Yoga Before Or After Running? (What is the difference)


In this article, I will explain the difference between doing yoga before or after running. Also, I will help you to clarify is it better to run or do yoga first?

As a general rule, it is better to run first and do yoga after because it will lead to better performance and improved recovery. The lower performance is caused by relaxation of the muscle, which leads to lower muscle-tendon stiffness and lower strength.

But there is more to understand about this question and other factors need to be taken into consideration like duration of the yoga, type of stretching, and personal goals. In addition to seeing the pros and cons below, please read the section on how exactly to use stretching for running.

Yoga And Running On The Same Day

What I like about doing yoga and running on the same day is they both complete each other. Running helps me to get my heart rate up and challenges my cardiorespiratory fitness. On the other hand, yoga is a perfect way to unplug and down-regulate.

Is it OK to run and do yoga on the same day? It is ok to run and do yoga on the same day because stretching facilitates better recovery, helps to reduce muscle soreness, and prevents injury. Combining yoga and running also reclaim the range of motion and mobility by fixing biomechanical restrictions.

What is the biomechanical restriction?

The biomechanical restriction is basically a limitation in the range of motion that can be caused by muscle stiffness, tendon stiffness, or incomplete joint range of motion. It’s done by postural adaptation, which is the body’s own way to adjusts to the position that we spend the most time in.

In other words, it’s a way for your body to adopt a posture that you “stuck” in for several hours (e.g. sitting). The longer the muscle is stuck within one position, the length-tension relationship remains the same as well. Over time, that’s gonna reinforce a pattern that becomes a habit.

The problem is that muscles don’t just miraculously reclaim their optimal range of motion. If you don’t do anything about it, the stiff muscle will remain stiff. Of course, that gonna influence the rest of your gait while you’re running.

Why are my legs so tight after running?

Your legs are so tight after running because during running each strike produces a force that is equal to 2 – 4 times your bodyweight. On average, a runner takes 800 – 1000 strides per one mile, so after running 5 miles distance your muscles have to absorb 5000 strides with quadruple force.

Here is the examples what happens with the lower leg pressure after 10km run for an average runner:

  • The average time that takes to complete a 10 km run is about 50 minutes.
  • The average cadence, which is the number of steps that a runner strike on the ground is 150 per minute.
  • The total amount of steps it takes for an average runner to complete the whole 10 km run will be around 7500, which is calculated by multiplying cadence (150 steps per minute) times time (50 minutes).
  • Going one step further, 7500 steps during the 10km run will be around 3750 steps per leg. According to Dr. Mohamadreza Kharazi from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, an Achilles load during running is equal to 4500N (newton) per step (source).
  • Going further, by multiplying 4500N times 3750 steps per leg will give us a total Achilles load of 16.875.000N (4500N per step x 3750 steps)
  • That is 1.68 million kilograms per leg

The data above was presented by Dr. Seth O’Neill, an Associate Professor at the University of Leicester and expert of Achilles Tendinopathy at the Barca Sports Medicine Conference in October 2018.

As Dr. Seth O’Neill mentioned:

“The good news is that our plantar flexors shock absorb all of this load.

The bad news is that it doesn’t take long until that amount of load generates muscle tension and transition it to the gastrocnemius-soleus complex.”

I’ve used this example to illustrate how much pressure our muscles and tendons are exposed to while running.

As you can imagine, running with high frequency, without spending enough time to restore full range of motion leads to restriction in the ankle, muscle tension, and eventually slight compensation. That’s when the body changes the gait pattern to fit into the current biomechanical range (source).

What Happens If You Never Stretch?

In general, if you never stretch, your muscles become tight, and they adapt to the position that we spend the most time in. Stretching and yoga help to remove that muscle tension restriction opens up the normal length of the muscle and allows for a full range of motion.

As I’ve mention earlier, body likes to adapt to the position that we spend the most time in. For example, if you:

  • sit behind the desk for 6-10 hours everyday
  • walk with your feet pointing outside
  • roll your shoulder forward
  • have over pronation of the feet

Than will become your default position. Which means your running will look look that, too.

