To quote from an excellent ‘old-school’ running book published in 1983 (during the boom days of running in the modern western world), “the two most important types of supplementary training, for a runner, are flexibility exercises and strength exercises” (Focus on the Marathon, by Humphreys & Holman, with a Foreword by the legend Ron Hill). Let’s call them H&H.
H&H discuss the need for flexibility for runners to develop efficiency and “maintain a relaxed body posture”. H&H recommend slow stretching exercises because the amount of energy used is lower and will not cause muscle soreness. The authors discuss further the need for a warm up before stretching, and the benefits of a regular flexibility program, one that progresses slowly but surely to increase flexibility. Personally these ideas resonate as a runner and yogi so I turn the page and read on.
The next two pages in the book dedicated to stretching exercises are very interesting. The images look vaguely familiar and I realise it is because many of them resemble yoga asanas, or poses. There are a couple of exercises that as a runner, I think, yes that would work, but the yogi in me thinks, no don’t do it! To explain, the model in a couple of the diagrams has a hunched back and looks like he is grimacing as he attempts to reach his foot in a leg stretch. Granted, the book was published in 1983, and since then many tomes have been written regarding running and stretching techniques and different practices.
Yoga can also inform a runner’s basic stretching routine. A few basic suggestions from yoga to help increase flexibility include:
1. Bending from the hips, keeping the back flat (like a table top) in any stretch.
2. Extending a stretch only to where you are personally comfortable – your own limit.
3. Opening the shoulders (to prevent hunching) and correcting posture with an inhale.
4. Extending a stretch further with an exhale, relaxing deeply into the posture.
5. Keeping the face ‘soft’ and relaxed during stretching exercises – smile ☺
If you’re a runner who usually has a quick stretch-out immediately before or after a run, have a go next time at including a few yoga-techniques… You might find those hamstrings respond a little better.