In the year or so I've been running, my legs must have got longer because when I go to touch my toes, they definitely seem further away; they're definitely harder to reach. And the more I run, the longer my legs apparently get. As I do more and more running, I'm worried that one day I won't be able to reach and pick out the sock fluff from between my toes, so perhaps I should take some time out to stretch.
I went to the ultra cool 1948 London, where yoga pro Sylvia took us through a two hour class of yoga for runners, to lengthen those tight muscles and help us reach our toes again. We went through an hour of flow that warmed us up for an hour of 'play' where we practiced various head stands and combinations of crow pose (alternated with my own special pose the forehead stand when I toppled over).
With quite quick and challenging flow sequences, the class certainly kept us runners engaged. But just in case - as there was no pace-keeping GPS device to keep an eye on during this activity - we were treated to a digital display of a different kind whilst we yoga-ed. To celebrate the launch of the Nike Free Hyperfeel, Universal Everything created a 3D interactive installation, where our movement was translated into colourful threads knitted together on screen to mirror our movements.
After our interactive class, I asked Sylvia more about yoga for runners...
Why is it important to stretch before you run?
It's important to get the body ready for any physical activity before you begin. Stretching is a really good way of increasing the blood flow around the muscles as well as mobility. Running in particular, being a high impact sport, can be quite hard on the body so preparing before and recovering after will greatly help with any muscle repair and prevent injury.
As a runner, what are the areas that need the most attention?
Everyone is unique and should treat their body according to what suits them best. As a general rule runners tend to store a lot of tension in the hips as the psoas muscle, the hip flexor, is used. This is one of the first areas I work with when I'm training athletes who are running marathons and once you start to open into the hips you can get them to work on the other muscles in the legs which include the hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles. Again, where each runner feels they store tension and the impact of a run is unique to them so a stretching programme for one runner may not be exactly right for another. By trial and error you get to feel how each stretch helps the body and from there you can devise your pre and post run stretches that best suit you.
Which poses are most useful for runners?
There are so many poses that are beneficial to runners and again it's a very personal thing. I would say that a pre and post run stretch should definitely have more than 5 poses and should begin with a few rounds of sun salutations to get the body ready to stretch. Once warm, the warrior poses are a great way to get a stretch as well as building stamina. Another great standing post is Natarajasana, dancer's pose, as this really works the strength of the standing leg and the flexibility of the lifted one in particular, offering a deep stretch through the psoas and quadriceps. Standing forward bend, Uttanasana, is great for getting into the hamstrings and can be done with a bend of the knees if the flexibility is not quite there yet to allow doing it with straight legs. On the floor, Paschimottanasana is great for again stretching the backs of the legs. Lastly pigeon pose is a wonderful deep stretch the gets into the IT (illio-tibial) band using an external rotation of the front leg and offering a deep stretch into the front of the back leg.
Can you use the same stretches for post running as for pre running?
Again it's really a personal thing here and it depends on how the body is feeling. There is noting to say that the same stretches couldn't be used but I would recommend a more dynamic style of stretching before such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Jivamukti and finishing with something slower, a more restorative practise or a yin yoga practise.
How long should you spend stretching before and after running?
I would recommend an absolute minimum of 15 minutes before and twice that after a run, more if time permits. Ideally a full yoga practise designed for running would be the ideal way to start! Another aspect of the yoga practise which is invaluable to runners is the breathing side of it. Pranayama, breathing exercises are a wonderful way to get the most out of the cardio vascular system and, like stretching, should be done both before and after a run.
For more brilliant advice to see where she's teaching next, check out Sylvia's website.