Can yoga help with running? In general, yoga help with running because it stretches the muscles, removes stiffness, and helps to balance the tension caused by repetitive use of the same muscles. Regular practice of yoga also helps to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.

Do Professional Runners Do Yoga?

Professional runners do yoga. Some of the most well-known are American track and field athlete Tianna Bartoletta, the Jamaican world record holder and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt, prolong jumper Jazmin Sawyers, and middle-distance runner Charlie Grice.

In fact, if you spend some time on YouTube, you can stumble upon Tianna Bartoletta YouTube channel, where she shares who important is stretching and yoga for her.

In the video from June 14, 2019 called “Yoga, Stretching, and Training Ask Tb! Live” she said:

“I absolutely do love yoga.

For me, yoga is not about stretching, but more of a spiritual practice.

The goal is to generate the connection between mind and the body”

The two-time Olympian added that it helps her to improve body awareness, which every athlete can benefit from. But she also likes how the physical part of stretching fits into her elite athlete training.

She continues:

One thing that young athletes do that they shouldn’t do is static stretching before a workout.

You don’t want your muscles to lengthen, especially if you’re a sprinter.

You don’t want elongated muscle fibers.

According to the World Champion, doing yoga before running isn’t the best choice (more on that later).

You can watch the whole episode on her YouTube channel where she shares more details about how she personally uses yoga in her running training.

Yoga Before Or After Running

Yoga is good for runners because it helps to prevent injury, removes soft tissue restrictions, and helps to down-regulate cortisol levels. Stretching and yoga activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which inhibits fight or flight mode and reduces the allostatic load.

But when exactly should you do yoga, before or after?

You should do yoga after running because it helps to switch off the sympathetic nervous system and activate a parasympathetic response. This helps to relax the whole body, get rid of muscle tension, and facilitate optimal post-exercise recovery.

Let me explain.

The sympathetic nervous system is a fight or flight mode. It up-regulates your metabolism, stops the majority of functions, and flushes the blood to the muscles making them ready to action. On the flip side, parasympathetic response, called “rest and digest” is when your body loosens up and down-regulate (source).

Activation of sympathetic response is important before running because it influences thermoregulation, water and electrolyte homeostasis, and muscular performance. That means you can perform better, run faster, and utilize glucose more efficiently.

Activation of the parasympathetic response is important after running because it helps to decrease your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, begins the digestion, it shuttles nutrient and starts to use them for the healing and recovery processes.

So before your running session, the goal is to ramp up the sympathetic response. That is the goal of the warm-up.

Why do you warm up before running?

You need to warm up before running because warm-up drills allow you for better performance. A good warm-up should hype up your sympathetic response, perfuse muscle tissue, increase enzymatic activity within the muscle, and down-regulate other organs to conserve energy for the run.

On the other hand, doing a parasympathetic activity like yoga, stretching or meditation before strenuous physical activity has a distinct effect on the body. It decreases the heart rate, causes muscle relaxation, and increases gastrointestinal motility.

That is what you need after running, not before.

Is Yoga A Good Warm up Before Running?

In general, yoga isn’t the best warm-up before running because it doesn’t prime the sympathetic nervous system and doesn’t engage neurotransmitters like epinephrine to increase cardiac output. A good warm-up before running should have some dynamic stretches, but mostly mobility drills.

Is it safe to do yoga before a run? In general, it’s not recommended to do long yoga sessions before the run. Ideally, before running you want to perform a dynamic warm-up that is designed to elevate your heart rate and pump the blood into the muscles.

In fact, some research suggests that doing yoga or stretching before running may have detrimental effects. An extended stretch of the muscle leads to loosening stiffness in the tendon, which is linked with lower force and performance.

Take a look at the study done by Dr. Laurence Houghton from The University of Western Australia (source). In the study, he said

“Higher tendon stiffness and plantar flexion force were related to faster turn and sprint times, possibly by improving force transmission and control of movement when decelerating and accelerating”

Laurence Houghton, PhD Sports Science

This means that doing stretching before running leads to greater fatigue of the muscle and lower performance. Bu this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stretch at all. In fact, a part of your warm-up before running can be dynamic stretches or modified yoga poses.

