The 13 Best Yoga Poses for Runners

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When I first started running, I thought for sure it would be a bad combination with yoga. Running is repetitive, it can be hard on the body, and it's fast.

After my first few runs, I felt sore and tight, despite my thorough stretching session afterwards. I spent all that time practicing yoga to loosen my muscles; it seemed silly to then tighten them up with one little run.

A few runs and a bit of research later, I changed my mind. Running and yoga complement each other quite well, and I don't need to end up sore and tight after my runs.

The breath control (pranayama) we practice in yoga actually helps me keep my breathing even when runs get tough, and it's especially helpful after a hard run. Plus, there is a certain peace that accompanies running (and walking). That repetitive motion allows your mind to clear, and the path that lies before allows your eyes to focus on the horizon. Add some motivating music, and you've got quite the relaxing and stress-relieving workout!

My friend Bob (BOBBYD31) SparkMailed me recently to ask about yoga. He's a runner and, like many of you, battles tight hips and hamstrings. He wanted to try yoga but wasn't sure where to start. I gave him some suggestions for DVDs and books--and did one better. I'm a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher, so I decided to create a routine for him and other runners to help them stretch out after a run and keep his muscles healthy and loose.

Here are a baker's dozen poses to help runners (and cyclists and walkers). Hold each pose for 5 breaths or longer if you'd like. You'll need a mat and a yoga block (or a chair) for these poses.

Before you begin, remember these precautions:
  • Do not start a yoga routine or any other workout without clearance from your doctor.
  • These poses are not suitable for pregnant women.
  • Each pose should be done in a slow and controlled manner, without bouncing or forcing, which can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch in a slow, steady motion to the point of “mild discomfort.” If you are stretching to the point of pain, you have stretched too far. Learn to "respect your edge"--never go beyond it.
  • This routine can be integrated into a post-run stretching routine. You can also do it any time of day. If you're not doing the stretches immediately following a workout, I recommend a 10-minute cardio warmup before starting this routine. Warm muscles are easier to stretch.
  • These poses and the accompanying photos are modified for people with tight hips and hamstrings.
  • A breath is one full inhalation and one full exhalation through the nose. Hold each pose for five breaths, or longer if you'd like.

Butterfly/cobbler stretch (Baddha konasana):
Opens the groin and hips; stretches the inner thighs
Forward folding stretches the back
How to:
  • Sitting tall on your mat, bring the soles of your feet together.
  • Interlace your fingers and place them around the toes.
  • Sit tall, rolling the shoulders back, and gaze past the end of the nose.
  • Lean forward for a deeper stretch, stopping when you start to "feel" the stretch.
  • With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor).
    TIP: Use blocks under your knees if your hips are particularly tight.

    Seated wide angle forward fold (Upavistha konasana):
    Stretches the hamstrings and calves; the forward fold straightens and lengthens the spine
    How to:
  • From butterfly pose, extend your legs out to either side of you at a 90 degree angle.
  • If you can straighten the legs, flex the feet, and engage the quadriceps (by lifting your knee cap) to keep your knees from locking.
  • Lean forward slightly and place your hands on the mat.
  • With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor).
    TIP: Bend your knees as much as you need to, and bring the legs closer together if needed.

    Cow-face fold (Gomukhasana):
    This is one of my favorite poses! It's incredibly effective for stretching the pirifomis, a small muscle deep in your glutes.
    Stretch out your glutes and hips--including the hard-to-reach deep muscles--and your IT band.
    How to:
  • From a seated position, bring your left foot back by your right hip; stack your right knee on top of your left, with your right foot by your left hip. (If your hips are tight, your top leg/knee might stand rather than lie flat--that's OK.)
  • Grab your feet with your hands (left foot in right hand; right foot in left), and lean forward slightly, gazing past the end of your nose.
  • For a deeper stretch, flex your feet. You can also place your hands on the floor in front of you and lean forward to intensify the stretch.
  • Repeat on the other side, with the left knee on top this time.
    TIP: Make sure both hips stay on the ground in this pose.

