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Coach’s Corner: Yoga For Runners, Q&A With A Yogi

Posted Feb 14 2011 10:49am

Yoga is such an important part of running and training. Below is my interview with yogi Gretchen Robinson, owner/director of Mark Blanchard’s Power Yoga in Overland Park, KS.

Gretchen Robinson is a former body builder, runner, biker, and rower, and has been involved in health and fitness for over 25 years. She has been teaching yoga for 10 years and has trained with people from all over the world. She has a unique understanding of how the body works and the alignment of the body. She works with a wide range of people and especially loves working with athletes.

Q1- Coach Jerry: How did you first get into yoga? Tell us a little about your current studio.

Gretchen: I was running, biking, and rowing on a rowing team and always thought it was important to stretch. When a yoga class became available at a gym where I was working out, I decided to try it. The stretching, cardio work, and lifting my own body weight over and over was like nothing I had ever done before. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and the most amazing thing I had ever done. I was so lucky to have a teacher who had practiced yoga for 30 years and I was hooked from the first class!

At our studio, Mark Blanchard’s Power Yoga, everyone is encouraged to work at a place that is right for them, to listen to their bodies, not to do anything that hurts but to embrace what is challenging because that is where imbalances are. In class, you are moving, breathing, stretching, and working on building strength, inside and out, including the core, throughout the class. We always say you are not truly strong until you are flexible and you are not truly flexible until you are strong and the breath is an incredible way of building core strength.

Q2- Coach Jerry: What benefits should runners expect from yoga as it relates to training and racing?

Gretchen: Most runners are incredibly tight which causes injury and slows down their running. The legs can’t move freely when one is so tight and too much energy is expended in just trying to move the legs. In runners, the hips and hamstrings are typically quite tight and the femurs (thigh bones) are often hanging out of the sockets. There is usually quite an imbalance in strength and flexibility between the hamstrings and the quadriceps. All of this causes a lot of strain on the lower back. A lot of runners run with an incredible amount of tension in the shoulders which inhibits the breath. The focus on breath is huge in yoga and increases the cardio capacity immensely. As I mentioned before, it helps to strengthen the core, it relaxes the physical body and the mind. It also oxygenates the blood which helps the muscles and the joints. Believe it or not, most runners are pretty shallow breathers.

Yoga also works a lot on strengthening and stretching the feet and ankles. The feet have a tremendous amount of muscles, ligaments, and tendons in them and when they are tight, that causes problems all the way up as they are your foundation. Everything is connected. Yoga brings balance back into the body that running takes away and when there is balance, the body is stronger and moves more freely. The stride becomes longer, you expend less energy into moving the body so that energy can be focused into running faster. It improves your performance!!! By the way, knee and back issues rarely come from the knees and back but are generated from tight hips which running causes. This is also true for swimming and biking which I know a lot of runners do as well.

In addition to all of that, the focus and concentration learned through yoga is so important to your performance. We all know the mind plays a huge part in a performance. I know someone who ran the ultra marathon, (100 miles), 5 times and the only time he completed it was when he added yoga to his training. Yoga can help keep you healthy in your body, stay injury free, improve your performance, and allow you to keep running.

Q3- Coach Jerry: How many times per week should a runner practice yoga to supplement workouts and training runs?

Gretchen: Yoga is meant to be done everyday and runners should do some of it everyday. A full practice should be done two to three times per week or whenever it fits into their schedule. There are some key stretches that should be done everyday after running which takes about 10 minutes. Taking a few minutes to just relax after running will also help the body. Otherwise, the body keeps the tension in and that in turn, creates more tightness.

Q4- Coach Jerry: If someone can’t get to a yoga studio, are there any good options or routines that could be accomplished at home?

Gretchen: Absolutely. There are tons of yoga DVDs available. My partner has a great one out, True Power Yoga. I do think it is important to take some classes from a good teacher so you don’t start with bad habits. Private sessions are always available and an individual routine could be created to take home.

Q5- Coach Jerry: What type of yoga is best for runners as there seem to be so many?

Gretchen: Yoga is yoga is yoga. The postures are the same no matter what type of class. How one teaches it can vary, even by types. At our studio, we teach a vinyasa style yoga which is postures linked by a flowing sequence of postures. I personally like this style because I feel like it provides such a great balance of strength, endurance, and flexibility with a strong emphasis on the breath. A good class should include all of that. Yoga is an individual practice…like running.

How often do you practice yoga? Have you found yoga to be an effective way to calm your nerves and relax?  What running benefits, specifically, have you seen from yoga?

- Coach Jerry

(Coach Jerry has competed as an elite runner at virtually every distance over the past 20 years. He has PR’s of 2:35 marathon, 29:50 10k, 14:09 5k, 4:13 mile and 1:09 half marathon. He has also completed multiple Triathlon’s and conquered the Ironman. Jerry has coached at the High School level and coached Carnegie Mellon’s track and cross country team.)

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