5 Reasons Why Every Runner Should Do Yoga

I just go back from running this afternoon in a very humid Central Park and I am beat! I did a one mile warm-up, 4 Yasso 800s (3:30, 3:34, 3:32, 3:30–so, according to Mr. Bart Yasso, I can run Philly in about 3:32. I’m gonna hold you to that, Bart!) and ran two and a half miles home to my apartment. Between that, my long run on Sunday and studying, I think I’ve had about enough for the day.

Hold up. Not so fast.

Oh yeah, I need to get my yoga on before the day is out. My body is truly asking for it. My hip is achey, my hamstrings are undoubtedly tight (sprints do that to you) and I’m sure that my back could always use a bind or two. Yoga has truly saved my running life!

Here’s the skinny on why I do yoga and why every runner (AND NON-RUNNER!) should invest his/herself in a yoga practice:

1. It will make you more limber. More limber=longer, lighter strides. Active stretching is the most effective way to increase and maintain length in muscle fibers. Those 5 minutes you spend stretching when you get home are nothing compared to 45 minutes of active stretching in a vinyasa yoga class.

2. It will help prevent overuse injuries that happen because of muscle/tendon tightness (which eventually lead to inflammation, ie. tendonitis). When we run, everything tightens up to prevent our joints from wobbling about. And that’s a good thing. But, we need to combat that tightness with stretching to avoid a nasty bout of tendonitis or shin splints.

3. It opens up your hips. The hips bear the brunt of every step we take and so our glutes and rotators end up being super-tight as a result, which leads to problems with piriformis, gluteus medius and a whole host of lower back issues. Oh yeah, you know all the talk about ITB syndrome? Yoga helps with that, too. You’re starting to think this is a good idea now, aren’t you???? Keep reading…

4. It will make you stronger mentally. As runners, we pride ourselves in being able to power through long miles with mental toughness. Ever tried to hold a bind in your side angle position while your hip flexor and quad are burning and tell yourself, “I can do this” when you feel like you’re going to fall over? Yeah, that’s hard, too. They compliment each other nicely that way.

5. It will make you stronger physically. Cross training is a vital part of every athlete’s preparation. Yoga hits the upper body, lower body and core all in one. It’s a one-stop shop for your total body workout and all you need is a mat!

There are free yoga classes everywhere you look. Studios that train people to become yoga instructors often have “community classes” that are either free or donation-based where their students practice teaching (under supervision, of course). Every lululemon store offers at least one free yoga class every single week at the store. Lots of community centers offer free or low-cost yoga for yogis of all levels and the teachers are more than happy to help a beginner through the class.

Why, just the other day, Ms. Tampa was telling me she visited my most favorite yogi guru, Rodney Yee whom she felt gave her such amazing special attention because she told it was her first time at his studio. See? Just speak up and help is on the way!

Yoga has changed the way that I run. I have to tell you, as awesome as I feel after a great run, I feel just as amazing after a tough (and/or fulfilling) yoga class. It has taught me to breathe through things and to test my limits. I’m grateful for having found it when I was in college and rediscovered it here in NYC. Truly, it’s a gift you give yourself.

Ok, I’m off to do my yoga. You? Go out and run!

But first, tell me: What cross-training activity/sport changed your life or your running life?

Exercises To Do This Week

Some people are of the mind that they have to be in a gym to work out. I am not one of those people. Sure, a gym is great for so many exercises, but it’s not always a requirement. Sometimes all you need is a Thera-band and the will power to get it done.

Side Lunge

Side lunges are great for your glutes, hip rotators and quadriceps. It’s a dynamic exercise that is sure to strengthen those muscle groups that can help protect your knees and propel your forward with more power when you stride. For you women out there, lateral rotators are important to strengthen because women have a more severe Q-angle (the angle from your hips to your knees), which can lead to more ITB and meniscus issues as we become active and older. *sigh* Isn’t so much fun being a girl?

           

Stand with your feet together, lean forward and lunge to the side. Immediately push back to standing, maintaing parallel feet at all times. Do 15-20 reps each leg, 3 sets. Be sure of three things:

1. Lean forward with your chest, but back with your rear end

2. Keep your standing leg straight but bend no further than 90º on the moving leg.

3. Keep your knee from shooting out in front of your toes to keep your knee safe.

Standing Reverse Fly

By using a Thera-band (or the like) for this exercise, you are guaranteeing resistance in both directions of the exercise, which requires more control and is harder to do. Because it’s harder you don’t need lots of weight to make it difficult. If you’re still feeling like it’s a liiiiiittle too easy, you can lift one foot and add the challenge of balancing to the exercise. This will give you those sexy back muscles. It’s excellent for the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, shoulders and core muscles.

