Photo: Shutterstock / Somkiat Boonsing
Up until a few years ago, you likely wouldn't have found many runners in barre or yoga classes.
"It seemed as if yoga and barre were really taboo amongst runners," says Amanda Nurse, an elite runner, run coach, and yoga instructor based in Boston. Runners often felt like they weren't flexible enough for yoga, and barre seemed to be a trendy boutique studio class that would come and go, she says.
Today? YouTube sensations have helped to make "yoga for runners" a highly searched thing. Run-specific classes have made the practice more approachable to non-experts, keeping many runners injury-free and mentally and physically strong. And studios like barre3 have synced their online workouts with the app Strava, a popular run-tracking platform.
"Some of our most enthusiastic clients are runners who have improved their time but have also worked through physical pain and injury that was limiting their ability to find the joy that brought them to run in the first place," says Sadie Lincoln, co-founder and CEO of barre3. "Our runners come to barre3 to cross-train, rehab injury, and also to develop mental strength and focus." Many of the company's master trainers and instructors are runners themselves, she adds.
Of course, not *every* barre and yoga class is created equal, so if you're looking to change up your non-run days, try to find a studio that offers yoga geared toward runners (or something of the like). Not only will you be surrounded by like-minded people (read: not a studio full of expert yogis doing advanced poses), but these classes usually target specific muscles that need to be stretched or opened (you know, the hips and the hamstrings), says Nurse. "More restorative or stretching-focused yoga also works as a great alternative to strength training or an off day."
The good news is that with online workouts (ex: The Cross-Training Barre Workout All Runners Need to Stay Strong) and IRL studios, you have more options now than ever to find a class that works for you. Once you find something you like, try to make it habit for a month so you can "click" with the workout and start to see some of the rewards below.
Strengthen Muscles Crucial for Running
Runners are a group that can be guilty of doing little more than, well, running. But both yoga and barre offer some physical perks that pay off down the road.
For one: "Barre classes are centered around the core," says Becca Lucas, owner of Barre & Anchor, a barre studio in Weston, MA. "You work your abs from the very beginning of class to the very end."
This is key as a stronger core is arguably the most important muscle groups for strong running, notes Nurse. Take a study published in the Journal of Biomechanics, which found that deep core muscles work to more evenly distribute the load of a run, likely allowing for better performance and endurance. Yoga—full of core-focused moves (boat pose, warrior III, and planks)—is full of ab-focused exercises, as well.
Balancing poses can also help strengthen small, yet important muscles in the ankles, legs, and core that runners need to move fast and efficiently, explains Nurse. And while you might not think of running as a single-leg sport, in many ways, it is. You land on one foot at a time. Working through one-legged exercises can help train the body for those movements on the road.
More generally, though, yoga with its bodyweight component and barre by way of the lightweight dumbbells you use in class can both serve as a strength-training for many runners.
Prevent Running Injuries
A focus on stretching (something you probably often skip!) works to improve flexibility, prevent injury, and promote recovery, notes Lucas. "Many runners come to us with similar muscle imbalances that we help them work through," adds Lincoln. "We help them open up their hip flexors and chest, and strengthen their core, glutes, and hamstrings for improved posture and alignment." (Not sure where to start? Aim to do these 9 running stretches you should do after every single run.)
As both yoga and barre are low-impact, they also give runners' joints a much-needed break, explains Lucas.
Yet, while a focus on preventing injuries is hugely important, Lincoln adds that these kinds of studio classes offer up another important benefit. "Equally important for runners is having an inspiring place to work out when they do have an injury."
Since both workouts are easily modifiable, you can still get a good workout in if you have a tweak that's keeping you from your usual mileage. "It's something that's well-received by the high-performing running community," says Lincoln.
Build Mental Strength
"As a marathon runner, it's really important to be mentally strong during a race. When the body starts to hurt, you need to be able to utilize breathing techniques or mantras to get you through," says Nurse. (Related: How Olympic Medalist Deena Kastor Trains for Her Mental Game)
And while yoga's mental benefits seem pretty obvious (read: a chance to finally relax in Savasana where you're encouraged to do little more than chill out and breathe), barre pushes you mentally out of your comfort zone, says Lucas. "Classes are uncomfortable from the beginning until the very end, which can be similar to a run. Your body benefits physically from the exercises, but you benefit mentally as well." A focus on form and breathing helps you connect inward, too.