As a triathlete, adding more workouts to my weekly training regime can seem a bit overwhelming. However, the seasoned endurance athlete does not need to attend a 90-minute yoga class or spend countless hours in the weight room to see benefits. In as little as 20-minutes a day doing some basic yoga poses or resistance training exercises, the endurance athlete can gain the following benefits.
1. Improved joint flexibility and range of motion to allow freedom of movement.
Many endurance athletes tend to develop a limited range of motion in the joints that are specific to their sport. For example, the hip joint of a cyclist repeatedly moves anywhere from 10 to 85 degrees hip flexion while cycling. This limited range of motion not only creates tight hip flexor muscles, but the strength development of the hip flexors are limited further as they are activated in a small fraction of the entire pedal stroke.
There are several great yoga poses and basic resistance training exercises that can help an endurance athlete improve the flexibility and strength of their joints and surrounding tissue. After a long bike ride, one of my favorite hip flexor poses is Lizard Pose.
2. Improved coordination & balance to allow enhanced control of body movement.
When thinking about resistance training many envision the typical weight room with large machines and a variety of heavy dumbbells. Although that equipment can be beneficial, the endurance athlete does not necessarily need them to gain sport-specific benefits.
Using a stability ball may be an obvious way to help the athlete gain coordination, stability, and balance, but there are many yoga poses that can do this as well.
Watch some of these clips taken from our fitness videos, where the proper technique of the Triangle Pose, Eagle Pose, and Tree Pose are demonstrated . These are just a few of the yoga poses that can help increase coordination, stability, and balance.
3. Strengthened and supported underutilized muscle groups, creating more functional overall strength to help decrease chances of injury.
As a triathlete, the choice of swimming stroke we tend to use for long distance is the front crawl, also known as freestyle. Even though we may vary the swim strokes in training to balance the muscles used, we should not ignore the benefits of dry land training.
In the example of a freestyle swimmer, the shoulder is repeatedly doing an internal rotation movement. This can cause many shoulder issues if the ability to externally rotate is not strengthened.
We have two video demonstrations of an exercise that develops the posterior deltoids and external rotators of the shoulder. The first video is Reverse Fly Using Dumbells, and the second is Reverse Fly Using a Resistance Band.
4. Increased insight into alignment of the joints and supporting structures.
When I think of proper joint alignment I think of optimal body position. For an athlete who is in a particular position for a long period of time, proper alignment is key.
For example, the spine is designed in such a way to allow for systems, such as the nervous system and cardiovascular system, to work at their optimum. If the body position is bent out of alignment there is an interruption in the "flow" of those systems. It's common to see a cyclist hunched over their handle bars. When they round their thoracic spine (mid-back), it interrupts the athlete's ability to take in full oxygen when breathing, slowing down the ability of the heart to deliver oxygenated blood to the legs.
Do exercises that strengthen the core to help the spine keep that optimal alignment. The top exercise, which I featured previously in The Best Ab Exercise Ever, includes a video demonstration that shows several variations of the plank. Another great core strengthening exercise I recommend for endurance athletes is Boat Pose.
5. Yoga helps center the athlete's focus by quieting and controlling the impulses of the mind, promoting serenity.
I have been competing in a variety of sports over the course of my entire life, from team sports such as basketball and volleyball to individual sports like rowing and triathlon. No matter how much experience or skill I acquire in my athletic endeavors, I still get nervous before each event. If athletes can harness that nervous energy effectively they can certainly use it to fuel their performance. If an athlete doesn't practise how to properly focus their mind it can hinder their performance. Here is one way we can use meditation to quiet the mind (video).
6. Yoga helps gain greater ability to manage the athlete's breath, maximizing oxygen uptake and decreasing loss of energy during endurance activities.
In yoga, much of the focus in on controlled deep breathing that contracts the diaphragm, also known as diaphragmatic breathing. On a regular basis, the average person only takes in one-third of the amount of breath available in the lungs when at rest. An amateur athlete, who spends much of their day sitting at a desk, cannot expect their body to be able to utilize their full lung capacity while exercising.
Practising full diaphragmatic breathing will train the athlete to utilize their full potential so they can maximize their oxygen uptake during training and competition. In this video I explain the three part breath and how to take advantage of your full lung capacity.
Due to the demanding training schedule of an endurance athlete, they are less likely to participate in regular group fitness classes. We believe that 20-minutes a day of yoga or strength training will be sufficient to help the endurance athlete gain strength, coordination and flexibility, while allowing them to have more time to train for the sport they love.