           

Stand (on one foot or two) with your arms straight, holding either end of the band. Stretch your arms wide without bending them and squeeze your shoulder blades toward your spine. Slowly release your arms until they’re straight out in front of you again but do not let the band go slack. Maintain resistance at all times and keep your shoulders down away from your ears. You can do this with your arms bent but whichever way you do it, don’t bend your arms further as you reach back.

So there you go! An awesome leg sculptor and an upper body exercise that makes for seriously strong (and sculpted!) upper back and shoulder muscles. And you didn’t even have to go to the gym. Who knew?

Now go out and run!

I’m A Newbie Runner: Strength Training (I’m Back!)

Wow! It’s been quite a weekend for me. Thanks for being so cool about my taking some time off to study, everybody. Also, welcome to the readers brought over from Ali On the Run! I hope you get something out of my humble little blog (I’ll explain this at the end).

Now let’s get down to business.

Runners are well-known haters of the gym. I get it. It’s super boring to be indoors on a beautiful day, repeating the same exercise over and over and over again. Plus, you just don’t get that “runner’s high” from lifting. Boo-hoo. You have to do it! (or start doing it now!!!)

Image courtesy of afitnessequipment.com

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Want to know why? Because it will make you stronger, faster and help prevent injuries. It also helps to lean you out and keep your weight in check. And all the pro’s do it. Kara Goucher: “I do a lot of weight lifting”, Paula Radcliffe does “an hour-long session of core strength exercises” during her 8-day training cycle, and Ryan Hall blogged about his own weight lifting routine. These world-class runners must be getting something right, don’t you think?

How much strength training should you be doing?

-Strength train 1 time for every 2 cardio workouts. That means if you are running/cycling/spinning/walking 4 times a week, you need to have 2 strength training workouts every week (about 30-45 mintues each) AND IT MUST INCLUDE A LEG WORKOUT (don’t be a wimp).

  

-Strength training can be a boot camp class, a muscle sculpt class, yoga (vinyasa or ashtanga), classic weight-lifting, plyometrics, pilates (reformer or cadillac) or any other form of activity where you perform anaerobic movements that max out the strength and stability of your muscles, ligaments and tendons of both your upper and lower body.

Most gyms offer at least one personal training session with a membership, so ask for a trainer who works with runners. Better yet, get with a trainer you know works specifically with runners to build a plan you can follow. Also, check out the my favorite exercises for all your strength-training needs.

When should you do your strength training?

-If you are doing it on a day when you are also running, run first. Your form might suffer after being fatigued if you’ve just finished a leg workout and having tired legs is no way to achieve a great tempo run. Doubling them up is A-ok, but think “run first!” I’m a big run-to-yoga-class girl.

I do yoga outside sometimes with 600 of my closest friends

-If it’s an off day for running, you can do it whenever. Just make sure you’re still taking rest days to recover from all the amazing training you are doing (at least one a week).
Contrary to wishful thinking popular belief, running doesn’t strengthen your legs, lifting does. I will not go into all the mechanics of it, but just trust me on this. If you don’t strength train (sometimes called cross-training), you will never reach your full potential as a runner.

Ready for my tangent? A weird thing happened here while I was away: my little blog was read by a whole lotta people! Here’s the story.

My favorite running store here in NYC, JackRabbit Sports is having a competition between 6 contestants to see who can raise the most money for their respective charities while training for the Hamptons Marathon in September. Cool, right? It’s called Run For the Rabbit. Given my history of running marathons for Fisher House Foundation, I initially considered entering myself, but I figured that with two summer school courses, the GRE’s, work, several baby showers, Fall marathon training and my recent hideous performance at the Jersey Shore Marathon during a colitis flare-up, I’d best not add anything else to my plate this summer. It was kismet that JackRabbit chose to follow Ali on her journey to the Hamptons Marathon because Ali has Chron’s disease, the sister to colitis, and she’s running to raise money for the Chron’s and Colitis Foundation of America. She’s running for me, too! So, being the crazy cheerleader I am, I “liked” her Facebook page, donated to the foundation via her Run For the Rabbit page (you should, too!) and started following her very entertaining blog. I couldn’t help myself.

On Friday night, JB and I took a walk uptown to 16 Handles to get a little fro-yo treat and ran into Ali (I actually run into old college friends and my extended family all the time–I ♥ NY). Eeeek! I was a total geek and definitely overshared, but it was soooo great to finally meet another person with IBD who is young, fabulous and a runner! I wanted to hug Ali (I did) and cry (I did not) because she’s running for all of us out there who have IBD and that is amazing to me. I totally fangirled her and, apparently, didn’t scare her away too much because she blogged about our meeting and then my little site exploded. Ali is popular. I am new 🙂 Thanks for the shout-out!

