Yoga for Runners – Coach Annelie Stockton

Why Yoga?

For the first 3 years of my running career I suffered from sciatica on the left side of my body. It would come and go and there were times that the pain was so bad I could barely walk. I tried everything to help my sciatica but nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t until I found yoga that I noticed a difference. I have been practicing Vinyasa Yoga 2-4 times per week for about 4 years now and my sciatica has not come back. Yoga has allowed my body to recover quickly from running, stay injury free, enabled me to run higher mileage, train harder, and most importantly train consistently.

There are many benefits of yoga for runners. Yoga improves flexibility, core strength, stability, mental toughness and focus.  My favorite type of yoga is Vinyasa Yoga. It is a fast-paced class, the room is usually heated (not hot), and focuses on stretching and strengthening your entire body. Because it is faster paced, it is another way to get in some extra cardio instead of pounding the pavement. Vinyasa Yoga is great to do after an easy run or as a cross training workout.

In yoga, poses are done on both the right and left side, this exposes areas that may be weaker and helps you to strengthen these areas to create a balanced body. Although I had sciatica on my left side only, after practicing yoga I noticed my right side was actually the side that was weak and tight. The balancing poses and deep stretching postures in yoga are what really helped me build strength and stay injury free.

Yoga helps you develop a strong core; there will be various ab exercises, plank poses, and you will engage your core in all of the standing and balancing postures. A strong core is the center of a yoga practice and is also one of the most important parts of being a healthy and strong runner. There are poses in class that can be very challenging. You learn to hold poses, breathe through postures that are uncomfortable, stay focused, and to push yourself. These are all important tools that can be applied to your running.  

From my experience, the minimum effective dose of yoga is 2 days per week in an hour Vinyasa class. My favorite time to practice yoga is after an easy run, this could be immediately after or later in the day. After a hard speed session or long run I prefer to do some gentle yoga poses at home (see below). There are some days where I don’t have a full hour or access to a yoga class so I will do 15-30 minutes on my own with poses depending on what my body is needing (see below). Developing an at home practice is a great option because it can be done at any time.

As someone who loves running, I used to struggle with making time for cross training workouts. I have now realized how important it is to build a strong body for running with other forms of exercise. What I love about yoga is that it’s so effective even if it’s only done a couple times a week and it doesn’t require a huge time commitment. With yoga you get your strength training, core work, stretching, and recovery all in one.

If you are interested in incorporating yoga into your running routine, the Mind Body App on your phone is a great resource. The app will show you locations, class schedules, and pricing for nearby studios. Here you can find the right studio that best suits your needs.

Below are some yoga poses and sequences I like to use. You can do them as I have listed or take a little from each section. Find what works best for you ????  

My Favorite Poses for Running

My favorite yoga poses that have been the most beneficial with my running are hip openers. These poses help hip flexors, glutes, and low back. I try to hold each of these poses for about a minute and take deep, slow breaths with equal inhales and exhales. I find it helpful to count to 5 for each inhale and exhale. These poses might feel a little uncomfortable, however, you should not feel any pinching, pulling, or pain.

  1. Yogi Squat
  2. Lizard
  3. Lizard with Quad Stretch
  4. Pigeon
  5. Cow Face
  6. Child’s Pose, here I like to walk my fingertips to the left and right to find a deeper stretch.

Vinyasa Flow

This can be used as a basic yoga practice to help you with strength, flexibility, and cardio. In this flow you will notice that your breath leads your movement. Focus on your inhales and exhales to get the most out of your practice.

  1. (inhale) Start in Down Dog.
  2. (exhale) step or hop between your hands to forward fold.
  3. (inhale) half lift to a flat back, either hands on floor or shins, neck is long.
  4. (exhale) forward fold.
  5. (inhale) sweep your arms up overhead as you stand.
  6. (exhale) bring your hands together, bend your knees, and fold forward.
  7. (inhale) lift to a flat back.
  8. (exhale) forward fold
  9. (inhale) plant your hands step or hop back to a plank, or modified plank on knees.
  10. (exhale) lower to Chaturanga, this can be done on your knees. Engage your core, keep your elbows in at your ribcage as you lower.
  11. (inhale) Upward Facing Dog.
  12. (exhale)Down Dog.

This can be a warmup for other sequences or done as its own workout. You can add variations to this flow to make it more challenging such as moving faster, hopping to the front and back, holding plank longer, and or adding chaturanga pushups. You can repeat this flow a few times or add it in with other stretches and poses depending on your needs.

Gentle Yoga

This can be done after speedwork and long runs. I like to hold each of these poses for 5-10 deep, long breaths.

