Yoga and Endurance Sports: Room for Both by Kimberly Bernstein, LCSW, RYT, CPT
Our relationship to physical activity, the asana practice of yoga included, are on an infinite continuum. Some of us proudly proclaim that we would only run “if someone were chasing” us, and others focus on strength training through lifting weights. There are some still, who head directly to the mind/body studio in the gym, or opt for the neighborhood yoga or pilates studio. Sometimes considered a strange breed of people, there are also those who participate in endurance activities such as running, cycling and/or swimming. Obviously, the above is a rather crude list of classifications that is hardly exhaustive. More often than not, though, the endurance crowd is not composed of the same people who are staking out enough space to lay down their mats in a crowded yoga studio.
Endurance activities like running, cycling, and swimming are repetitive motion sports. These activities produce tremendous cardiovascular and strength building benefit, but can also place an excessive amount of undue stress on the muscle groups, bones and joints that figure most prominently in the specific activity. Establishing a yoga practice can help correct imbalances created by the repetitive motion of endurance activities. Runners, for instance, are notorious for having tightness in their hips. In a post on the Endurance Yoga Blog from April, 2010, Fred Williams shares that he uses Malasana (squat pose) to open his hips. He explains how this openess, and the greater connection a yoga practioner gains to the earth in Malasana, can be useful in running. Range of motion is increased, thereby allowing movement to occur with greater ease and increased power.
Muscle groups, individual muscles and joints, benefit from the balancing, strengthening, and flexibility created by a regular yoga practice. Core strengthening and emphasis on breathing, are also key benefits of yoga that easily translate to enhanced performance and reduced risk of injury for the endurance athlete who incorporates two or more yoga sessions into her weekly routine. Poses such as Navasana (boat pose) strengthen the core and a strong core allows the body to more effectively and efficiently perform.
In an article on Active.com, Kellye Mills, a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, Level III coach with USA Cycling, and a RYT 200 hr certified yoga instructor, states that rather than benefiting from any one specific posture, endurance athletes benefit most from the discipline of holding a difficult posture and learning to control the breath and be present in that moment. According to Mills, the strength and endurance built on the yoga mat can translate to the “ability to continue to push through a difficult moment or situation during a race, physically or mentally,” and make the difference between successfully meeting a goal or not.
It seems that endurance athletes who may have been skeptical about adding yoga to their already busy schedules are becoming more receptive to what might have been perceived as slow-moving breathing and stretching. Likewise, yoga studios are benefiting from offering strength and cardiovascular workouts to their schedules to provide loyal students with full body workouts.
Some gyms offer “yoga for runners,” and “yoga for athletes.” Some facilities offer classes that offer a combination of cardio workout, such as cycling, with 35-45 minutes of yoga such as Resolute Fitness, a cycling & yoga studio that opened in Steiner Ranch in December. Yoga studios such as Wanderlust Live, Balance Yoga and CorePower Yoga “yoga sculpt,” a total body workout that incorporates free weights and strength training exercises into a yoga sequence. Several of these studios also offer bootcamps with a limited time intense focus on additional cardiovascular and resistance workouts along with yoga.
Whatever your fitness style or endurance obsession, it's clear that yoga can benefit any athlete exponentially. And with so many studios offering integrated cardio/yoga classes, there's no excuse for not having time to fit this beneficial practice into your training regime.
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