Yoga for Athletes

Hot Yoga is the ideal practice for athletes of all kinds. A regular yoga practice (2-3x per week) will give you improved balance, core strength, overall power, flexibility, range of motion, and mental focus. Couple this with speed and endurance and these are the essential components to all physical fitness.  The heat makes your muscles more elastic and pliable which allows for deeper, safer stretching, it enhances vasodilation so more blood and oxyen is delivered to the muscles (ahem, legal blood doping?), it speeds up the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids, and it thins the blood, increasing the heart rate for an excellent cardiovascular workout.

Top professional and recreational athletes are finally discovering the edge they can get by incorporating a regular yoga practice into their training schedules. It also helps prevent injury by lengthening muscles, strengthening and lubricating joints, and increasing range of motion. It gives the body a needed rest from repetitive motions of one sport while still offering a cardiovascular workout. Additionally, the breath control learned in yoga will help keep your body and mind calm when under pressure – free throw lines, batting with a 3-2 count, at match point, staying strong while in the pain cave of a sprint finish or keeping your focus with several hours left to go in an endurance race.

TRIATHLETES SPECIFICALLY

Improve Mental Focus & Concentration Anyone who is prepared to swim, bike and run for three to 17 hours knows the importance of mental, combined with physical strength.  Yoga puts you in those situations where you have to dig deep to stay focused.  You get a chance to come face-to-face the biggest demons in your mind when you are on your mat.  You then take this practice from your mat into your training and racing.  You cannot fake your training so don’t think you can skip out; however, it is the mental focus that turns a great training plan into consistently good races.

Recovery Use yoga for active recovery.  Yoga will stretch you and strengthen you, that goes without saying…but use it in the right combination with your training plan and you are setting yourself up for success.  In yoga, you are using your body weight for resistance.  As an endurance athlete, you don’t need to use much else.  Great ways to fit it in:  1) make it second session of the day on the weekends, 2) use it for your “off day” and then get it in one other time during the week, 3)make it a treat instead of another item on your to-do list.  If you can’t get to a class, do 20 minutes after your key sessions.  Build it into the time you have allowed for training.  That way you’ll do it.  If you know you won’t, make your coach write it in and hold yourself accountable to your coach.  That is why you’ve hired him or her.

Cross-Training While you may think that participating in multisport means, by definition, that the cross-training is build right in, biking and running can lead to their own issues.  We spend so much time lying flat in a pool swimming, or going only forward when riding or running that we forget about the other planes of motion and end up injured because of muscular imbalances.  When you do yoga, you get to take the time to experience your muscular imbalances.  When you are wrapped up in eagle pose and you fall out class after class only on one leg, ding, ding, ding!!!  It doesn’t mean you aren’t good at yoga.  It means you’ve got something to work on.  Once you improve and become more balanced, you become a better triathlete.

Injury Prevention “Listen to your body whisper and you’ll never have to hear it scream.”  If something hurts, it’s not an invitation to push it harder.  It’s the body telling you to listen up.  It is also likely that the pain is showing up in one part of your body due to an issue in another area of your body. Doing yoga is like your annual doctors appointment, it’s preventative care.  If you can strengthen and increase the mobility in the hips, you can reduce the risk for common injuries like IT Band syndrome, knee pain and plantar fasciitis.   injuries that sideline athletes for weeks, months or an entire season.  Reduce the risk for injury. Triathletes typically have hip strength issues, which can affect the glutes and hip rotators showing up as IT Band syndrome, knee pain and plantar fasciitis.

Increase Flexibility Why do I need to increase my flexibility?  Is it really going to make me faster?  The answer is – YES!  You will be able ride a more aggressive position on a time trial bike, while staying in that position for longer without having pain in your back, your neck, your shoulders.  It can also speed up your transitions – shimmy out of your wetsuit faster because you can reach your zipper release strap easier, put your run shoes on while standing up since your hamstrings aren’t on the brink of snapping, and get into a natural run stride immediately off the bike because you don’t have to work out so many creaks and cracks.

Just for the Fun of It Most of us are into athletics for the camaraderie of group training runs, rides and competitive nature we have in us.  Doing yoga on your own, while beneficial, is not as much fun.  Going to a class gives you the opportunity to see your friends and laugh with them as you twist, lunge and sweat your way into new poses.  It’s not about getting somewhere first or showing off, but instead about showing up.  When we do it together, it’s like a group workout, it is so much more enjoyable and powerful.