Healthy feet and lower legs, that are strong and flexible, are absolutely vital for finding your optimal running technique and staying injury free in this area. Don’t let this area be overlooked!
This is a flowing Vinyasa yoga based class that covers all areas, including hamstrings, hips and core, but our main focus is taken to the feet and lower legs. We explore some creative ways to help maintain the stability that the foot should provide, how to maintain a strong, yet flexible Achilles tendon and calves, and stretching the elusive top of the feet and shins 😉
Ideally do this 28 minute class on a non-running day, as much of it is standing sequences but we wind down with some floor based poses and a little myofascial release. Have a tennis ball to hand if possible.
Why do hamstrings get so commonly tight?
- Hamstrings are commonly tight in many people, not just in runners – because just sitting too much of the time means the hamstrings shorten and adapt to that contracted length.
What to do… Stand up more! If you have a desk job – stand, bend knees and fold forwards, with chest resting on thighs, gradually listing hips – do this several times a day.
2. Then there’s core strength. If your core strength is insufficient then the hamstrings will be trying to stabilise your pelvis, which is the job of the deeper abdominals and abductors!! This leads to over contraction of the hamstrings.
What to do… Make sure you’re doing regular, targeted core strengthening. One of my favourites is the toes taps, as this also builds coordination and pelvic strength (not suitable if you have tight hip flexors though). Watch my 5 favourite core exercises here.
3. If you’re a runner, then a certain amount of hamstring tension is useful because we want them to be strong and powerful – however, too much hamstring tightness is going to limit the motion of the pelvis, causing flexion in the spine and loss of core stabilisation! And the Numero Uno consideration for runners should be good posture, which is maintained with core strength.
What to do… Core strengthening, as above, plus hamstring lengthening…
Test and re-lengthen the hamstrings…
Hamstring test on back – lie flat on your back, draw one knee in to your chest and hold behind the thigh. Slowly start to straighten – the leg should go up to at least 70 degrees, with only a mild stretch. If you can feel more, or the leg doesn’t want to come that high, then there is some work to do!
- take this position every day – bend the knee and straighten the leg several times, gradually straightening the leg a little more each time.
- use a strap to help keep the leg up, relaxed for around 3 minutes.
- resist the strap by pushing the ball of your foot into it for 5 long breaths, then relax for 5. Repeat 3 times. (This resisting is eccentric contraction, and can also be useful in healing hamstring strains. Do not stretch the hamstrings when there is a strain!*)
Watch these strap exercises, plus more for the hamstrings, in this 17 minute video.
Watch the Tutorial
If you’re aware of tight hamstrings, then now is the time to start doing something about it! Watch a video tutorial of this content in the latest video in the Yoga Flow Runners Facebook group, here.
*If you have a hamstring strain or tear, don’t stretch it. Focus on eccentric contraction only, which I describe in the video tutorial.
In this video I also discuss how many runners are running ‘quad dominant’, meaning the quadriceps are over-powering the hamstrings, leaving the quads too tight and the hamstrings too weak. This will be the topic of focus in the next blogpost!
Musculoskeletal disorders, in particular back pain, are one of the leading causes of sickness absence. With an estimated to cost the UK economy of £15 billion a year, it’s no wonder that more companies have brought in yoga teachers to offer corporate yoga sessions. But if yoga practitioners have been found to have the healthiest spines, believed to be because we move the spine in it’s full range of movements every day, surely everyone can maintain a healthy spine with a regular yoga practice.
A well rounded yoga practice will encompass all spinal movements, so it’s important to go to a weekly class and build up your daily home practice. Here are my top 5 poses though, that can be incorporated into a full practice, or done as a sequence on their own. They are intended for those with a healthy spine, if you have back pain, see a medical professional before practising yoga.
In addition, try to do some targeted core strengthening exercises each day for 5-10 minutes – more on this here – as the most common culprit for back pain is core weakness.
It’s also a great idea to lie over a couple of blocks for a few minutes each day, to release the front of the shoulders and chest – an area that can get really tight and impact your posture. See more on this area here.
1. Cat/ Cow
Such a simple and well known movement, you’ve probably done it many times in a class, but this simple action is a great way to combine easy flexion and extension of the spine. The flexing, when rounding the back, has a subtle core strengthening element to it, so really try to draw the abdominal muscles in towards the spine, helping to strengthen this area, whilst stretching out the back muscles. When extending the spine, by lifting the chest and the tail bone, keep broadening the shoulders drawing them away from the ears. This movement provides a great massage to the spine, giving you an awareness of your range of movement and opportunity to get the spine moving.
2. Sphinx and/ or Cobra
Following on from warming the spine up in Cat/ Cow, you may be ready to take a gentle back bend posture. Sphinx requires less upper body strength than Cobra and Up Dog, so is a great back bending pose to do whilst acquiring more arm strength, and to spend a little longer in. Keep a gentle activation of the belly drawing in and the tail bone lengthening.
Cobra can be practised on its own, or when doing Sun Salutations. From the floor, roll back the shoulders, roll up the chest as the shoulders draw back, finally lifting the head. Keep the sides of the neck feeling long, as you keep the shoulders down and away from the ears. Press the pubic bone down to activate the abdominal muscles and lengthen the tail bone, supporting the lumbar spine and creating space in the upper spine. Not only is this one of the best poses to build upper body strength, it also starts to strengthen the back. What we want is to build the strength of our spinal pillars, to support the spine from all sides.
