Exercise with Yoga
As I continue on with my new addiction in running one of the most redundant thing I keep reading during my research to be a better runner is yoga. It helps you become more flexible and your muscles to be loose and calm. It also helps lubricate my bones to be ready for the road. I saw this article about Yoga and how it helps athletes and helps promotes flexibility, endurance, and balance. It maybe funny to some but Yoga improved my running game and made me more aware of what helps my legs become more durable and functional during long runs.
By Karen Dubs
Your goal is to improve speed and performance. You’re not interested in chakras, contortions and chanting, much less sitting still, meditating or focusing inwardly on your breathing. Although you keep hearing about the benefits of yoga, you feel like it’s probably a waste of your precious and limited training time and is either too easy or too hard—or just too weird. Yet thousands of athletes are cross-training with yoga to give them an extra edge—reducing chances of injury, muscular imbalance and overtraining while improving endurance, focus and flexibility.
What if there was a style of yoga that offered all the benefits but without the extreme poses and strange stuff that might make you uncomfortable? What if there was an athletic yoga specifically for triathletes? Well, the following sequence of yoga-based stretches focuses on alleviating some of the biggest race-season-enders for triathletes: stiff shoulders, sore hips, achy low backs, and tight hip flexors, quads and hamstrings.
Athletic yoga will increase your flexibility, strength and balance, which can have a positive effect on performance—but like all training, yoga needs to be practiced regularly for top results. The pose sequence in this article is a great place to start, and you can do it at home in under 20 minutes.
You don’t need any special equipment or expensive gear (although a yoga mat is suggested). The time you take to add yoga to your training routine can actually save you recovery time and spare you injuries.
While doing the entire sequence three times a week is ideal, think of it like training for your first triathlon: You didn’t try to do the entire distance in the first week, and you shouldn’t expect to touch your toes in your first yoga session either. As you gain flexibility and get more comfortable, you can add poses and increase your yoga training time.
During the summer and fall, while your race schedule and mileage is heavy, focus mostly on gentler flexibility poses, especially if yoga is new to you. After your race season ends, consider adding more challenging strength, endurance and core-conditioning poses.
Athletic yoga sessions end with a final relaxation where participants lie still and rest. This motionless pause is truly the pose athletes need most. Taking the time to rest increases energy, strength, power and potential, and instead of feeling exhausted and over-trained you feel energized, empowered and ready for what’s next.
Triathletes are determined, persistent and committed to being their best. While it’s fun and addicting to compete and train hard, it is important not to be competitive with yoga poses. Athletes are used to pushing through pain and connecting with the more-is-more philosophy; however, a less-is-more approach works best for athletes who are used to pushing through pain and beyond their limits. After the yoga session you can go back to being a competitive athlete.
Practice Tips: Stretch Without Strain
- Move slowly and deliberately through the sequence, listening to your body.
- Like anything new, yoga may feel a little awkward at first, so commit to at least six weeks.
- Do not force a stretch. Doing so will only tighten muscles and could result in injury.
- Hold each pose for 5 to 10 breath cycles before moving onto the next stretch.
- Use full, diaphragmatic breathing in and out through the nose. Feeling breathless is an indicator you’ve gone too far.
- For the best results, practice this sequence three to five times a week, or after each swim, bike or run.
The Pose Sequence
Balanced Knee to Chest
Why? Stretches glutes and low back while developing balance and stability.
How: Balance on your right leg, holding under the left thigh and drawing it toward your rib cage while maintaining a lengthened spine. In all balance poses, find something to focus your gaze on, and keep your breath smooth and even.
- Tip: If your balance is shaky, keep one hand on a wall or a chair-back until you feel steadier. Working the little muscles in your feet and ankles is important, too.
Balanced Pigeon with Chest Expansion
Why? Stretches hips, glutes, piraformis, chest and shoulders while developing strength and balance.
How? From Balanced Knee to Chest pose, keep the left knee bent, taking the left ankle across the top of the right thigh and flexing the left foot. Gently rotate the left knee out until you feel a stretch in left hip (you don’t want to feel any pain in the knee). Keeping an extended spine, hinge your torso toward your left shin to feel a deeper stretch. Stay here if the pose is already challenging or progress by adding the chest and shoulder stretch by interlacing your fingers behind your back and lifting your arms up and away from your low back. Keep your eyes focused on a still spot.
Why? Stretches hamstrings.
How? From Balanced Pigeon, step your left foot back about two to three feet from your right foot. Your heels should line up, your right toes will be angled straight forward and your left toes will be angled out at about a 45-degree angle. Keeping your right knee slightly bent and your hips level to the floor, hinge forward and support by placing your hands on your right shin. Keep your front knee bent as much as feels comfortable.
Forward Fold with Chest Expansion
Why? Stretches the hamstrings, chest and shoulders.
How? From Pyramid Stretch, step your left foot forward and stand with feet hip-distance apart and parallel. Interlace your fingers behind your back and fold forward keeping the knees slightly bent and the hips aligned over the ankles. Lift the arms up and away from the tailbone until you feel a stretch in the front of the shoulders and chest as well as the hamstrings. Release your torso toward your thighs.
Before moving on, repeat poses one through three with the left leg, followed by a second Forward Fold.
Why? Stretches hamstrings.
How? From Forward Fold, bend your knees as much as you need to, put your hands on the floor, then step your right knee back to the floor, putting extra padding under the knee if it is sensitive. Your left knee is directly over your ankle. Shift your weight back into the right knee, extending your left leg straighter until you feel a stretch in your left hamstring. This is a deep stretch. Your left leg does not need to be straight.
Why? Stretches hip flexors and quads.
How? From Runner’s Stretch, shift your weight forward so your left knee is directly over your left ankle with one hand on either side of your left foot. Bring your hands to your left thigh and press your torso up, extending and lengthening your spine (not leaning forward). Hinge your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the right hip flexor and quad. If you feel comfortable, you can release your hands from your thigh and bring them up over your shoulders, reaching through your fingertips as you breath in, releasing the hips toward the floor as you breath out.
Why? This is one of the best total-body strength and flexibility poses, stretching calf muscles, Achilles and hamstrings, while strengthening and stretching the shoulders and lats.
How? From Crescent Lunge, bring both hands down on either side of your left foot and step your left knee back to meet your right knee so you are on all fours with your hands shoulder-distance apart and your knees under your hips. Curl your toes under, press through your palms and lift your tailbone up so you are in an inverted V position. Keep your knees slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. Work toward straightening your legs. Inhale and think of extending and lengthening your spine, exhale and allow the heels to sink down toward the floor as you continue to press through your palms.
Repeat poses five and six on the other leg followed by a second Downward Dog.
Now apply these simple poses after your workouts or during the week in between your workouts. LIFT!