  1. Start in Down Dog, bend one knee at a time to stretch your calves.
  2. Step your right leg forward between your hands and lower your back knee down for a low lunge. Keep your front knee stacked over your ankle.
  3. From low lunge you can keep your hands on the ground or bring them up to deepen the stretch.
  4. Straighten your right leg and press your hips back for half splits. Stay here or fold over your right leg to deepen the stretch.
  5. Come back to your low lunge.
  6. From low lunge, bend your left knee and reach back with your right hand to grab your foot for a quad stretch. If you cannot reach your foot use a towel to wrap around the foot and grab the towel.
  7. Release your left foot and come back to a low lunge.
  8. Walk your right foot to the left for pigeon pose.
  9. Come back to Down Dog and repeat on your left side. If you are looking for a little extra you can add in Vinyasa Flow between poses (see above).
  10. Once you have completed both sides, come back to your Down Dog. Walk your hands back towards your feet for a forward fold. Bend your knees as much as you need to find a nice stretch along your hamstrings. Here you can reach for opposite elbows and sway side to side, shake your head yes and no, and try to relax into this posture.
  11. From your forward fold, turn your toes out and sit down to yogi squat. Separate your feet as much as you need to get your feet flat on the floor. Bring your hands to your heart, sink your hips, use your elbows to press your thighs out and try to get your spine straight. This pose can be very uncomfortable depending on how tight your hips and low back are, take some big deep breaths in and out your nose. I find it helpful to inhale and imagine all the new space I am creating in my body, and exhale to release all the tension and tightness I am feeling.

Yoga for strength and core

This can be done in addition to the other sequences and or after any type of run. I like to add in core specific work at least twice a week.  

  1. Start in Down Dog or Child’s Pose if you will be staying on your knees.
  2. Shift forward to Plank and hold 5-10 breaths.
  3. 1-5 Chaturanga pushups, this can be done on your knees.
  4. Press back to Down Dog or Child’s Pose.
  5. Shift forward to Plank and hold 5-10 breaths.
  6. If you are in a full plank squeeze right knee to the center, right elbow, and left elbow 5 times. Repeat on left side.
  7. 1-5 Chaturanga pushups.
  8. Come back to plank and hold 5-10 breaths.
  9. Side plank, hold or lift your top leg 5 times. Switch to other side.
  10. 1-5 Chaturanga pushups.
  11. Come back to plank and hold 5-10 breaths.
  12. Come back to Down Dog.
  13. Step your right foot between your hands, lift to a Crescent Lunge. Right knee is bent, knee is stacked right over your ankle, and left leg is strong and straight. Straighten right leg and reach arms up. Bend back in to lunge and bend arms, 3-5 times. Repeat on left side.
  14. Down Dog or Child’s Pose to finish off.

Take breaks as you need, coming back to Down Dog or Child’s Pose. If you are wanting a little more of a challenge, hold the poses for longer and or add in more repetitions.

Yoga for Balance and Stability

I like to do this sequence after easy runs or on recovery days in place of a run.

  1. Start in Down Dog
  2. Warrior A, step right foot between hands, bend right knee, left leg is straight and left foot turned slightly out. Reach arms up overhead, hold for 5 breaths.
  3. Release hands behind your back and interlace fingers for a shoulder opener.
  4. Humble Warrior, fold forward with fingers interlaced, right shoulder should come inside the right knee and gently press the knee out to keep hips square, relax you head. Hold for 5 breaths.
  5. Lift back up, place hands down and come back to Down Dog, repeat on the left side.
  6. Down Dog.
  7. Crescent Lunge, step your right foot between your hands, keep your front knee bent and back leg straight.
  8. Sweep your chest to thigh, hold here, engage your core, lengthen through your neck and spine.
  9. Shift forward to Airplane. Balance on your right foot, lift your left leg, flex your left foot, reach your arms back, and keep your hips square.
  10. Lift your arms up over head as you bring your left knee to your chest, take one breath here.
  11. Take your left leg back for airplane. Repeat 3-6 times.
  12. Come back to Crescent Lunge. Plant your hands, come back to Down Dog, and repeat on the left side.
  13. Down Dog
  14. Step or hop your feet between your hands for a forward fold.
  15. Sweep your hands up over head and come to a standing position.
  16. Hug your right knee to your chest, you can hold your knee or reach for your big toe.
  17. Extend your leg or knee to the right, reach your left arm out and take your gaze to the left. Come back to the center and repeat on your left side.
  18. From standing, bring your right foot in for Tree Pose. Your right foot can be placed on your left ankle, calf, or inner thigh (the most important thing in this pose is to not place your foot on your knee). From here bring your hands together at your chest. For an extra challenge you can close your eyes; notice all those little muscles working and strengthening in your foot and ankle.

Happy Running & Namaste!


Team RunRun coach Annelie Stockton is a yoga instructor, a 3:10 marathoner, and a mother of two young kids, James and Mia