Those that practice a sport with a movement that repeats over and over again excessively, and therefore affects the body’s muscle balance because some muscles are a whole lot stronger, overdeveloped and tighter than others from those repetitive movements like running, tennis, golf and pitching a baseball, must actively work to strengthen the opposing muscles and lengthen the overused or over-contracted ones.
Muscle imbalances cause misalignment. Misalignment can cause pain, and pain interferes with performance. The regular practice of yoga can help align the body’s muscles and so, can be a tool to decrease pain and increase performance. Yoga can also increase flexibility. The more flexible a muscle, the more muscle fibres it can recruit for the task at hand, and is therefore stronger.
In a mere kilometer and a half…
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In a mere kilometer and a half, a runner’s feet will pound the ground over 1500 times, absorbing around three to four times their body weight with each step. The feet and lower legs absorb this shock by contracting their muscles. The muscles also contract and extend with every push and flexion of the stride.
The repetition of this straining action can cause shortening of the muscles of the calf, pulling on the attachments of the calf at the bottom of the foot and the heel, creating and or exacerbating conditions like Achilles Tendonitis and Plantar Fasciitis. Countering this tightness are movements and stretches that elongate the calf muscle, in particular, downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) for the gastrocnemius, and the awkward chair pose (utkatasana) for the soleus.
During a five kilometer run, each knee will be lifted upwards by the hip flexors (iliopsoas and illiacus) over 2300 hundred times. Years or even months of running can cause the hip flexors to become shorter and tighter and in turn cause the pelvis to tilt forward. A forward tilting pelvis pulls on the muscles of the lower back and causes low back pain.
Yoga poses like the pigeon (kapotasana), the warriors 1 and 2 (virabhadrasana I and II), upward facing dog (urdvha mukha svanasana) and the wheel (urdvha dhanurasana) that stretch the hip flexors and abdominals along with poses that strengthen the lower back like locust (shalabasana) are particularly beneficial in helping to alleviate the pain caused from this imbalance.
When runners increase their workload or begin working on their speed or kick, they are more prone to straining their hamstrings. This can be caused by not properly stretching before running or a muscle imbalance in which the quadriceps are stronger than the hamstrings.
Asanas/poses like the plough (halasana), triangle (utthita trikonasana) and knee to head forward fold, (janu sirsasana) which elongate the hamstrings and prasarita padottanasana B and C where the hamstrings are not only being stretched but being relied for balance and stability, and so strengthen the hamstrings, and can play a role in preventing injury.
Runners’ Knee or Patellofermoral Pain Syndrome is a condition brought about by improper knee tracking or alignment. The kneecap can be pulled either left or right and because of this imbalance, pressure can be felt on the underside of the kneecap. Sometimes a grinding or crunching sound can be heard.
Strengthening the quadriceps is the most common first step when correcting poor knee tracking.
The quadriceps insert on the tibia and pass over the kneecap. If they are strengthened with proper form, this can play a key role in holding the knee in its proper place during running. Awkward chair (Utkatasana) as well as Warriors A and B (virabharasana I and II) and be useful tools for strengthening the quadriceps. They also instill in us to be mindful of knee alignment.
Strengthening weak hamstrings also plays a key role in combating runner’s knee. When the hamstrings are weak, the quads take on the brunt of the workload, and again can cause poor alignment of the knee. Make sure that a proper diagnosis is given by means of an X-ray or MRI Runner’s Knee, conducted by a professional health care practitioner.
Running can also contribute to a Tight Iliotibial Band. When the IT band is too tight and impliable, again there is a condition where the knee pulls to one side, causing misalignment and pain. A tight IT bad can also cause lower back pain.
When cow face pose (gomukhasana) and belly turning pose (jathara parivartanasana) stretch this tough fibrous band, which is a combination of muscle and tendon, there is relief to knee and low back pain. Practice these poses for prevention as well.
Don’t use these asanas as a band aid when there is a flare up of pain.
Their effect will be minimal if any at all if done that way. Regularly practiced, these asanas serve their purpose best, which is to prevent misalignment. Spend a minimum of two minutes or five inhalations and exhalations through the nose on each asana to gain their benefits.
Be patient with yourself. If you push too hard, stretch too far, the body’s stretch reflex kicks in, a protective mechanism activated when the body feels it is stretched a point of duress or stress and stops you from executing that stretch by protectively contracting the muscle in question. Instead, start passively and with the progression of each of the five inhale/exhales move just a bit deeper into the asana.
It is also important to hold these asanas for that two minutes to develop local muscle endurance. Muscle fatigue is a significant cause of injury. When the muscle is fatigued its capacity to absorb impact and shock significantly decreases. Additionally, fatigued muscles play on proper running form, also increasing vulnerability to injury.
A study conducted by Elliot and Achland, (Biomechanical effects of fatigue on 10,000 meter running techniques. Research Quarterly Exercise and Sports 52:160-165, 1981), observed runners in various races. Toward the end of the races that these runners participated in, muscle fatigue had effects on proper positioning of the foot and also shorter stride length, rhythm and stride frequency.
An athlete with a balanced body is an anomaly but working towards the prevention of imbalances is the logical outcome that accompanies that fact. It is the same logic that supercedes the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Yoga for so many reasons follows that same logic. With not only it’s physical benefits, but with its ability to relieve stress, its ability to develop a mind body connection, its ability to allow its practitioners to discover their tenacity and capacity for concentration and actively change that, yoga makes a body better. All of us.
Also check out this diet plan while doing yoga.