Yoga for a long triathlete career

Strength, speed, endurance, training, nutrition, recovery: these are the demands of a successful triathlete. But with big races happening every other month, triathletes have little time for the balance needed to stay healthy, motivated and competitive.

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Conditioning and Injury prevention

To consistently achieve peak levels in swimming, cycling and running, triathletes indulge in repetitive movements and extreme training that can lead to imbalances in the body over time. A common cause for injury, body imbalances threaten race participation and training schedule.

Most of the time, this is where yoga comes in. As rehab after the race or during injury. What is often overlooked, is the value of yoga as a tool for overall conditioning leading up to the race. Yoga has the potential to enhance functional mobility and stability, which so many benefits. Sustaining performance, increasing athletic capacity, promoting healing and even injury prevention from muscle overuse.

By practicing yoga as a form of cross-training, triathletes take their bodies through planes of movement that go beyond standard triathlete training. They build the strength and mobility lacking in under-developed muscle groups surrounding the over-utilised muscles to optimise capacity. For instance, the hamstrings, hips, core and lower back that tend to be weaker in triathletes, can be strengthened with targeted sequences like deep lunges, balance postures, and back bends.

Balance and body awareness

Every yoga pose is a balance of stability and mobility that continually sharpens body awareness and helps to nurture a sense of balance. Yoga is helpful for becoming more in-tune with the body, and for becoming more sensitive to early signs of injury. The result is more efficient technique and form that better supports the intensity of trainings.

For instance in yoga, a common body cue during certain standing and squatting postures is to “tuck the tailbone”. When triathletes apply this cue to their sport, they are able to achieve a more streamlined swim, maintain a pain-free aero position for extended periods of cycling, and take stronger and wider strides in a run.

With a consistent yoga practice, the triathlete gets to know his body better and is able to build a successful triathlete career that can be sustained in the long run.

Practicing yoga

For a first-time practitioner, the instinct might be to forcefully and painfully contort into a picture-perfect pose. Try this instead: take a big inhale to fill your lungs, and let the breath out soften your body. Keep this softness throughout the practice and aim to move easily in the body rather than rush into poses with rigidity. The goal isn’t flexibility – a triathlete doesn’t need to be super flexible for enhanced performance. In fact, forcing a pose could lead to hyper-mobility, affect your athletic ability, and increase the risk of injury.

Below are three poses that help to even out some of the body imbalances a triathlete might have. When performing this sequence, aim to move with ease and in harmony with your inhales and exhales. Where there are challenges, breathe and soften into them, taking time to linger before moving along with your breath as the lead.

1.    Pigeon pose

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This opens the deep muscles of the hip and hip flexors.

Begin in downward dog. Inhale to lift your right leg up, and exhale to curl it in towards your right elbow, relaxing your knee to your right wrist and foot to the left side of the mat. Flex your right foot to protect the knee. Relax your left leg and toes to extend behind you. Keeping your hips squared forward, move with your breath to settle deeper into the pose. Breathe in and come up to your fingertips, feeling the length in your spine. On your exhale, crawl your fingertips forward, bringing your torso along with you. You might be most comfortable on your elbows, or with your arms extended out. Relax your head and neck, and bring attention to your breath. Settle here for one minute. Switch sides.

2.    Half lord of the fishes

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This opens up the chest, torso and hips, and creates balance between the left and right sides of the body.

Sit tall with both legs extended in front of you. Check that you are sitting evenly on your sitting bones. Breathe in and gently bend your right knee in, setting your right foot on the ground, outside of your left thigh. On your exhale, reach your left fingertips behind you, close to your back. Breathe in to raise your right arm all the way up to lengthen. Exhale and twist to face the left, rotating from the waist. Release your right elbow to the outside of your right knee, pushing against the knee to deepen the twist. Continue to deepen the twist with every breath – inhale to lengthen your spine and twist more to the left, exhale to soften and settle in. Settle here for one minute and switch sides.

3.    Dolphin

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This stretches the shoulders, hamstrings and calves while strengthening the arms, legs and core.

Start on your hands and knees, with your knees directly beneath the hips and hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Exhale to tuck your toes and push into them to lift your tailbone toward the sky. Begin by keeping your knees slightly bent, and begin reaching your heels toward the ground with your breath. On your exhale, gently lower your forearms to the ground, with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Broaden your shoulder blades away from each other and push strongly into your forearms. Deepen your breaths and hold for one minute before switching sides.

Find what works for you

Since no two bodies are alike and every triathlete has different physical strengths, weaknesses and goals, each person requires a different set of movements tailored to their needs. The right fit would nourish your body with the balance it needs. What is the best place to start? Begin with a foundation and use your yoga practice to better understand your body, its weaknesses, and the balance you need to sustain a long and successful triathlete career.