The Best Yoga Poses for Runners to Loosen Tight Hips and Hamstrings

When you're dealing with tight hips and cramping quads, nothing is more soothing than yoga for runners.

Yoga Poses for Runners
Getty Images.

Whether you're just adding running to your routine or you're a seasoned vet amping up your mileage, pounding the pavement can do a number on your muscles. Tight hips, sore quads, and cramping calves can all be uncomfortable side effects of regular running.

The secret to preventing sore muscles from running? A dedicated yoga routine, filled with poses and stretches specifically chosen to counteract the muscles runners rely on most. Here, learn more about yoga for runners and watch as Lindsay Monal, yoga teacher at YogaRenew Teacher Training, demonstrates the best yoga poses that runners of all skill levels can add to their routine.

Benefits of Yoga for Runners

Think of yoga for runners as a counterbalance to the forward and backward motion and high-impact nature of running, says Monal. "Yoga can help complement your running routine by improving flexibility, strength, and balance," she explains. "Practicing yoga can help reduce the risk of injury and improve recovery time between runs." That's because yoga incorporates both dynamic poses (that is, poses that involve actively moving) and passive poses (ones where you hold a certain position for an extended length of time). Dynamic poses are ideal for warming your body up before a run while passive poses help you stretch your muscles, which tighten up during exercise, and regulate your breathing after having an elevated heart rate.

Similarly, yoga helps build core strength, which is essential to runners. Think of it this way: Your core muscles are the foundation for every other part of your body, and having a weak core puts you at risk for developing injury, as Shape previously reported. Yoga increases your core stability, which in turn builds a stronger muscular base for your legs when running.

Finally, practicing yoga helps runners improve balance. "Running is, essentially, jumping from one leg to the other," Polly de Mille, C.S.C.S., a certified exercise physiologist and the clinical supervisor of the Tisch Sports Performance Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, previously told Shape. "So, if you aren't stable and have trouble just balancing on one leg, that is going to impact both how well you run and your risk of getting injured when you run." Certain yoga poses (think: tree pose or warrior III) help you build strength and improve balance by isolating one side of the body.

Best Tips for Yoga for Runners

If you're just adding yoga for runners to your routine, start slow, with one or two classes per week, advises Monal. Or, make yoga part of your warm-up or cool-down routine, she suggests. "By mixing [yoga] into a workout you already love, it’s more likely to stick."

And while any yoga flow will have its benefits for you, focus on lower-body muscles in order to really see running-related benefits. "Poses that focus on stretching the hips, hamstrings, and calves can be particularly beneficial for runners so keep that in mind when you’re looking up poses or searching for classes online," explains Monal.

Finally, yoga for runners is all about maintaining good form — not what you think you "should" look like. "Yoga is less about how a shape looks, and more about how it feels," says Monal. "If you don’t currently have the flexibility in your body for certain poses, don’t be discouraged." Instead, modify the pose or use props to achieve the desired stretch.

The 9 Best Yoga Poses for Runners

These yoga poses for runners focus mainly on strengthening and stretching the lower body, says Monal. Each of these poses will help support runners experiencing tightness in the hips, calves, and hamstrings.

How to add yoga for runners to your routine: Choose a few of these yoga poses to incorporate into your pre-run warm-up routine and/or your post-run cool-down. You can swap in different yoga poses depending on where you're feeling tightness. Throughout each pose, focus on controlled breathing and pair your exhale with going a little deeper into each pose.

Here, Monal demonstrates the best yoga poses for runners and explains why each asana (aka posture) supports runners.

01 of 09

Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

Why it works: Crescent lunge hits basically every major muscle group runners need to stretch, says Monal. With just one yoga pose, you'll stretch your hip flexors, chest, ankles, and quadriceps while strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps.

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with shoulders stacked over wrists and hips stacked over knees. Step right foot forward in between hands and align right knee over right ankle. Keep hands on the ground or on two blocks.

B. Once you feel stable, bring hands to top of right thigh or sweep both arms overhead, aligning biceps with ears and reaching toward the ceiling.

C. As you inhale, lengthen up through crown of head. As you exhale, allow hips to release further to deepen the stretch.

02 of 09

Runner's Stretch

Why it works: This particular yoga pose is ideal for stretching the hamstrings. Keep your hips square with each other, and avoid rounding your back to try and get further in the stretch. Add blocks under your hands for more stability or to bring the ground closer to you.

A. Start in a table-top position with shoulders stacked over wrists and hips stacked over knees.

B. Step the right foot out in front of you, in line with right hip, rooting down through right heel with toes pointing up. Keep hands flat on floor or blocks.

