To my delight, Runner’s World‘s Best of Running list contains a favorite yoga pose (which appears on page 2, just under Best Training Advice: Value Rest, on which I plan to write much more in 2010). To my surprise, that pose is Bird Dog, in which you’re on your hands and knees, with one arm (say, the right) reaching forward as the opposite leg (say, the left), reaches backward. (You can see an illustration on page 34 of The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga, searchable by using Look Inside the Book on Amazon.)
I’m often asked to choose one yoga pose every runner should practice. Usually, I say “mountain pose” or “low lunge.” But when you think about it, Bird Dog is an essential pose for runners. First, it mimics the contralateral action used in running: as one arm is moving forward, the other is moving backward, and the core has to hold it all together. Along the way, the hamstrings, glutes, and hip stabilizers must engage to help with the extension of the leg, and the hip flexors have to release to enable this action. This corrects imbalances between weak hamstrings and glutes and tight hip flexors, which I discussed in this blog post.
Second, the position in relationship to gravity helps to strengthen the muscles that support the spine, as the musculature of the core—both front and back—must kick in to hold the midline of the body steady.
Third, you’ll need to engage your rear shoulder muscles to hold your scapulae in place even as your arm extends. The upper back is usually quite weak in both athletes and desk workers/drivers/sitters/Westerners, and this is a good way to begin strengthening that area.
Kudos, Runner’s World, for the great choice.