On Combining Yoga and Running

More than a few times, I’ve been asked by fellow runners—or fellow yogis!—for advice about adding either yoga or running into their current training regimen. If you’re someone who currently just runs or just practices yoga, figuring out how to add a new activity into your current plan is understandably tricky. I think this is probably true for anyone who primarily trains in one sport but then attempts to include some crosstraining. Possibly the hardest part of all of this is realizing that you may need to do a little less of your primary activity—that this may have to change in frequency, duration, or intensity—when the secondary one becomes a new part of your schedule.

My yoga teacher once told me, half-jokingly and half-seriously, that “one cannot do too much yoga!” – to some extent, this is perfectly true. If you are truly practicing yoga, you are listening to your body and attuned to how your physical yoga practice necessarily fluctuates day by day, and works with everything else going on in your body and mind. Yoga is more than just asana (the physical practice) but includes how that physical movement is synced with the rest of your being—your mind and spirit, and in particular, your breathing. It may not be the greatest move to suddenly add a 75 min. heated power vinyasa to every morning, but if you listen to your body, it will clue you in to what it needs at that particular moment. Sometimes that moment asks just asks for a simple downdog or wheel pose or a triangle.

1.) Find what works for you.

I run on average 30 mi./week which is laughably low for someone running my times. (I have literally been laughed at by other elite runners; I have learned to tell them my weekly mileage only after the race so their doubt doesn’t rub off on me!) Most runners would probably think that I don’t run enough, but whatever I am doing is working right for me. Find what works for you, not for other people. Even in my marathon buildup, I hit 40 mi/week maybe twice. A target nearer to 50 miles might have been more ideal for the marathon, but the 30 average works GREAT for everything of half marathon length or shorter.  (Even if my job allowed it, I don’t know that I’d try for 50 if given the opportunity while training for another marathon—I know at the lower mileage that I’m more likely to stay injury-free and I bet I recover faster from racing the full distance too.) Within my 30 mile week, I try to do one or two longer runs (usually in the 50-70min. range) but the rest are all quite short at 20-40min. Save the times that you blast everything out of your legs for the races! (Again, that works for me -- do what works for you!)

2.) Combine yoga and running into one workout.

I’ve found it quite helpful to run to and from teaching yoga. This is efficient time-wise, provides a more varied workout all at once, and is a great way to include some relaxed mileage. Of course, the ease of doing this depends upon where you live in proximity to the yoga studio, but I’m sure there are ways to get creative with this if you’d like to test it out. Maybe run from a friend's house, from work, or run a longer route to the yoga studio but ride home with a friend? (And if you don't have an affordable yoga studio nearby, here is a shameless plug for the streamable do-anywhere RLY Video Series Bundle, which I designed with runners in mind: link here.)

3.) Mix up the intensity.

Sometimes I’ll do a race or slightly harder run and a more vigorous vinyasa on the same day, and then take the next day super easy. Other times I’ll do a harder run effort and easy yoga, and then the next day is an easy run and more challenging yoga. Find what works for you, but mix up your levels of intensity for both activities within the week. Use at least one day of the week for recovery. I tend to always take Wednesdays off from running since that’s what I did in college and I’ve kept a similar routine.

4.) Have a dedicated time (and possibly space) for yoga every day. Post-run stretching is a great place to start!

Especially when you’re just starting to include more yoga, even just a little bit will go a long way. Find a dedicated time for yoga. This does not necessarily mean you wake up at 6am for an hour long practice; this might even be that you insist upon stretching for 10-15min. after your run. Actually, post-run stretching is a great habit! You’re usually warmer from running so in that regard your muscles are more ready to stretch, and the immediate stretching after your workout speeds recovery. I’ve also found it very helpful to have a specific space for post-run yoga if at all possible—sometimes I even leave my yoga mat unrolled in my living room since this inevitably increases the amount of yoga I do. I walk by it and think of how I'd actually really like to stretch. Even if you don't feel like stretching (it DOES happen to me too!), you will likely find that you're enjoying yourself once you start and I know I always am glad of doing yoga afterwards.

No matter whether you’re a runner looking to include yoga or a yogi looking to run, adding your second activity into your routine may take a little bit of trial and error to get just right. Be patient with yourself and realize that you’ll reap the rewards when you do figure out your ideal individual balance. Yogis get more cardio and leg strength, and runners stay healthier, and get stronger overall! Running + yoga = a happy you.

Photos shot in the backroads of Pittsburgh, PA (more precisely, Cecil) by Phillip Robb.

Photos shot in the backroads of Pittsburgh, PA (more precisely, Cecil) by Phillip Robb.