Best Yoga Poses for Runners (And Why You Need Them)

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I’ve been a competitive distance runner for most of my life. I’ve won state championships, represented the United States at international events, and, as an adult, taken my running to the road.

For years, I thought that yoga was too boring, too easy, and too slow to be valuable to runners. I assumed that practicing yoga to strengthen my core, legs, or upper body would pale in comparison to practicing actual strength-training exercises or weight-lifting workouts in the gym.

Later, when I became a personal trainer, I diversified my workout routine and advocated for my clients to do the same. I started to include cycling, rowing, triathlon training, and hiking among my pursuits. But not yoga.

However, after experiencing various injuries and, eventually, dabbling with a beginner yoga class here and there, I discovered how wrong I was—and how helpful it was to incorporate yoga into my workout routine to reduce tightness, improve core strength,  even enhance recovery.

Types of Yoga Poses for Runners

Practicing yoga has helped me develop an exponentially stronger mind-body connection—which is essentially an awareness of my body and myself. It sounds simple, but it can take time to cultivate it. The results are worth it.

1. Poses That Engage the Core

As athletes, we are constantly told to “engage your core.“ I often felt like I was doing that when I was exercising, but it was only after I started practicing yoga consistently that I realized I hadn’t been engaging all of my core muscles.

The “core muscles” are much more all-encompassing than just the rectus abdominis, which is the “six-pack“ muscle that runs along the front of your stomach. Your core also includes the internal and external obliques along your sides, the deep transversus abdominis that encircles your entire torso like a corset, and the deep muscles in the lower back, including the erector spinae group, the multifidus, the pelvic floor muscles, and the diaphragm.

Anatomy illustration of the abdominals, specifically the internal obliques, external obliques, and back muscles
Several often-overlooked core muscles that yoga strengthens in order to support and stabilize your spine. (Illustration: Eraxion)

Previously, when I was running, weightlifting, or doing some other type of workout, I found I could contract my abs, but I didn’t seem to be able to consciously connect with my deep core muscles. Incorporating core-strengthening yoga postures, such as Boat Pose and Chaturanga (Low Plank Pose), into my training has radically improved my ability to consciously draw on these essential muscles when running, cycling, lifting weights, using the rowing machine, even moving about in my everyday life.

Because these overlooked muscles play an integral role in helping brace the core and stabilize the spine, my yoga practice has helped me decrease injuries, facilitate better breathing mechanics, and improve my running economy.

A person demonstrates Side Plank in yoga
(Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia)
Side Plank Pose engages and strengthens all the muscles that contribute to core strength and spine stability. (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Best Yoga Poses for Runners: Strengthening Core Muscles

Side Plank Pose
Chaturanga (Low Push Up)
Boat Pose
Plank Pose

2. Yoga Poses that Increase Flexibility and Help Recovery

Running, hiking, and repetitive endurance exercises left me chronically tight in most of my muscles and connective tissues. But yoga has helped my flexibility and mobility as well as my recovery from training workouts. I especially like Cat-Cow for the mobility it brings my spine.

Woman in One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
(Photo: Andrew Clark)

Best Yoga Poses for Runners: Flexibility
Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Bound Angle Pose 
Pigeon Pose
Flamingo Pose

3. And Then Came the Balance Benefits

I have always struggled with balancing on a single leg. When I started practicing yoga, I couldn’t hold Tree Pose for two seconds. Now I can not only linger in Tree, but I’ve been able to progress to poses like single-leg Chair Pose.

These types of balancing yoga poses are especially helpful for runners, walkers, and hikers as they strengthen the small stabilizing muscles in your ankles and hips, which is crucial for trail running and optimizing your balance on uneven terrain.

A woman in bright pink tights practices a yogaTree Pose
(Photo: Andrew Clark)

Best Yoga Poses for Runners: Balance

Tree Pose
Single-Leg Chair Pose for Balance

4. Yoga Can Strengthen in Surprising Ways

I was not prepared for yoga poses to be able to strengthen some underutilized muscles as well as they do. Although I turn to yoga as a complement to my weight training, rather than a substitute for it, it’s certainly convenient to be able to practice the poses anywhere, without the need to find a gym or weights.

Chair Pose rivals almost any sort of squat or lunge in terms of building strength in the quads and glutes. (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Best Yoga Poses for Runners: Strengthening Glutes, Quads, and Hamstrings

Chair Pose
Bridge Pose
Warrior I, II, and III Poses

Woman demonstrates Dolphin Pose
Dolphin Pose combines Down Dog and Forearm Balance to engage the muscles of the upper body and core, which tend to be underutilized in runners. (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Best Yoga Poses for Runners: Strengthen the Upper Body

Dolphin Pose
Chaturanga (Low Push-Up)

I found yoga to be so instrumental in how I approach running that I pursued teacher training and became an instructor. These days, I advocate even harder for my clients to incorporate it into their routine. I only have to try to persuade them until they start to feel the results.

RELATED: 8 Essential Stretches That Every Athletes Needs to Do, According to a Personal Trainer

About Our Contributor
Amber Sayer is a fitness, nutrition, and wellness writer and editor. She holds a master’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics. She is a NCSA-certified personal trainer, UESCA-certified running coach, triathlon coach, and endurance nutrition coach.


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