Flexibility and Long-Distance Running
In recent years, many runners have changed the way they approach their sport. Instead of taking traditional approaches popularized by coaches in the 1970s and 1980s, many runners have been finding success by taking something of a cross-training approach. By utilizing tools including yoga, many athletes are finding that they’re achieving personal bests.
One prominent example of this is Ann Mazur, founder of Runners Love Yoga. In a TEDx talk, she describes how her improved flexibility helped take her running to the next level. She also notes the similarity between the meditative aspects of yoga and the focus required to run competitively. Mazur, a former NCAA distance runner for Notre Dame, talks about how her focus on flexibility has not always been well-received. A revered coach with almost four decades of experience dismissed her interest in stretching with the comment, “Racehorses don’t stretch!”
This old-school conventional wisdom has changed drastically over the last several years. Many sports, including youth soccer, have adopted strategies like the 11Plus warm-up to prevent injury. Trends in running have been similar. Online, you can find advice about warming up with dynamic movements like leg swings. Experts are also advising that it’s beneficial to stop during long distances and repeat some of these exercises to relieve tightness.
In the world of controlled studies, there’s not much evidence to show that yoga improves cardio. At least, not yet. But it does have demonstrated anti-inflamatory effects. Research also shows that yoga affects oxygen use and metabolism. Author Christine Felstead notes that yoga teaches people how to align their knees properly to avoid injury. She also identifies poses that strengthen the feet, including the arches. These are often problem areas for runners. With further study, it’s possible that other concrete benefits will be uncovered.
As time goes on, it will be interesting to see how cross-training, instead of the focus on mileage common in training for long distances, affects outcomes. Some commentators have noted that in spite of technological advances and increased funding, marathon times today are in often worse than in the past. With the use of strategies like yoga and dynamic stretching as preventive and rehabilitative measures, perhaps times will start to go down again.