    Standing wide-legged forward fold (Prasarita padottanasana):
    Opens the hips and stretches the hamstrings
    How to:
  • Turn to the right and step your feet about a leg's length apart.
  • Turn your heels slightly out and your toes slightly in. (Imagine you're slightly pigeon-toed.)
  • Inhale, stand tall and stretch your arms out to a T.
  • Exhale, fold forward, taking your hands to the floor or a yoga block. Allow your head to hang down, straightening your spine. Gaze past the end of your nose.
  • After five breaths, inhale as you roll up slowly, engaging your abs and pressing in to your feet to help you rise.
  • Exhale, step your feet together.
    TIP: Keep your knees slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. If you straighten your legs, take care not to lock your knees. For a deeper stretch, engage the quadriceps by lifting up on your kneecap.

    Standing forward fold with "ragdoll" arms (Uttanasana):
    Stretches the hamstrings and straightens the spine.
    How to:
  • Inhale and take your hands to your hips as you step your feet hips' width apart.
  • Exhale, fold forward. If you can straighten your legs in this pose, grasp each elbow with the opposite hand. If you can't straighten your legs or need more support, place your hands on a yoga block (or even a chair, if you prefer).
  • Allow your head to hang down limply--like a ragdoll, straightening your spine. Gaze past the end of your nose.
    TIP: Keep your knees slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. If you straighten your legs, take care not to lock your knees. For a deeper stretch, engage the quadriceps by lifting up on your kneecap.

    Pyramid pose (Parsvottanasana):
    Stretches and strengthens the legs, particularly the hamstrings
    How to:
  • Step your left foot back about 3 feet. Your left toes will pivot in at a 45 degree angle. Your right foot faces forward.
  • Inhale, stand tall and lean out over the front foot.
  • Drop your hands to your shin, a yoga block or on either side of your front foot. Drop your forehead so it's facing your leg.
  • With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching to the floor); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the forehead is getting closer to the front leg).
  • To come up, inhale and roll up slowly, pressing into your front foot for support.
  • Repeat on the other side.
    TIP: For a deeper stretch, interlace the fingers behind your back and roll the shoulders back and down before leaning forward.

    Figure 4 pose (Sucirandhrasana) :
    Stretches the outside of the hips and the inner thighs
    How to:
  • Lie on your back on the mat.
  • Bring your knees in towards the chest, at a 90-degree angle.
  • Place your right ankle on your left thigh, interlace your fingers and place them behind your left thigh, and pull your left thigh towards your chest.
  • Repeat on the other side.
    TIP: Flex your feet to deepen the stretch. Press your elbow against that bent knee to feel an inner thigh stretch. If you have knee problems, adjust the angle of the knee so you feel comfortable.

    Half lord of the fishes twist (Ardha matseyendrasana):
    Opens the shoulders, neck and hips, stretches the IT band.
    How to:
  • Sit tall with your legs extended in front of you.
  • Cross your right foot over your left leg and stand it outside your left thigh.
  • Bend your left knee, tucking your left foot by your right buttock.
  • Place your right hand on the mat, just behind your buttock.
  • Inhale, lift your left arm in the air by your left ear.
  • Exhale and twist, bringing the left elbow to the outside the right knee.
  • Look back over the right shoulder.
  • To release, inhale, look forward, release your arms and uncross your legs.
  • Repeat on the other side.
    TIP: Let the twist start in your belly not your neck.

    Seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana):
    Stretches the spine and the hamstrings.
    How to:
  • Sit on your mat, with your legs extended in front of you, heels slightly flexed and bellybutton pulled to the spine for support.
  • Inhale, sit tall and raise your arms in the air.
  • Exhale, lean forward and reach for your toes. Allow your arms to rest on your thighs, shins or at your ankles.
  • Allow your head to drop and gaze past the end of your nose. Allow your upper body to relax.
  • If you can straighten the legs, flex the feet, and engage the quadriceps (by lifting your knee cap) to keep your knees from locking.
  • With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor).
    TIP: Can't reach your toes? Wrap a towel around your feet and grab either end with your hands to improvise a yoga strap. If your hamstrings are tight, you can bend your legs.