C. Straighten right leg as much as possible while flexing right toes back toward face.

D. Shift weight back into hips and breathe into hamstrings and calves. For a deeper stretch, begin to hinge forward from hips, folding torso over the extended right leg.

03 of 09

Wide-Leg Standing Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)

Why it works: Besides feeling amazing, the wide-legged forward fold releases tension in your lower back, which can build up after running.

A. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart (about 3 and a half to 5 feet apart) and arms at sides. How wide your stance is will depend on your flexibility.

B. Turn toes in slightly and engage core muscles to protect lower back.

C. Bring both hands to hips and slowly hinge forward to fold down toward the mat. Allow the fold to come from your hips – not your torso or lower back.

D. Stop when you feel a pull in hamstrings. Rest fingertips or hands on the ground, or use a block to bring the ground to you.

04 of 09

Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)

Why it works: Pyramid pose stretches both hamstrings, but the challenge comes from squaring up your hips so that your front hip isn't tilted toward the back hip. Engage your core to keep your hips aligned — and feel the stretch deepen as a result.

A. Stand at the top of the mat with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on hips. Step right foot back about 3 to 4 feet, with toes pointing forward. Right foot should be flat on the ground.

B. Rotate right foot toward the top right corner of the mat. Keep left foot pointed straight toward the front of the mat. Square hips and turn torso forward to the front short edge of the mat.

C. Keep spine long and with a flat back, begin to hinge at hips to bring torso forward over left leg. Depending on flexibility, left knee can bend or stay straight. Hands can reach toward the ground, resting on shin or ankle of left leg or on blocks.

05 of 09

Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)

Why it works: This yoga pose for runners is perfect if you've noticed tight groin muscles after a tough run, says Monal. Use a yoga strap to deepen the stretch (if you don't have one handy, a towel or a bathrobe belt works just as well).

A. Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent to 45-degree angles, feet flat a few inches in front of butt, and hands resting on stomach.

B. Draw right knee in toward chest, bringing right thigh snug against stomach. Keep left foot planted on the floor or extend left leg long for a deeper stretch.

C. With right hand, loop a yoga strap around sole of right foot or right big toe and start to lift and straighten right leg straight up toward the ceiling (right leg can remain slightly bent depending on flexibility). Keep shoulders pressed to the mat and collarbones broadened.

06 of 09

Supported Bridge Pose

Why it works: This pose gives your upper body a little TLC by stretching the chest and shoulders. Make it an active stretch by ditching the block under your lumbar spine and doing eight to 12 reps of hip lifts for part of your pre-run warm-up.

A. Lie faceup with arms by sides and palms face down on the mat. Bend knees and bring heels closer to sit bones with feet hip-width apart. Align knees with ankles.

B. Press into feet, engage core muscles, and begin to lift hips a few inches up toward the ceiling. Slide a block, bolster, or firm pillow under hips for support. Relax body onto prop.

C. Keep neck elongated with chin slightly tucked in toward chest. Lift chest toward the ceiling.

07 of 09

Supported Fish Pose

Why it works: "This pose is great to undo the rounding runners often get in the shoulders and to help open the chest to breathe better," says Monal. Consider it an essential part of your cool-down.

A. Bring one block to its tallest height setting at the top of the mat. Place a second block about 5 inches in front of it, on its medium height setting, perpendicular to the first block.

B. Lie down over the two blocks so that the tallest block supports head and the shorter block sits just below shoulder blades (about where a sports bra crosses the back).

C. Let both arms rest down beside body. For a deeper stretch, extend arms out wide to a “T” shape to further open the chest. Keep your feet flat on the floor, or start to extend the legs long if possible.

08 of 09

Seated Spinal Twist

Why it works: The spinal twist helps open up the shoulders and encourages rotation of the spine — a move that directly counteracts running, when the spine stays in one position for a long duration.

A. Start in a tall, comfortable, crossed-legged position on the mat. Draw shoulders down and back away from ears.

B. Lengthen up through crown of head. Turn torso to the left, placing left hand behind body and right hand onto the floor in front of body or on top of left knee.

C. With each inhale, feel spine growing taller; with each exhale, soften further into the posture.

09 of 09

Legs Up the Chair

Why it works: This yoga for runners pose is the ultimate in recovery. Doing this inversion helps improve your blood circulation after a run, which reduces inflammation and speeds up recovery. You can also put your legs up a wall to add a hamstring stretch to this pose.

A. Sit on a blanket, facing a chair, couch, or wall.

B. Swing both legs up onto the chair, or extend legs up the wall. Allow the back of pelvis to be supported by the blanket.

C. Slowly lower back to the floor so spine is flat, arms are resting at sides, and legs are supported by the chair or wall.

D. Hold this position for up to 5 minutes, breathing deeply.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles