When I started practicing yoga in 2017, I was doing a lot of running, hiking, and trail running. My first yoga classes made me realize how inflexible my legs were! I was unable to touch my toes with my hands while keeping my legs straight!
Some poses were even completely unachievable to me:
Seated wide angle pose: I could hardly sit up straight with my legs open. My back was hunched… I was definitely not able to lean forward.
The revolved triangle: this one was almost a torture! This pose made me realize about the existence of muscles on the outer part of the legs! Who could have guessed? Certainly not me! These muscles can be really painful when stretched.
Should I even mention the fact that I often felt ridiculous during the yoga classes? Having the legs as stiff as tree branches when the other students are as flexible as a ballerina is not really a motivating factor!
While stretching regularly, I however became more flexible quickly. My fingers were slowly getting closer to my toes. Inch by inch. And then it happened.
This is an emotional moment.
I remember it as if it was yesterday: my heart skipped a beat when my fingers finally touched my toes.
Why I put running on hold for yoga
When I did my first yoga teacher training, I asked the instructor how I could improve the flexibility of my legs. He advised me to stop running, hiking, and trail running during the time of the training.
That did not make me very happy.
But he was right.
Do we have to quit running to gain leg flexibility?
YES and NO.
If flexibility is your priority, then put running on hold for a while
Running, hiking, and trail running strengthens the leg muscles. Muscle-strengthening consists of a contraction of the muscles. They get shorter.
Stretching is an opposite movement, the goal is to make the muscles longer.
In a word, the more we strengthen the muscles and the more difficult it is to stretch them.
When we stop running, it becomes easier to stretch and gain flexibility.
My opinion: if your current priority is to gain leg flexibility, I would advise putting running on hold for a while. Your muscles will relax and stretch more easily.
But it is not a necessity!
Running and yoga are compatible!
I stopped running when I started my first yoga teacher training as my priority was at the time to work on my flexibility.
I however consider that running and yoga are definitely compatible activities. These even go very well together!
With running, we strengthen the legs, buttock and, indirectly, the core muscles.
With yoga, we stretch the muscles. Note: there is also some muscle strengthening with yoga but as a runner, you will mainly see the benefits in stretching.
Studies even show that yoga accelerates muscles recovery. Stretches support the recovery by eliminating the toxins, lactic acid, and hence the sore muscles, more quickly.
Running helps me repair a muscle injury
When I started practicing yoga, alone in my living room, I was not really gentle with my body. I would push myself (too much) while stretching, even when I knew my muscles were very stiff. This resulted in a tear of my right hamstring.
I still pay the price for it today. 3 years later, my right leg is less flexible than the left one. More annoyingly, this injury still hurts when I stretch this muscle group. What a pity!
The only natural remedy I found is running. This surprised me at the beginning: how come running helps me lower the pain of my injury?
When we think about it, it is quite logical actually: my muscle is torn because of too much stretching. Thanks to running, I strengthen and rebuild the muscle fibers around the injury.
I think I will always have a weakness in my right leg but I know how to manage the pain and find the right balance between stretching and strengthening.
Running is an asset for some yoga poses
We often consider that yoga is about stretching the body. But it is a lot more than that. Lots of yoga poses require balance and strength: in the legs, the core, the arms, etc.
Running strengthens the legs and the core. Runners hence have a competitive advantage to do some yoga poses that require:
Core muscles, e.g. : plank and side plank
Strength in the legs, e.g. Warrior 1, Warrior 2
Balance (use of core and leg muscles), e.g. : Tree pose, Warrior 3, etc.
When runners also have strength in the arms, they are naturally good with arm balancing poses. My favorite poses!
If you are still not sure about practicing yoga
Don’t hesitate! It is never too late to start, gain flexibility and improve muscle recovery. If you are a complete beginner at yoga, have a look at my 15 tips for yoga beginners.