    Head to knee stretch (Janu sirsasana A):
    Stretches the hamstrings.
    How to:
  • From the previous pose, slide your right foot inside your left thigh, the right knee coming out at least a 90-degree angle.
  • Center your torso over the extended left leg and exhale as you begin to lower to that thigh.
  • Flex your extended foot and reach for your toes (or use a towel as a strap).
  • With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor).
  • Inhale as you roll slowly up and repeat on the other side.
    TIP: If your knee can't rest comfortably on the floor, roll up a towel to support the bent knee.

    Hero pose/Thunderbolt pose (Virasana/Vajrasana):
    Stretches the quadriceps and ankles.
    How to:
  • Starting in a kneeling position.
    For hero pose:
  • Keep your knees together but separate the feet and allow your bottom to rest on the floor. Roll your calves away from your thighs (use your hands) to help you get comfortable.
    For a deeper stretch, try thunderbolt pose:
  • Sit back on your heels, shins together. (Place a rolled-up towel between your heels and hips to ease this stretch.)
    TIP: If you feel any discomfort in this pose, sit on a rolled-up towel or a block.

    Child’s pose (Balasana):
    Stretches hips, thighs and ankles gently; can help alleviate back pain.
    How to:
  • From hero/thunderbolt pose, start to lower to the floor. Your belly will rest on or between your thighs, and your forehead will reach towards the mat. (Place a towel under your forehead if it won't reach the floor.
  • Stretch the arms out in front of you to feel a stretch up the length of the back.
  • Stretch the arms alongside the body, with the fingertips facing the toes, to stretch between the shoulder blades.
    TIP: Roll your forehead back and forth across the mat with your arms along your sides to help alleviate sinus congestion.

    Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani):
    Stretches the hamstrings gently, allows blood that has accumulated in the feet and legs to re-circulate in the body. Offers a gentle release for the low back.
    How to:
  • Sit next to a wall and lie onto your back, bringing your knees into your chest.
  • Straighten your legs and place them on the wall while wiggling your bottom closer to the wall.
  • Allow your heels to rest gently on the wall.
  • Extend the arms overhead for an added stretch.
    TIP: This pose is great for anyone who works on their feet. Spend a few minutes in this pose (you can even do this in bed) each night to give your legs a break. Remember this one--it's also great after a long day of holiday shopping!

    So there you have it: 13 poses to help stretch your hips and thighs! There are plenty of other poses that I could have included, but these are good ones to start with.

    Do you do any of these poses? Will you try them? Do you have any questions about certain yoga poses? If there's a certain area of the body you'd like to stretch, let me know in the comments below. I plan to write more of these mini-yoga workouts.

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Thanks for sharing. Though not a runner, this is exactly what I am trying to add to my routine. Report
I am finally getting my hubby who runs and rides bike, to do some yoga everyday! His times have increased and his injuries have decreased. Enough said! Report
Wow - clear and interesting - what a great article. thanks. Report
I am new to yoga, but have been a walker for a couple of years now. When doing stretches like these, I sometimes wind up getting cramps in my feet. What do I do to relieve these cramps? Thanks. Robin Report
I do Bikram yoga daily, and find that the heat and balanced pose sequence very helpful in maintaining balance and in healing when I twisted muscles tripping over a tree root on a trail run.