So fun!

Now go out and run! (unless you are Ali…didn’t we talk about rest days?)

The Perfect Squat

The Squat is one of the most effective, beneficial exercises one can have in his/her workout regimen. It is also the exercise that I see done horribly wrong by about 80% of the people in gyms (including trainers). I cringe with horror when I watch someone force their bodies lower and into more compromising positions just because some stupid trainer is saying, “Squat down lower! LOWER!” I want to physically hurt the trainer and advise the client to run for the hills.

Here is the fool-proof way to perform an awesome, safe Squat. Check out these moves:

1. Start by standing up straight with your feet just a little bit wider than your hips.

Feet slightly wider than your hips, chest up

2.Lean back into your heels and push your butt behind you like you’re aiming to sit down in a chair.

Reach your butt back behind you to balance your weight and protect your knees

3. Lean forward with your arms outstretched to counterbalance the weight of your behind and slowly bend your knees while maintaining a strong arch in your lower back. (Think of aiming your belly button to between your thighs)

Always, always maintain a good, strong arch in your lower back

4. With the weight in your heels and your chest tall, lower your butt until you reach the point where your back almost starts to round and you lose your arch or until your can bend your knees no further.

How low you go is not important, but having the perfect form IS!

5. Keep your chest tall, push into your heels and stand straight up.

Things to watch out for are these:

1. Heels coming off the ground 2. Knees in front of the toes

1. Rounded lower back 2. Chest facing the ground

Keep these tips in mind when you’re thinking of adding some awesome squats into your already rockin’ workout routine and you’ll work that gluteus maximus right. Do them slowly and into the mirror. You gain nothing by rushing through them, adding a jump prematurely or throwing a bunch of weight around on a bar. You do not have to go below your knees to engage your glutes. Whomever told you that has never studied Anatomy. Remember, Bad squats = Bad knees.

To review:

-Feet: hips width or slightly wider

-Toes: pointed forward or slightly outward if you are bow-legged

-Back: slightly arched

-Chest: pointed toward the mirror and high

-Chin: up

-Gaze: forward

-Butt: back

-Arms: forward

Master the Squat and you will have a stronger back kick in your stride. It’s a beautiful day outside, people. Now go out and run!!!

Sidebar:

Guys, Pippa Middleton wears lululemon Groovy Run Shorts. Me, too!

Exercises To Do This Week

We runners have a problem: our buns. Yes, those two sacks below your back. They get no love from most runners because of fear. Fear of bulky legs, fear of tired legs, fear of I don’t know what else, but FEAR! Here’s the skinny: Strong glutes = strong runner. It’s science. Here are two awesome exercises for your gluteus maximus (and a little bit of love for those hip rotators) modeled by the fabulous Ms. Tampa.

1. Second position Grand Plié:

Feet are wider than your hips with your toes turned slightly outward, about 45 º. Hold a 8-15 pound weight with both hands and tuck your hips underneath so you don’t have a severe arch in your back. Squeeze your cheeks together and straighten your legs completely.

 

Lean ever so slightly forward while you bend your knees and lower your butt toward the ground. Be careful to also press your knees outward as you do this so as to prevent them from collapsing inward. This will determine how low you can go. Never sacrifice form for depth!

Do 3 sets, 20-25 repetitions each if you have a light weight, 12-15 if you have a heavier weight.

 

2. Stand up/Sit down (FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!)

Hold a weight or a ball at your chest and sit at the edge of a bench with your knees at a 90° angle. Be sure to sit up straight and tall every time you sit down and come to a fully seated position (not leaning forward).

 

 

Lean forward, stand up, straighten your knees all the way and press that ball up above your head. Bring it back to your chest, lean forward and sit back down.

3 sets, 20-25 repetitions each (make sure your weight is light enough for you to complete this many repetitions)

 

 

 

And we can’t forget about your upper body now, can we? Here is my favorite version of a bent-over row. It rocks the balance, posture and strength that every one of us needs in world where we hunch over our computers all day long.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Balancing Bent-Over Rows:

Balance on one leg with the other as high as you can get it in the air (preferably at hip-height). Keep your chest pushing toward the mirror and place a weight in the hand opposite to the foot on which you are standing. Draw your shoulder back and bend your elbow until you reach the full range of your motion (trying to touch your shoulder blade to your spine). Release the weight down. Switch sides.

3 sets, 12-15 reps with a moderately heavy weight.

Phew! Now that you’ve got three new exercises to add to your already fabulous cross-training routine, it’s time for a run. Round of applause for Ms. Tampa who is headed for another kickin’ workout tonight!

Now go out and run!