At the suggestion of my boyfriend, I’ve decided to try bikram yoga (hot yoga). The reasons I came to this decision were: I need heat and humidity training for the Hawaii 100 in January and I need to do something about a nagging hamstring injury.
My cousin is a Bikram Yoga instructor and has always suggested I start practicing…but I only have a limited amount of time in the day to train, so I’ve never done it. I decided to research the benefits of Bikram Yoga for runners.
Here is what I’ve found out. Yoga increases your flexibility and strength particularly in your core, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors (and if you’ve read any of my past articles you know how important hip strength is to preventing injuries from hip to toe). Increasing your strength and flexibility increases your running efficiency. The breathing exercises can expand your lungs allowing for deeper and more effective breathing. I can see how this would be helpful at higher elevations especially for those runners who are coming from anything under 3500 feet.
It makes you sweat, a lot which flushes toxins out of your body allowing it to heal and recover more quickly. It has the same cardiovascular benefits as running. It’s a great alternative for injured runners and for those coming back from an injury. It can help with old injuries by improving circulation and cleaning out scar tissue that hinders flexibility.
Bikram yoga is mentally challenging, but reduces stress and the risk of heart disease. It also restores balance in your body helping prevent illness.
Bikram yoga benefits your mental strength and focus. Yoga teaches you to deal with discomfort and to focus. It teaches you to let go of troublesome thoughts that get stuck in your head regardless of where they come from or what their content is. It could be questioning your ability to cross the finish line or dwelling on a poor decision or incident earlier in the race.
I’m looking forward to this new challenge and diversity in my training program. If the only benefit I get out of this is healing up my hamstring it will be well worth the change in routine. I do expect to get more out of it than that, however. Changing your routine and challenging your body in new ways helps you reach new levels and break through training plateaus. I will keep you posted on how it goes, you never know, maybe it will become a permanent part of my training.
Cross training provides huge benefits to runners by allowing them to build and maintain their aerobic base when they are not running due to injury. When we are running, cross training is equally as important. It provides strength to stabilizing and opposing muscle groups. It adds variety to your workouts and you are less likely to get burned out. Last, it gives you an automatic go to sport if you are injured to keep you active and less likely to fall into the injury depression so many runners battle when they are unable to run.
You can pick any sport as cross training. The more opposing muscles that the cross training uses the more benefit you will see to your running. The idea behind cross training is to give your running muscles a break, but to continue to stay active and maintain that aerobic base you have worked so hard to achieve. If you are using those opposing muscle groups, you are also going to prevent injuries by balancing out the pulling force on weaker muscles when the stronger ones contract.
Cycling and swimming are excellent choices for cross training. Swimming focuses on your arms and shoulders as well as your core muscles. Your legs are definitely not the emphasis although they are used. If you don’t know how to swim or are a weak swimmer, I suggest getting a copy of the book “Total Immersion,” by Terry Laughlin. The Total Immersion (TI) method teaches you step-by-step the most efficient swimming technique. You can find classes across the U.S., but the book is designed to be used on your own. There are DVD’s you can buy which demonstrate each drill and skill outlined in the book.
Cycling uses opposing muscle groups (quadriceps more than hamstrings). Cycling also works the outer hips and the butt muscles. Making sure these muscles are strong, prevents hip rotation and potential illiotibial band issues. Swimming and Cycling are low impact sports as well, so they give your muscles and bones a break from the jarring of running.
Pilates and yoga are good complementary options as well. The elliptical or stair stepper are options, but very close to running and are more useful as a running substitute when you need to reduce the impact.