The yoga sequence presented here seems more targeted to the muscles that need most attention in runners, and will be a welcome addition to my daily yoga routine on days when I run. Report
These are great and this article is very well timed for me.
I've always been a runner, but have recently started training more intensely for my first race this June, so these stretches will certainly be very beneficial for me.
Thanks! Report
Oh, I am going to try these!! Thank you!! I am not a runner or a yoga person but I pretend at both!! This will help me a great deal!! Report
Perfect. These look like poses I am capable of performing. Report
I think that I will definately try some of these!! They look do-able, not out of my league like some I have seen. Report
Thanks! I do most of the these exercises after every workout and I also do high lunge and pigeon. Report
Great stretches! I find that nothing feels better to me than some good stretches, done properly, each day. Thank you for the detailed pictures and instructions, plan to use these regularly! Report
Great Blog. While I am not a runner, I will try some of these poses to stretch out. I already do a couple of them and love it. Thank you for the new poses to try. Report
Thank you so much for posting this. I do a lot of these poses as part of my regular morning yoga flow routine and my occasional hatha evening routine. I just never knew exactly what areas of my body were being stretched by these. I only knew they felt great and I felt sufficiently stretched and restored afterwards.

However, I recently switched my workout routine that includes a lot of squats with weights and a ton of step work, also with weights. I found that the cool down and stretching portions of the routines were not really opening my thighs up enough to my liking. I'd follow the instructor's steps and feel like I was just getting there to that good stretch point and the class would move on to the next stretch before I really felt the full benefit.

I planned to come on to spark today, in order to inquire about some particular yoga stretches that would help me attain a greater level of comfort than what I had been getting after my routines and it's like you heard my call before I even voiced it! So I'd like to let you know that this stretch routine will work for people doing intense lower body workout as well, not just the runners, joggers and walkers out there.

