As endurance athletes, we need to maintain a certain amount of flexibility, strength and balance to do what we love. Although you may love to run, cycle or swim, it isn’t enough to keep yourself injury free. Yoga can offer endurance athletes a way to integrate balance, strength, mobility and breath work into their everyday sports. Additionally, yoga is a great place to cultivate mental discipline and a calm mind, both of which are required to be a successful endurance athlete.
There are several yoga poses that are beneficial to endurance athletes, so if you can make it work, adding one or two yoga classes into your routine would be ideal. However if it is unrealistic, here are five yoga poses that are fairly easy to do but will be very beneficial. Good luck!
Pose: Downward dog
Benefits: improves thoracic extension, shoulder extension, core activation, calf and lower leg stretching
Why it helps endurance athletes: Thoracic extension is important for swimming and running form, shoulder mobility is needed for your swim stroke and knowing how to activate your core while breathing is important for all exercise, as for endurance athletes multiple hours running and on the bike cause increased tightness in the calf and lower leg muscles.
Pose: Chair with rotation
Benefits: great for leg strength, hip mobility, foot/ankle strength and spine and shoulder mobility
Why it helps endurance athletes: This pose is fantastic for leg and glute strength, even without the rotation. However, adding the rotation challenges balance and stretches throughout the neck, mid-back and lower back. Many endurance athletes feel tightness in their shoulders and between their shoulder blades - this pose allows you to get into those difficult areas to stretch. As a bonus, focusing on your breathing while here further stretches the rib cage and spine.
Pose: Tree pose
Benefits: hip mobility, balance/proprioception needed in single leg strength, core stability
Why it helps endurance athletes: Running is a single leg sport, so if you are an endurance athlete it is important to be able to balance on one leg and be able to control your pelvis while on one leg. This pose is a great way to teach your glutes how to dynamically stabilize your pelvis on one leg. I also like the fact that the other leg is actively rotating. If you do this in bare feet and manage your arch, you will knock out arch and foot strength/stability too!
Benefits: lumbar and thoracic extension, opening up the shoulder girdle, core stability and lumbar strength
Why it helps endurance athletes: If you spend a lot of time on a bike (or at your desk!) your spine is always forward flexed. It is important for you to move in both forward flexion and extension for the health of the spine and the muscles around it. This pose opens up the front of the body if done correctly. The front of your shoulder girdle opens up and is stretched, while you have to use the muscles in your back to maintain the position. If you are able to do up-dog, you will also reap the benefits of using your arm strength, core and lower legs while stretching.
Pose: Crescent lunge
Benefits: leg strength, core stability, posture, shoulder strength and flexibility
Why it helps endurance athletes: This is another way to tap into leg strength while stabilizing the pelvis and hip and spinal extension. Again, if you perform this barefoot you will be using your foot musculature to help stabilize the leg and pelvis.
Remember, training is about balance: Getting stronger, faster and more efficient without overtraining and tipping your body over the edge. As you can see, many yoga poses are beneficial to improve your body physically; however, yoga is about more than the physical. A regular yoga practice is also a great way to practice calming your mind and focusing on your goals and learning to maintain a steady breath, even when you are under physical stress! So go for it - sign up for a class, or try some of these poses at home to improve your training, recovery and racing.
Dr. Edwards is a doctor of physical therapy, a board certified orthopedic specialist, an authorand CEO/founder of Precision Performance & Physical Therapy.