Yoga Is For Everybody? Not Quite...

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Yoga For Endurance Sports Enthusiasts

Fitness | Motivation

As more and more people become involved in exercise, either for fitness or to improve the way they look, the fashion is increasingly to opt for the more extreme sports. A few years ago the vogue was for half and full marathons. And these disciplines have helped many to raise huge sums of money for charity, as well as to gain an almost unparalleled sense of personal achievement. More recently, however, people are beginning to search for even more challenging pursuits, and participation in multi-sports – such as triathlon, duathlon and aquathlon – is increasing, alongside the single event high-endurance ultra-marathons. All of these activities can benefit greatly from the inclusion of yoga and pilates routines.

How Are Multi-Sports And Endurance Sports Different?

One of the challenges of the longer distance events, whether you are trying a single sport or a triathlon, is how to build up to your target distance without getting injured. Conventional theory says that building up mileage by roughly ten to fifteen percent per week is best, with one easy week in every four. This helps to prevent injuries, but for ultra distances, extra gains can be made, especially in the cardiovascular system, by doing extensive cross-training.

Pushing You to the Limit with Instant Changes in Body Requirements

Cross-training is great for runners because running is such a high-impact activity. Cycling and swimming enable the ultra-runner to keep pushing the cardio-training without destroying the rest of the body. However, when these events combine in a competition, such as the triathlon, you'll be pushing yourself in all three disciplines, and having to perform each one without a break in between. For Olympic distance triathlon up to ironman, it is important not only to train for each event – and the transitions from one to the next – but also to condition the body for the instant changes in body requirements that each discipline entails. This makes these events very different from shorter single sports.

Why Is Yoga An Attractive Proposition?

Yoga can play a critical role not only in regular running, but also in multi-event training and the ultra-marathon. The meditative properties of a yoga session help to relax the body and mind, and this will help most sports because tense muscles tend not to move as fast; so yoga will improve your form in the water, as well as on the run.

For Runners – Stretching Against Tight Muscles

There is also the obvious physical attributes of yoga to consider, which help athletes get a fantastic stretch, and this enables them to continue training over an extended period. For an ultra-distance runner, the biggest enemy is tight muscles, which can be prone to strains and injury. And if you are trained to run very long distances, the last thing you need is to get injured, be forced out of training and lose your cardio fitness.

For Cyclists – Preparing for Fast Transitions

For triathletes and other multi-sport enthusiasts, especially those who use a bike (this is not so much of a problem if you compete in aquathlon), the importance of yoga is all in the transitions. It is extremely common for triathletes to do so-called "brick-training" where they will go for a very long and challenging bike ride, followed immediately by a run. If you try this yourself, you will quickly see how running after a 50 mile cycle ride feels very different to what you are used to – almost like running on somebody else's legs! So getting used to training "bricks" will help you understand how your running form is affected by fatigue.

For All Disciplines – More Flexibility, Better Posture

But there are other, less obvious, challenges with triathlon. For example, during the swim you will need good ankle flexibility. Yoga can help with this. When you get on the bike, an aerodynamic position can help you save precious seconds and precious energy. Having flexibility in your lower back is the key to being comfortable in that aerodynamic riding position, and of course, yoga can help with this also. And when you ditch the bike and start running, you need to be able to straighten your back after many miles in a hunched over position. Plus you will need to relax your shoulders and get those legs turning over quickly. Once again, yoga can help!

Useful Yoga Poses For Triathlon

All the poses and exercises which help with individual sports are, of course, going to be useful for triathletes too. So an ultra-marathoner will benefit from yoga exercises designed for runners. But as mentioned above, among the more important practices for multi-sports participants are ones which provide better ankle flexibility for swimming; those which enhance lower back flexibility, which is critical for handling long bike rides followed by relaxing into a run; and poses which tend to stretch and lengthen all the leg muscles and strengthen the core.

Increasing Ankle Flexibility For Swimming

Having good swimming body form is crucial for high speed through the water, but you have to generate that forward momentum in the first place. One often overlooked aspect is ankle flexibility, which can assist in generating forward propulsion in a more energy economic way – and you need to be seriously thinking about 'bang for your energy buck' when taking part in these sapping endurance sports.

Child Pose to Stretch Your Lower Back, Hips and Thighs

So one tool used by many swimmers in the pool is a pair of short swimming fins. These are good for practice, but it is also nice to continue stretching out your ankles when not in the water. Try using the yoga Child Pose – or Balasana. This pose is multifaceted because although it will certainly help stretch and strengthen the ankles, it is also a good exercise for stretching the lower back, hips, thighs, strengthening the knees and getting a good stretch into the calves – and if you do a lot of running, you'll probably find the calves are often the most in need of a good stretch afterwards!

Increasing Back Flexibility For Stress Free Transitions From Bike To Run

As already mentioned, the Child Pose is a great exercise for stretching out the lower back. Another very popular pose for increasing back flexibility is the Cat-Cow Pose – also called Marjariasana. This is an excellent and gentle way of warming up the back, and stretching and strengthening the muscles, which will be ideal when transitioning from bike to run in a triathlon.

Cobra-Pike Sequence to Achieve Spinal Balance

A more intense stretch, sometimes performed by martial artists like push-ups (i.e. quickly performed multiple times) is the alternating Cobra and Pike Pose. This involves starting in the Cobra position, and then lifting your butt into the air leaving just your hands and feet flat on the floor with your body in a pike position. And then relax your legs and hips back down to the floor and resume the Cobra Pose. This exercise is not advised if you suffer from back problems or have in the past – just stick with the Cat-Cow in this case. The important point in any of these back flexibility poses is to achieve balance, by gently flexing your spine one way followed by the opposite way.

Stretching And Lengthening The Whole Body

A full body stretch is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable things in life. After all, don't we all have a giant stretch when we wake up in the morning! So there's no reason not to perform one of the most foundational yoga poses as part of training, in order to align and stretch everything from the spine to the limbs. This one is called the Mountain Pose With Arms Overhead – also called Tadasana or Utthita Hastasana. It helps to improve posture, which in sports means better form, whether for swimming or running. And this pose also helps to improve flexibility in the back. It is great for swimmers in particular.

Finally, if you have the time in your schedule to go to a yoga class and eventually learn the Sun Salutation series of exercises – also called Surya Namaskar – it is well worth the extra effort. It consists of twelve poses done as a series one after the other, which contains exercises which will benefit you as a swimmer, a cyclist and a runner. It is definitely worth learning, but to continue developing your ankle flexibility, do the Sun Salutation and then relax with the Child Pose. Even if your performances against the clock don't improve, I think you'll certainly feel like your body is less battered by the ordeal when you get to the finish line and that has to be a good thing.

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