Now that your calendar is filled with virtual and rescheduled races, it’s time to start thinking about training. Whether you’re new to competing or tackling new distances, everyone can benefit from cross-training with yoga.
As you tick up your mileage, it’s important to supplement your preferred activity or sport with yoga to boost flexibility, core strength, and stability. It also helps to improve your range of motion and joint mobility. Mentally, yoga helps create a heightened level of focus and awareness during training and racing. This mental training teaches athletes to perform more effectively during a race staying focused on form, learning how to deal with negative thoughts, and working through unexpected distractions.
Here are some yoga tips and stretches for runners, cyclists, and swimmers to incorporate into your workout routine for the most successful (and injury-free) race season yet.
Yoga for Runners
From dodging rocks and roots on the trail to repetitive pounding on concrete or asphalt, running of all varieties can create tightness in the same areas of the body: calves, quads, hamstrings, IT bands, and hips. A simple yoga routine loosens tight spots, strengthens weak spots, and makes you a better, less injury-prone runner.
Standing poses improve balance, coordination, and encourage the development of even strength throughout the leg. The more you can strengthen all the muscles around your joints, the less vulnerable those areas are to injury. Additionally, the core strength you gain from yoga gives you strong abdominal and back muscles, keeping your torso upright and your pelvis in healthy alignment, allowing you to move more efficiently.
Yoga for Cyclists
Cycling is a powerful sport, executed in a fixed position—often for hours at a time. After a long ride, most riders experience stiff legs. Inflexible leg muscles can be the cause of many adverse conditions, including IT band, lower back and knee pain, along with overall decreased range of motion.
Through the practice of yoga, cyclists can decrease muscular imbalances, which improves riding abilities and reduces injury. Yoga builds strength in the leg and glutes while cultivating flexibility in the hip flexors. This translates to a more fluid stroke and stride plus reduced stress on your back.
Yoga for Swimmers
Mix up your dryland training and improve balance, alignment, and breathing with yoga. Yoga offers flexibility, improves range of motion, and helps swimmers build muscle strength. The breath awareness from yoga translates well into swimming, since movements are synchronized with your breath in both yoga and swimming.
Yoga poses use the force of gravity on body weight to increase muscle and bone strength. While swimming takes the pull of gravity away, yoga helps put it back in to keep the body balanced and strong. The focus of yoga for swimmers is on the shoulders, hip flexors, hamstrings, feet, and ankles.
If you’re sufficiently convinced to give yoga a whirl, here are a few simple asanas (poses) to get you started.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Begin on your hands and knees. Align wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Spread fingers and press into palms. Tuck toes and lift knees off the floor. Gently try to straighten legs and raise hips into an inverted V. Breathe deeply for 10 breaths. As your muscles relax, try to straighten legs more and sink heels toward the mat.
Benefits: Stretches hamstrings, calves and foot arches, and strengthens shoulders.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
From Downward Dog, step right foot forward between your hands. Lower left knee and, keeping the right knee over right ankle, slide the left knee back. Turn the top of your left foot to the floor and lift your torso upright. Then sweep your arms out to the sides and up overhead. Drop your tailbone toward the floor and look up. Hold for 10 breaths, release, and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Stretches hip flexors; strengthens hamstrings and quads.
Standing Forward Bend
Stand with feet parallel, hip-width distance apart. Gently bend over your legs, pulling abs in and bending slightly at knees. Grab opposite elbows and hang. Hold for 10 breaths and release.
Benefits: Stretches hamstrings and shoulders.
Legs Up the Wall
Sidle up beside an open wall space with your hips as close to the base of the wall as is comfortable. Swing legs up the wall and lie back. Rest here anywhere from 10 breaths to 10 minutes.
Benefits: Relieves tension in legs, feet, and back while stretching hamstrings and glutes.
Lie on your back with both legs extended. Bend right knee, loop a yoga strap (or dog leash or belt) around the arch of the right foot and hold both ends of the strap with your right hand. Try to straighten your right leg. Your hamstring relaxes, try to gently pull it toward you, feeling a good stretch down the back of the thigh. Hold for 10 breaths and repeat on the other leg.
Benefits: Stretches hamstrings.
Start by lying face down on the mat. Bend knees backwards and gently grab your ankles. Hold your ankles by pressing the feet into the palms. Ensure your knees are kept hip-width apart. Pull your chest off the mat. Hold for five breaths, slowly come down, and repeat three times.
Benefits: Opens and stretches the front of the body; strengthens the back muscles and rotator cuff.