. This is quite different to the foot structure of other primates. Chimps and other apes can walk on two legs but they cannot run for any distance because they lack these spring loaded arches.
  • Achilles tendon is another spring. Other creatures that have a strong and spring like Achilles tendon are Horses, antelopes, dogs. All runners!
  • Nuchal ligament. The long strip of ligament at the back of the cervical spine and base of the skull serves to keep our eyes looking steadily ahead as the body moves around. Again the argument for humans as running primates is that we have a nuchal ligament as do the other running animals.
  • Persistence hunting. As a child I remember stories of the Australian aboriginals. People said that they used to be able to run down a kangaroo in the outback. The story was that a Kangaroo, is fast, but can overheat while the man was water-cooled by perspiration and had a shady mass of hair on the top of his head would steadily and deliberately pursue the animal until it tires. Only a few years ago I saw that this persistence hunting is also practiced by the traditional San Communities in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa. We are one of the very few mammals that maintains temperature using perspiration.
  • Both Eccentric and concentric muscle actions are part of the runners action
  • Heal strike should be avoided as the force is taken through the joints and wastes energy
‘First make it easy, then make it light. Then make it fast’

Mica True
AKA Caballo Blanco from Born to Run


The cylinder of the trunk adds spring– abdominal obliques and the spiral lines – not just the front line. Therefore strengthen oblique lines and use whole body postures to connect the core to the legs. The runner’s foot should have both mobility and strength in both the lateral, transverse and medial arches. A strong elastic recoil in the foot structures gives a natural bounce. Stretches for toes, feet and ankles helping maintain the pliability of the feet are particularly important for trail runners.

Consider the following needs for the runners’ body:

Yoga can be used to help improve and maintain the ideal running technique but we should consider the following. 

  • Tendon and Backline should be ‘spring like’ so don’t overstretch it. 
  • Efficient long distance technique is Falling forward but not Rounding forward –  The chest tends to collapse though fatigue. Open the chest.

Standing Poses and the Feet

Standing postures in Yoga are seemingly designed as a systematic method to create a stable base. Warriors and side angles are clearly stances from a martial history. They are exercises in establishing balance with unusual foot placements. In my work with yoga I consider the standing postured to be foundational, and use them with beginners to establish a set of base skills. By getting the actions of the feet right there is often a natural and spontaneous alignment and balance that comes to the rest of the body. This is often a case of ‘training the foot and ankle to activate or relax in ways that it is not accustomed to. Thus is can improve a pronator or a supinator both. 

Once it does so, it has a greatly expanded repertoire of actions at its disposal. Remember that in the body everything is connected to everything. The fascia of the foot speaks to the fascia of the knee, hip and spine. Proprioception via hundreds of thousands of receptors in the fascia and the motor control centre is always in a state of learning and unlearning.  It is always adjusting its default setting of what is normal range, and neutral place.


 Yoga for the Runner

Scott Jurek, author of Eat and Run and a– legendary ultra-runner, says: “Your legs propel you but its’ your back and abdominal muscles that enable a lot of the power…if you do yoga, concentrate on backbend moves like the locust, the bridge and the boat.” “The boat however, isn’t a backbend. I think he meant the bow. He goes on to say that ”any yoga position will be of tremendous value to the runner if you make sure to focus on and engage your core”.  

Yoga can help a runner’s body as follows:

  • Work to lengthen front of hip improve hip mobility for number 4 leg extension as this lengthens stride without raising number 1 over stride.( Working on this action this may depend on the individual style of runner. Some that are more quad dominant runners will benefit here by opening the front.  Others that are already kicking the feet back strongly from an anteriorly tilted pelvis may need to work more on lifting the knee in front to improve speed.
  • Allow and encourage the muscular backline (Achilles,  hamstrings, gluteus maximus and erector spinae) to remain strong, short and ‘springy’.
  • Strengthen / mobilise the gluteus.
  • Mobilise lateral hip and ITB.


A few suggestions for runner’s yoga sequences to include but are not limited to:

Plank , Side plank, Rotating plank Reverse Plank 

Establishing a lengthened and braced core. 

Low rotational planks engage the rotation and partially replicate action of the obliques during running.

Chaturanga Dandasana with reverse hands

Push ups with fingers turns back to engage lats and triceps stabilise the shoulder position with external rotation.


To engage the whole backline in open chain and setting up the postural pattern of lifting the chest while keeping the belly and lower ribs in place.

Chest Openers – Prone Bow, Single Leg Bow 

Strengthen rhomboids and lower traps. This maintains a strong position to breath from Reverse Plank. Strengthens the whole back line in a closed chain. Plantarflexion in the ankle opens the anterior hip by reciprocal inhibition.


Single Leg Standing Transitions Actions Including the ‘Floor Clock’(Mandala of Yoga synergy)

This practice will help to fill in the gaps of the glutes especially the gluteus medius and minimus which stabalise the pelvis while absorbing the landing of one leg. 

Bridging and Single Leg Bridge Lifts

The bridge creates hip extension, specifically using the glutes. The Single Leg Bridge Lift develops the sense of hip pike and hip extension while focussing on lateral hip stability.

Quadruped Stability Contralateral Walks 

To encourage the diagonal slings (spiral lines of obliques abdominals) to be involved in movement.


Use simple inversions especially after a long run to assist in the limph drainage and circulation in the feet and legs.

Passive supine twists and strap assisted reclined leg stretches in all directions to maintain full range in hips. 

Hip Stretches on a Block 

To target the tightest areas and maintain healthy range. 

Copyright Yoga for Sports 2021