What is dynamic stretching? Dynamic stretching is the type of functional stretch exercise that facilitates sport-specific and sport-generic movements to prepare the whole-body activity. It focuses on the movement requirements for the sport, rather than on individual muscles.

Difference between yoga and dynamic stretching in the terms of preparation for running.

YogaDynamic stretching
Holds the stretch for 10 to 30 secondsActively moves through the range of motion
Works on individual musclesIs sport-specific and replicate movement pattern
Elicits muscle relaxation Elicits muscle activation
Decreases heart rateIncreases heart rate
Activates parasympathetic responseActivates sympathetic response
A full session takes 45-60 minutesA full session takes 10-15 minutes
Difference between yoga and dynamic stretching as a warm-up tool for running

Dynamic stretching is better than yoga for warm-up before running because it promotes dynamic flexibility and prepares for movement patterns. The goal of dynamic stretching is to elevate heart rate within the first 10-15 minutes before the running.

What to do before going on a run?

Before going on a run you can add some dynamic stretches, together with high-intensity running sprint intervals. Studies have shown that doing high-intensity warm-ups before running helps to improve performance and physiological parameters.

Does this means yoga is bad for runners?

Yoga is not bad for runners, as long as it’s done at the right timing where it helps to recover from the run, clean up soft tissue restrictions, and helps to down-regulate. Many professional long-distance runners do incorporate yoga as a recovery practice.

Yoga Before Running

In general, you can do some modification of yoga poses before running, as long as they are dynamic and mirror a running skill pattern that you want to reinforce. Modifying yoga poses as a way of dynamic stretch provides an opportunity to prep and increase range of motion.

What stretches should I do before running? The best dynamic stretching routine before running should cover quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and hip extensors and flexors. In total, you can do 5-8 stretches with 2 sets of 4 repetitions of each for the duration of 10-15 minutes.

Stretch #1: Heel-to-toe walk

Here you simply walk on your toes for the first 4 steps, followed by walking on your heels for another 4 steps.

  1. Stand straight with the feet parallel to each other and shoulder-width apart.
  2. Take a step forward with the right leg and place the heel of the right foot on the ground.
  3. Immediately roll forward and swing the left leg forward in order to take another step.
  4. Repeat with the left leg, moving forward with each step.

This mobility drill activates the entire calf gastrocnemius-soleus complex (gastrocnemius, soleus, anterior tibialis)

Stretch #2: Pike up walk

Here you stretch your calves and hamstrings on the ground in the push up position.

  1. Stand straight with the feet placed shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slightly flex your knees, bend forward at the hips and place hands shoulder-width apart flat on the floor (push-up position).
  3. Move the hands alternately backward, as if taking short steps with the hands, until the body is in the downward-facing dog position.
  4. The weight of the body should be just like in the downward-facing dog with hips high in the air.
  5. As soon as your heels go off the ground, walk with your hands forward, back to the push-up position.
  6. Repeat the exercise for 2-4 minutes.

This mobility drill activates the entire posterior chain muscles (erector spinae, gastrocnemius, soleus, anterior tibialis, glutes, and hamstrings)

Stretch #3: Walking lunges

Here you do modification of yoga lunge pose where you keep moving forward.

  1. Stand straight with the feet parallel to each other and shoulder-width apart.
  2. Take a long step forward with the left leg, placing the left foot flat on the ground into the lunge position.
  3. Allow the knee to slowly flex and reach the floor (it doesn’t have to touch the floor).
  4. Lower it until it reaches1 to 2 inches (3-5 cm) above the floor.
  5. Lean forward, bringing both hands parallel to the left foot, and place them on the floor.
  6. Pick up the right foot and place it next to the left foot while you standing up.
  7. Stand straight, step forward with the right leg, and repeat the process starting from the right leg.

This mobility drill activates the entire posterior chain muscles (erector spinae, gastrocnemius, soleus, anterior tibialis, glutes, and hamstrings) plus quadriceps, rectus femoris, and latissimus dorsi.

Stretch #4: Walking knee lift

Here you perform dynamic stretch of the glutes and hamstrings by bringing your knee up toward the chest.

