The Art of Cross Training
Even running junkies need a little change of pace.
According to my training schedule, it was my day “off” but I was itchin’ for some form of cardiovascular activity. As I said in my previous post, running can easily become addictive. The health benefits from a lifestyle of running are phenomenal, but overusing the same muscles and joints can lead to injury and derail your hard work. Enter the art of cross training.
As I get closer and closer to the big day, the miles I put on my body and time and energy I spend running and training increase, definitely causing some pain and discomfort at times. Pavement and concrete are very unforgiving surfaces. My muscles have been feeling extra tight after my long runs due to the decrease in temperatures and the recent runs in the “thundersnow.” I am too chicken to put myself in the recommended ice bath, so Bikram yoga was the way to go.
Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, is practiced in a studio usually kept at about 105 degrees to facilitate deeper stretching and injury prevention, while reducing stress and tension, a.k.a. EXACTLY what I needed.
Repetitive actions, such as running, can create unbalanced and excessively tight bodies. The endorphins that give runners such a positive feeling (remember “runners high”?) also can mask the pain of oncoming injuries, so trying out other forms of activity is important.
Tonight’s class was exactly what I needed in my training life. The change of scenery from the trails and streets of D.C. to the warm studio was welcoming and the class was challenging in totally different ways from running. I was shaking, sweat was pouring off of me and it took every ounce of mental energy I had to focus on breath and to hold some of the poses our teacher had us in for way longer than I’m used to. In addition to the long holds, there were plenty of vinyasas to keep that internal fire burning. I loved every second of it–including what felt like millions of chaturangas, mountain climbers and side planks. I could wring sweat out of my clothes and mat after class–gross and awesome.
I got lucky: my instructor is a big marathon runner who uses yoga as a stretching outlet, so of course I used this opportunity to pick his brain about the benefits of yoga to an endurance runner. I learned that there are three basic yoga poses that runners can benefit from the most:
(1) Downward Facing Dog
WHY? The benefits for runners include stretching the calves, achilles, arches, hamstrings, low back and upper back.
HOW? Come to hands and knees with wrists aligned under shoulders and knees under hips. Tuck your toes and push your hips up to straighten your legs. Spread your fingers wide and press into your hands. Feet should be about hip distance apart. Think about tilting your hips upwards, almost like you are trying to curve your low back. Press down through your heels to feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings and achilles. You might want to “walk your dog” by alternating bending and straightening your knees to really get into the legs. Relax your head and neck (gaze should be at the navel) and try to pull your shoulders away from your ears.
(2) Low Lunge
WHY? Low lunge is beneficial because you stretch the Psoas which is the muscle most commonly responsible for low back pain. The Psoas is the main hip flexor and connects the lower body to the torso. When it is tight, runners can lose range of motion in their hips, low back and shoulders.
HOW? Step one foot forward between the hands and drop down to one knee. Make sure that your knee is aligned over your ankle. Slide the back leg back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the thigh and groin. Arms sweep overhead and chest lifts. Hold for at least 30 seconds on each side and then proceed to the second variation.
WHY? Amazing hip opener that also stretches the groin, thighs, back and psoas.
HOW? From down dog, bring the right leg forward and bend the knee, bringing the knee down behind the right hand. Your goal (eventually) is to have the leg at a 90 degree angle but you will not be there when starting out. Flex the right toes toward the right shin and roll over onto your left hip so that your hips are even and facing the floor. Left thigh, knee and top of foot should be facing down. Option one is to sit up and press into your hands to feel the stretch. Hold for at least 30 seconds on each side if not much longer–up to three to five minutes.
After a fantastic session along with my new knowledge of poses to benefit my running, consider my venture into cross training a success. It definitely helped me loosen up, stretch out and feel prepared to take on my long, training run this Saturday with the Team.