Yoga for endurance athletes

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Endurance sports are usually those where your body is required to repeat the same action over and over and over again. It’s important for you to maximise efficiency, minimise the chance of injury, and train your mind to dig deep and keep going when part of you says ‘enough’.

Yoga can be a hugely beneficial component of endurance sports training. Repetitive motions such as running, cycling, paddling or swimming, performed for hours at a time, can lead to imbalances in the body, especially if technique or alignment is not perfect. You may get away with it for a while, but eventually imbalances can pass a tipping point and lead to injury.

Adding yoga to your training regime can help address imbalances, bringing a better balance to your strength and range of motion (flexibility), and helping you achieve healthy alignment.

As I’ve discussed in recent columns (see May issue of Fitness Journal), your breath is a critical component of your performance. Maintaining an awareness of your breath helps you keep focused and find efficient form in your endurance events.

This assists in warding off mental distractions and finding your state of ‘flow’ – especially good for long events.

The breathing exercises involved in yoga (see June issue) can help develop this focus, as well as enhancing your performance.

Physically, the poses in yoga help build strength, endurance and flexibility, and improve your balance, body awareness and core strength.
Better mind/body connection means you will be more aware of and receptive to feedback from your body during both training and racing.

You may already have a demanding training schedule and don’t see where you’ll find time to add another component.

The beauty of yoga is that you don’t need to make time for a 60 or 90 minute class at a studio.
A more practical approach is to sprinkle some yoga throughout your week. ‘A little often’ is more helpful than a ‘yoga binge’ once a week.

The following yoga sequence includes six poses along with breathing exercises, which can be done in about 15-20 minutes. You can use these to stretch out after a workout, or as a stand-alone yoga session at any time.

This sequence targets key areas that many endurance athletes need to focus on to promote balance in the body, such as tight hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes. It gives you some challenge for balance and core strength, body awareness and mental focus.

Recovery is a key part of your training too, so don’t skip the most important pose – corpse pose (the final, relaxation pose).

1. Downward facing dog
Wonderful stretch for the whole back line of the body. Stretches the hamstrings and lower legs, decompresses the spine and opens the shoulders. Engage your quad muscles, press firmly into your hands and feet and keep your tailbone reaching upwards. Breathe deeply into the whole of your ribcage.

 2. Crescent lunge
Great pose to stretch tight hip flexors. From downward dog step one foot forwards. Press firmly and evenly through both feet. Tilt your tailbone downwards and creating a sense of lengthening up through the hip flexors and the front of your lower spine.

3. Warrior three
From crescent lunge, transfer your weight onto your front leg. Don’t lock out the knee of your standing leg, keep a little softness in the knee and ankle. Your pelvis should be level, and your chest and face looking straight towards the floor. Reach out through your fingertips and press away through your back heel with toes pointing down. An excellent pose for balance, leg and core strength, and mental focus.

Yoga for indurance athletes

4. Side plank

Have your hand directly under your shoulder and focus on aligning your body as you would in Mountain Pose (standing tall, not bending sideways, forward or back). Keep your face and breath soft. A good pose for full body strength, balance, core strength, endurance and focus.

5. Easy cross-legged pose.
Similar to sitting cross-legged, but you aim to place your shins parallel to each other. Flex your ankles to activate a stretch into your hips. Sit your hips back and lean into the stretch with a long spine. A great stretch for your glutes. Change sides by switching the opposite shin to the front position.

6. Breathing exercise
Sit up tall in any comfortable position (use a chair if you prefer). Focus on creating a long, full, even breath. Observe your belly moving in and out with your breath – engaging in full diaphragmatic breathing. Slowly count the beats of your breath in, and your breath out. Make your exhalation one or two counts longer than your inhalation. Continue for three minutes. *For more detailed breathing exercises, refer back to my June column here: www.fitnessjournal.co.nz/training-your-breath/

7. Corpse pose (Relaxation)
Lie on your back, arms and legs relaxed. Close your eyes. Let your breath fall into a soft natural rhythm (don’t try to control it). Simply stay here being aware of your body lying softly. Look for areas of tension you can soften further. The challenge of this pose is to not let your mind wander off into thoughts – the most helpful way to do this is to continue observing yourself breathing, and softening your body on the mat. Remain for five minutes.

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