3. Salabasana/ Locust
This pose is THE BEST for a healthy spine! It builds upon the back strength required in the previous poses. There are so many arm variations but this is my favourite because of the additional benefits to the shoulders. Start lying face down, with arms in cactus. Lengthen the legs back, press the pubic bone down to lengthen the tail bone. Lift from the back of the shoulders, drawing the shoulder blades towards each other, lifting from the heart. Float the legs up, keeping them straight and close together. Take 5 breaths and repeat once or twice more.
4. Ardha Matseyendrasana/ Half spinal twist
After Salabasana, slide back to Childs Pose (Balasana). Roll up to take this lovely twist. I like this really gentle version. Depending on how you feel at the time can dictate how far you go into any pose but especially consider this when twisting. Sit tall by drawing the lower belly in the reaching through the crown of the head.
Cross one leg over the other, with the low leg staying straight, or drawing the foot to the opposite heel, with both sitting bones level. Sitting up on a blanket roll feels great and will facilitate this. Move slow, use the finger tips to support you as you gradually twist to the same side as the top leg, keeping the height through the spine and the support of the belly. The head will be the last thing to turn if you are going towards the full expression of the pose, or you can choose to look straight ahead, feeling the pose work here on the lower and mid spine.
5. Supine Twist
Etched Floral leggings and Crop top are from KiraGrace
This can feel a fantastic release for the lower back and is particularly good to do after back bends like those above. Also great post running. On your back, draw one knee in towards you, then across your body. Adjust your hips, so that you can comfortably relax the knee towards the floor – resting this leg on a cushion or bolster is a great option if the hips are tight.
Upcoming Backbend Yoga Workshop!
Backbends: Health and Grace – A workshop on Saturday 26th May, 10am – 1pm, at Gwills Yoga, Newquay – £25
In this workshop, we’ll explore a range of different backbend postures, that effectively strengthening the back and lengthen the spine – potentially relieving back ache and improving posture.
We’ll also work towards some more advanced asana in deeper backbends and how to come into them safely, respecting our individual bodies and looking at how they can benefit us physically and emotionally, as well as look great.
This 3 hour workshop will involve strengthening work, Vinyasa flow and workshopping poses. Some yoga experience required. Not suitable for those with back injury/ complaint, as a one to one session is more appropriate.
Booking via the App
So often practised in a Vinyasa class, when done properly, this pose, which is the transition between high plank and Upward Facing Dog, has the potential to build awesome shoulder and core strength. However, when practised repeatedly wrongly, has the potential to cause shoulder pain and injury.
Watch my video for simple steps to a great Chaturanga.
Want to learn more about yoga for strong, yet mobile, healthy shoulders? The Yoga for Shoulder Strength and Mobility Workshop is on Saturday 7th April, 10-1 at Gwills Yoga, Newquay, Cornwall.
Core strengthening – forearm plank
Serratus Anterior strengthening – scapula push ups
1. In high plank, lengthen the tail bone, hugging the lower belly in. Broaden the shoulder blades by pushing the floor away.
2. Scoot forward onto your toes, keeping the neck in-line with the spine. Look down or slightly ahead, not forward.
3. Drop the knees, keep everything else, as you bend into the elbows. Take a few push ups here to strengthen the biceps, whilst maintaining the integration of the core and the SA.
4. When that becomes pretty easy, do the same without the knees on the floor.
5. Lower the shoulder to just above the elbows. Do not dip the heads of the shoulders lower than the elbows. This is the primary reason for shoulder pain and injury in a Vinyasa practice.
Lower all the way to the floor, roll back the shoulders, lifting the chest and the head into cobra.
From Chaturanga, release the toes, lift the chest and head, keeping pushing the floor away as you drop the hips, coming into Up Dog.
Roll over the toes into Up Dog, roll back over into Down Dog.
Hope to see you at the Yoga for Shoulder Strength and Mobility Workshop on Saturday 7th April – 10am-1pm, at Gwills Yoga, Newquay, Cornwall.
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more tutorials.
Our repetitive, daily forward-motion activities (driving, running, typing, reaching, etc.) take their toll on our posture. With actions where the shoulders hunch forwards, the pectoral muscles tighten and the infraspinatus at the back of the shoulders weaken.
If time isn’t taken to release accumulated tension in the chest and shoulders and to strengthen the back of the body, our posture will be greatly affected, which impacts our ability to breathe to our full capacity, to sit and stand to our tallest height, and to walk and run with proper alignment.
When we’re out of alignment, we’re at greater risk of injury because our spine is vulnerable. When running, only with proper posture and alignment will be able to run with optimal efficiency.
Try this pose, morning or evening, to open the chest, release the shoulders and lengthen the spine. You’ll need two yoga blocks – place one length ways along your upper spine, and the other at full height to support your head.
Spend a few minutes, then, if comfortable, reduce the height of the block under your head. Watch the video below, that includes a few other poses to release the shoulders and open the chest and upper back.