Last week we were at The Health and Fitness Expo spreading a little bit of yoga love amongst all the muscle! We were asked to write an article on the benefits of yoga for the endurance athlete. Enjoy!
Why can yoga be of assistance to the endurance athlete?
Yoga has massive benefits for every kind of athlete and fitness regime. The beauty of yoga is that it is completely tailored to each person and their goals. Your yoga practice should change and adapt to compliment your training; strength, flexibility and restorative practices should feature in your regime.
- Yoga for the Body
Yoga can help in a multitude of ways when it comes to the body. Becoming body aware is the first benefit. Yoga teaches you to move in a conscious and mindful way so it becomes easier to notice areas prone to injury. Yoga can also correct muscular imbalances and misalignments in the body helping to find balance in strength and flexibility. Yoga highlights the importance of looking the body as a whole; everything is connected so rather than targeting one small part of the body, we can recruit large areas to maximise mobility and agility. This is why yoga is so effective as a cross training tool. For an athlete, yoga is here to compliment your training and extend your performance life-span.
- Yoga for the Mind
The benefits of yoga go way beyond the body. Yoga and meditation are the perfect tool for endurance athletes. Yoga trains the mind to become more present and focused so the athlete can tap into the state of ‘flow’ more efficiently. Athletes may experience anxiety, lack of motivation or resistance from the mind which is preventing them from achieving their goals, yoga can help ease these challenges that the mind presents. Yoga does this by allowing the athlete to practice mindfulness, which will make one be aware of the patterns of the mind, but also aware of when limits are presented by the body. The breath is also a great tool for mindfulness. Endurance athletes sometimes complain of boredom so coming back to the breath is a useful way to bring the mind back to the present moment.
- Yoga for the Breath
The breath is a key indicator in any athlete’s performance. It can directly influence the state of mind and feeling within the body. Having a greater control of breath means the athlete is able to manage the nervous system, heart rate and provide cells with oxygen so that each cell may metabolise optimally. Physiologically speaking, breath practices in yoga can increase lung capacity and therefore oxygen supply at a given point in time, ultimately helping to increase performance and endurance.
It is well documented that deep sea divers use yoga breathing methods to enhance their performance. Learning to breathe more efficiently also helps to release the accessory muscles of the chest, allowing for greater freedom in the front of the body.
Ideally, how frequently should it appear in their weekly training schedule?
In an ideal world we would fit a practice in every day, whether it be 10 minutes or 90, and any amount of mindful stretching will benefit an athlete . Realistically, finding time for yoga 3 times a week would be of great benefit to body and mind. The practice can and should adapt depending on what you require from your fitness regime at that time of the week.
3 yoga poses for the endurance athlete and why, in particular, each one is good for them
Yoga for runners:
Runners tend to have overworked hip-flexors and quads and underworked glutes. The following yoga poses are a great way to lengthen the front of the legs whilst stabilising and strengthening the glutes:
- Warrior Poses 1 & 2
- Crescent lunge
- Chair pose
Downward Dog is also great for lengthening the entire back of the body including the hamstrings, calves and feet.
Similarly, cyclists tend to show signs of tight but weak hip-flexors and very tight lower backs because of their constant crouched position. Cyclists benefit greatly from opening up the hips and strengthening the surrounding muscles to prevent injury. Chest openers are also great for releasing the back and the front of the chest.
- Low lunges & Warriors 1 & 2
- Bridge pose
The best way to find out about yoga is on the mat. We can spend a lifetime reading about the how’s and the why’s but the magic happens in the doing.
One of the greatest things about yoga is that it is for every body regardless of fitness level, flexibility and strength, you are sure to find a class suitable for your needs.