Thanks again! Report
Cannot wait to try these out. Thank you! Report
I will give these a go, I need to start a proper stretching regimen as I am now walking 7km a day and feeling the stiffness set in. Report
I always thought of myself as a person with a "track body" until I saw those yogi positions. Report
I'm not a runner, but I love the stretches. So did my cat who thinks person-on-the-floor is an invitation for petting. I'm especially pleased that after 7 mos of doing SP videos, I have the flexibility to do the poses! Report
I enjoy doing several of these poses though I don't do them nearly enough. It's something I am hoping to work on. I particularly enjoy the seated wide angle forward fold. It can easily be done in front of the tv when I am feeling sore/stiff. The cat loves when I do this pose as well though she actually believes I am on the floor for belly rubbing time. Silly kitty! Report
I came to yoga as a runner, and found the Bikram yoga routine of 26 poses very helpful. It includes some of the poses you present here. Sometimes I don't have the ninety minutes required to do the whole Bikram routine (though the heated room is wonderful relief for sore muscles), so I've printed-out this routine to do when time is short. I am sure it will be valuable--thank you! Report
Printing and saving this!! My hips are HORRIBLY tight! I have tried to stretch the front of my hip flexors where I feel twinges of pain periodically, but I haven't ever gotten any kind of satisfaction out of it. I'll be doing these after my 2 miler today! I am so stoked b/c I know that my hips are so badly tight right now! Thank you thank you! Report
Thanks. These may be just what I need to limber up and get out of my post marathon funk
I run, but have never done yoga formally. However, I do stretch and at least one of my stretches is a formal yoga pose (Sucirandhrasana) and I just didn't know it. I am anxious to try them because I have struggled with my left IT band lately and it is very frustrating!!!!! Report
Since yoga and running are two of my favourite things in life, I was excited to read this blog post. Prasarita padottanasana is one of my most beloved poses and I do it often to stretch my rather tight hamstrings.This is a lovely little sequence I will try after I run next time. Report
I'm excited to try out these stretches after a good run! Report
Sounds like a start, first time jog/walk I know I need some good stretches. Report
Great article. I find that yoga really helps with my tight muscles from running and biking. Report
Thank you so much for these poses. I worked all of them and my hamstrings, legs, & shoulders feel great, especially the calves. Three of them are new to me, and they feel good, on the those small unworked muscles. I feel good, so good, All Over. Report
After trying for the last 4-5 years, I finally convinced my 64 year old mother to start practicing yoga; and, she loves it! So happy to see more people taking an interest as it really is one of life's "BEST KEPT SECRETS." Hard to imagine that until recently, many of its benefits discounted by Western healthcare providers! Report
Oh yes, I am going to try this routine. And also get my butt back to yoga classes. I miss them! Report
Do you know of any stretches for horseback riding? I've been doing a workout routine with a variety of stretches, free weights and a small pilates ball to try stay in shape for riding but I think there might be better ideas? We have a lot of rainy/snowy weather so get out of shape for riding and then hurt when we start back into spring training/riding. Any suggestions? Maybe there's an index I should be browsing for this information? I'm brand new to SparkPeople. :) Report
i will try this today. hope i do not end up tied in a knot. thanks Report
i love these poses!!!
i'm in the same position of having really tight hips and hamstrings and balancing my yoga practice with running/elliptical, etc.
i do have a question though! the hero pose is really hard on my knees, and i've been told that other hip opener poses are potentially dangerous for people with sensitive knees also. could you maybe do an article with yoga/running suggestions for people with knee pain? i haven't been able to run for a long time but yoga's healed so many of my pains, i think maybe the practice can help protect my knees also! also, how do you make sure to keep your knees in alignment/not hurt them? thanks again for the great article :) Report
All good stretches. Thanks Report
These are great! Thank You Bobby for asking for them the rest of us rookie runners needed them too! Report
I felt instant relief as soon as I started practicing these moves!!! Thanks a lot. LOL : ) Report
Just what I needed--thanks! Report
I love most of these Yoga poses and can't wait to try a few new ones I see here after my next run. Anything to stretch and strengthen my body after runs is a great thing. Report
I am definitely going to try these. I walked further today than usual and needed stretches. I do some yoga and these would be good additions to the ones I do already! Report
I love this blog. Is there any way I can bookmark this page so I can refer to it again? That will help me remember the stretches. Report
Figure four and cowface fold are two of my favorite poses, along with pigeon pose! They are almost always in my stretch routine. In addition to benefiting athletes, these poses are also great for people with desk jobs. I started working a desk job while in college, so between sitting at work, at school, and while studing, my hips and groin were so tight! I've always used these openings to stay loose. Report
I am a runner and I have been using yoga for years to balance. It's great. I also like downward facing dog as an all over equalizing stretch.

Sunny142 - pigeon pose is good for runners and good if you have tightness in the hips. You can do variations in the pose to increase the stretch if you are looking for something more. Report
Great ideas, thanx! Now, i'ts time to get moving. The total and milk jugs are really cheap incentives to add that assist me in getting the stretch I need! Report
Thank you so much, very helpful!
Peace & Light Report
Great information....thanks! Report
Thank you for these great stretches! Looking forward to using them. Report
This is great! I'm a yoga instructor and you wouldn't believe how many athletes think that they are open and stretched out. That's an ingredient for injury. When I give them a program like this and they see the difference they really understand how running tightens the muscles instead of stretching them out. :) Report
Thank you so much for the poses! I, too, have trained in yoga and have turned to running as my go to cardio (and for additional stress/anxiety relief!) I have always had very tight hamstrings, hips and glutes and have been working to incorporate yoga to balance the running.

I specifically thank you for cow faced legs pose. I forgot about that one and my piriformas needs it! A couple other suggestions would be trikonasana (triangle pose) and utthita trikonasana (extended triangle pose) and Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon pose). These are a few that have been beneficial to me! Report
These are super, Stepf. As a runner, I agree the two complement one another. Your enthusiasm and skill shine through your poses. I'm so glad to see yoga represented on SparkPeople. I started yoga as a child, later teaching for a time. I cannot imagine my life without it, and I have no doubt it's why I'm as healthy as I am - in mind, body and spirit. Report
I'll be running a 10k this 6th of December 2009. I try these poses Report