Yoga for Runners – How to Combat Tight Upper Body to Run Better

by Karli Taylor

As runners, our stretching regimens are typically geared toward improving running performance, right? 

Of course!

Because running is driven by our lower body, it makes perfect sense to focus on stretching the legs, hips and glutes, right?

Not so much!

Lower body flexibility is, in fact, very important to your running performance, but have you ever thought about how a tight upper body can impact your running?  

Believe it or not, a tight chest can mess with your running form and make things harder for you in two compounding ways.  First, tight pecs and shoulders can cause a hunching of the upper body, which can restrict the expansion of your lungs to make it feel harder to breath!  If that isn’t enough of a reason to start stretching your upper body, tight pecs can also cause your arms to cross in front of your body as you run instead of remaining by your side.  This causes an increase in trunk rotation, which makes your core muscles have to work harder.  While you may get more of a core workout, you will be using excess energy and will fatigue more quickly during your run.

Fish pose, or matsyasana, is the perfect addition to your cool down to stretch your chest.

Start by lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Inhale, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor, and slide your hands, palms down, below your bottom.  Tuck your forearms and elbows close to the sides of your torso and press them into the floor.  Lift your chest toward the ceiling and release your head back toward the floor without lifting your bottom off of your hands.  You may want to place a block or a folded towel under your head if the stretch through your neck is too much.   Once your upper body is relaxed into the position, you can extend your legs and point your toes to keep your legs active.

In addition to stretching the chest and the front of the shoulders, it is important to strengthen the muscles that support the spine.  The increased strength through the back body, in addition to the flexibility of the front body, will help keep the shoulders from rounding and the upper back from hunching.

Click here for Fish Pose Video


Try locust, or Salabhasana,  to strengthen the back body.

Start by lying on your belly with your forehead on the ground and arms at your sides with your palms facing up.  Lift your head, chest, arms and legs off of the floor as high as you can without struggling.

Next, raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch your fingertips back like you are trying to touch your feet.  Squeeze your shoulder blades together and look forward trying to keep your neck neutral.

Locust Pose Video

You can hold each of these poses for 30 seconds to a minute if possible- being mindful to hold the pose, but not your breath! 

You may be thinking that you don’t feel tightness though your chest, so these stretches aren’t necessary...

Most of us probably have slightly tight chests, thanks to the nature of our sedentary lifestyles. If you sit at a desk or in a car for long periods of time, work on a computer, travel often, or just spend a lot of time with your head down texting, chances are, your front body is at least slightly tighter than it should be for good posture!

Try these poses and see if you feel better.

Karli Taylor: Yoga For Runners Archive

How to Strenthen the Hip Complex : Supta Kapotasana-Reclined Pigeon and Vajrasana - Thunderbolt Pose

Balance For Runners: Tree Pose or Vrksasana

Strengthening Your Back: Baddha Hasta Uttanasana, or Ragdoll

Combating Runner’s Butt - Ardha Matsyendra

Exercises to Help in Stability - Ananda Balasana

Stretching Hip Flexors – Anjaneyasana & Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Yoga for Runners Intro

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