All styles of yoga offer a myriad of benefits for runners, however it can be useful to learn the specifics of the movement patterns in order to develop a training recipe that includes a variety of ingredients to balance your strengths and weaknesses and optimise your performance.
Every runner is unique and will ebb and flow through phases of learning to run, building miles, peaking with higher volume and intensity weeks, tapering, racing, recovery (from a race or injury), and running for fitness (and for the fun of it).
To pin down the best yoga styles for runners and their goals, I reached out to my friend Tonna Reinhold, a Chicago-based yoga instructor, who has been teaching Yoga for Runners at Chicago Endurance Sports and other studios for over twelve years.
*Note to running yogis: Not all styles of yoga are mentioned below, nor do all classes fit one mould. Some instructors may blend several styles for a mixed class. This guide is geared toward helping identify the purpose of each method of yoga and how it may help balance and improve your running life.
For strength and stamina
Yoga styles: Vinyasa Flow, Power Yoga, Ashtanga, Batiste
Class format: These styles of yoga repeat the same sequence of poses every class. The movements are fast-paced and flow from one posture to another throughout the class.
Running analogy: This is the “speed workout” or high intensity effort level of yoga, where the intensity is higher and the movements are fluid.
Running benefits: Runners tend to be attracted to this type of yoga because it is a little more aggressive and dynamic in nature, and it can heat the body in the same way that running does. It develops strength and stamina and it feels like a hard effort workout. Similar to running the same course or interval session several weeks in a row, the repetitive nature of the class allows you to see progress along the way.
Training strategy: Treat this class like a high intensity workout. It is a great overall cross-training style for everyday runners. However, if you’re training hard and progressively, be aware that it can take away from your running performance due to fatigue (especially during the higher volume weeks). This is an opportune time to either decrease the number of times per week you do yoga, or to incorporate other styles to allow your body to adapt to the demands of the training phase and balance your workout intensities (just as you would with running workouts - long, easy, speed, tempo…)
For core stability, balance and muscle release
Yoga styles: Hatha, Sari, Iyengar, Bikram Hot Yoga, Anusara
Class format: The rhythm of this style of yoga is slower and more deliberate, requiring the runner to hold a pose for longer periods of time to experience the pose effect and to allow for the entire muscle to fully release.
Running analogy: It is the “tempo workout” of yoga, where there is a continuous effort (hold) which increases the functional threshold for balance, stability, and body awareness.
Running benefits: The longer holding patterns develop core stability, body alignment, and balance, which can translate to better hip stabilisation. This improves the efficiency of every stride by decreasing lateral hip motion and wasted energy (while helping with issues like ITB!).
Training strategy: Outside of Bikram Yoga, which is slow but intense (due to the heat and length of the class), these styles of yoga are less aggressive, and a good complement to a runner’s recipe. Because every run is a “workout,” taking a holding-style class can balance your body and mind and provide a less taxing mode of strengthening and flexibility. This is especially true for first-time half and full marathoners, as every week of training is progressively more demanding on the body. Having a lower effort cross-training yoga class can balance the energy demands and still develop a solid base of core strength, balance, and flexibility.
For recovery, restoration and flexibility
Yoga styles: Restorative, Yoga for Relaxation, Yin
Class format: This style of yoga is geared more to improving flexibility and facilitating recovery or restoration. A minimal amount of time is spent on your feet and knees, and most on the mat.
Running analogy: It is the “easy run” of yoga, where the demands are low and the focus is on returning the body back to a healthy functional mobility.
Benefits: The relaxed, low intensity level of Restorative Yoga provides a great class for improving flexibility without the demands of a workout, while also improving mindfulness and focus.
Training strategy: This style is a great compliment for runners that already participate in a variety of activities including running, strength training, and other cross-training activities. Weaving it in during your rest or recovery days, especially after long runs, is a great way to take advantage of the many benefits of this style. It requires very little energy, therefore it won’t detract from your training, and increases bloodflow and mobility to the muscles and joints, which aids in efficient recovery.