  1. Stand straight with the feet parallel to each other and shoulder-width apart.
  2. Step forward with the left leg and lift the right knee up toward the chest.
  3. Catch the front of the right knee around your upper shin, pull the right knee up and squeeze it close to the chest.
  4. Keeping the torso straight, hold for a moment, then release and step down with the right leg.
  5. Shift the body weight to the right leg and repeat the same process with the left leg.

This mobility drill activates the glutes and hamstrings.

Stretch #5: Hamstring kicks

Here you kick and swing one leg up to touch the opposite hand, while moving forward.

  1. Start from a tall standing position with both arms facing forward in front of the chest.
  2. Rise up onto the toes of your left leg and at the same time, keeping the straight leg, kick the right leg forward and up, aiming to reach to your hands.
  3. Try to get as high a range of motion as you can.
  4. Once you get to the peak point (touching your hands), pull the leg back to the beginning position.
  5. Repeat on alternate legs as you move forward.

This mobility drill activates the glutes, hamstrings iliopsoas and rectus femoris.

Benefits of Doing Yoga After Running

There are several benefits of doing yoga after running. Apart from restoring full range of motion, it also helps to speed up post-running recovery by improving the clearance of pro-inflammatory compounds like myoglobin and creatine kinase that causes muscle soreness.

Myoglobin and creatine kinase are the byproducts of prolonged muscle contraction during a high volume of exercise. The infamous muscle soreness, popularly called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is the effect of this process (source).

Apart from yoga, several other methods can help with reducing muscle soreness. I won’t be covering those methods here. I’ve already covered that in “Stop Soreness After Yoga“, which I recommend you read.

Plus, I think there is nothing better than doing yoga when your muscles have perfectly warmed after running.

Should you stretch immediately after running? You should stretch immediately after running because the sooner you release the muscle tension, the faster you will be able to enhance circulation and recover. Stretching after running will also prevent the body from acquiring an incorrect position and adopting limited ROM.

In other words, you will feel less tight, and your body won’t need to compensate for your gait pattern. In fact, I like to use some of the dynamic stretches during the run, especially when I feel that my soleus gets stiff from running.

During running, as the speed increases, the soleus muscle exhibit the greatest activation levels which means it gets the most tension and shock. This impacts the Achilles tendon, ankle range of motion, and can influence the gait pattern.

Should I stretch during a run? You can do stretch during the run because it helps to quickly restore some length-tension relationship in the muscles, especially in the gastrocnemius-soleus complex. Doing quick, 1-2 minute calf and quad stretches in the middle of the run will help you feel lighter and makes running easier.

How many times a week should runners do yoga? On average, runners should do yoga 2-3 times a week, and ideally after each running session. Focusing on the yoga poses that help to relax muscles that have been overused during running ensures better recovery and can positively influence running performance.

Which Yoga Is Best For Runners?

The best yoga for runners is Ashtanga yoga because it contains several forward fold asanas that restore the optimal length-tension relationship in the gastrocnemius-soleus complex. This area of the leg gets tight after running and leads to ankle restriction.

In the Ashtanga primary series, there are 35 vinyasas, with each containing a downward-facing dog. Also, in sun salutation A you have 5 downward dog poses, and 15 in sun salutation B.

In total, in one session you are looking at 55 downward-facing dog poses.

That can really make a difference.

Is yoga good strength training for runners? In general, yoga is good strength training for runners. Standing poses and balancing poses challenge the strength in the lower body. Also, arm balancing poses and inversions work on the upper body strength, which is what is missing in running.

Do marathon runners do yoga? Marathon runners do yoga because it enhances recovery, reduces DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and prevents injury. Regular yoga practice helps to eliminate muscle and joint range of motion restrictions, which has a positive effect on the gait pattern.

Conclusion

By far, the best way to improve your running and help to reclaim full mobility is by doing yoga after running. You can still use dynamic stretching as a part of your warm-up, but the full yoga session should be saved for after the running session.

I personally think there is no better way to get ready for a yoga after a good run. This way your muscles are more supple and elastic which makes doing yoga poses smooth as butter.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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