Yoga And Triathlon A Great Friendship

Back in October I posted about yoga's 5 principles and its benefits to triathletes.  Lately I have been feeling some fatigue in my left hamstring, glute, and pirformis.  It has been aching and I finally decided to go back to my roots of yoga to see if that would help, and it has done wonders for me.  That sore/ache feeling has subsided and the last two days I have been able to turn in very good runs off the bike. I typically do my yoga stretching after my strength and during my core workout.  The strength sessions tend to tighten up my muscles and so by doing yoga stretches I am lengthening those muscles and engaging my core to stabilize my body.  I think that yoga has done wonders for me and I believe it is one of the reasons that I have not suffered any injuries in over one year of intense training. Here is my post from October: ====================== Can Yoga Make You A Better Triathlete? I have recently come across quite a few discussions, both online and in person, regarding yoga and the benefits. This led me to think about the benefits of yoga and my passion of triathlon. I had previously practiced yoga and knew how it made me feel in terms of lengthening my body and silencing the mind. During my triathlon training the strength work that I have been doing has lengthened my body as well. In addition to the benefit to the body, my mind has had to be trained as well. Trained to be able to go farther and faster then ever before as well as knowing my body and when I am not properly hydrated or nourished. It would seem that yoga and triathlon go hand in hand, similar to massage which I previously wrote about. There are five principles of yoga and each one can and does have an impact on a triathlete. The principles are proper relaxation, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet and lastly positive thinking and meditation. I will show each principle separately and why it goes hand in hand with triathlon. PROPER RELAXATION We all know the benefits of relaxing in this hectic world we live in. News cycles are 24/7, the internet is always on, the tv is in the background and so learning to relax properly is important. Relaxation is not just a way to get away from it all, but it also aids in recovery and rejuvenation of the athlete. As a triathlete or endurance athlete knows there is a time prior to race that you go through tapering. Tapering is the process of working less so that the body is rested and ready to explode on race day. Being able to relax during that tapering period is important because you need your muscles to get rest and that rest will lead to a rejuvenated body come race day. If an athlete doesn’t go through that tapering period they run the risk of tight muscles and burnout of pushing and pushing the body to its limits.
As any triathlete knows the beginning of a race and going through the white wash of the swim can be very taxing on the body and mind. You are fighting to get position and all at the same time are hitting and being hit by other swimmers. Everybody is battling and knowing how to relax at this point during a race is important. Getting your heart rate elevated during this point can ruin the day for a triathlete. The adage that you can’t win the race in the water, but can lose it is very true. Being able to relax the mind and body will allow you to get through what is almost always an anxiety riddled beginning to a race. Having a rough start can do harm to the mind and body during the rest of the race. PROPER EXERCISE A triathlete spends hours and hours exercising. There is bike riding, running and swimming. Don’t forget to include strength training as well and with all of this yoga should be included as well. Yoga will stretch and tone muscles and ligaments, it will enhance the flexibility of the spine and other joints and will also improve blood circulation. Yoga will also teach you to breathe properly while doing the poses and thus allowing for proper flow from one pose to another. Proper exercise in yoga is also known as posture. Posture is not only important to the yogi to help stave off injury, but to the triathlete as well. In the water the body must be in proper form in order to go fast because there is no way to muscle through the water if technique is not perfected. The same can be said while on the bike and during the run. While on the bike the body has to be positioned properly in order to limit the amount of drag from the wind while in aero. Having the bike fitted to your height and leg length is a great way to start to get you in the proper posture to have a successful ride. During the run the proper foot strike and making sure that you are not landing awkwardly on your feet is important. Getting the proper shoe is another way to ensure that you have proper posture and help avoid injury.
While doing yoga you are going to build muscle tone and strength which will also help to avoid injury. Certain poses will help to strengthen the shoulder and back muscles that are used during the swim. Other poses will help develop flexibility in the legs which will translate to leg turnover and higher cadence on the bike and run.
In addition to the benefits of strengthening muscles and blood circulation what may be the most important is the flexibility of the spine. The three sports that make up triathlon are all linear movements and thus training causes the body to become stiff and thus more effort is needed to perform them. By doing yoga the spine becomes flexible and allows for a greater range of motion in each sport. Using swimming as the example when one is gliding through the water it is important to be able to be able to get your arms in and out of the water through the mid-line of the body. If the athlete is not flexible then the hand will enter the water not in proper position and could eventually lead to injury of the shoulder because proper alignment is not being practiced.
PROPER BREATHING Yoga will teach you to use all parts of your lungs. By being able to utilize all parts of your lungs you are more capable of increasing your oxygen intake. By increasing your oxygen intake you are capable of recharging your body and control your mental state.
During yoga the lessons on breathing learned will include the ability to have steady slower breathes. With the proper breathing techniques a triathlete will learn to become more efficient because you will learn to breathe out. The thought process can be that I need to breathe faster and harder to get oxygen in, but if you take a longer deeper breathe you will not only get more oxygen into your lungs you will get old oxygen out and replace it with new fresh oxygen. Add in the fact that by taking a longer and deeper breathe you will also relax your mind and body which pointed out earlier is one of the principles of yoga.
Each principle works together to lead to a much more efficient athlete. For example, when we are stressed (ie the swim start) breathing tends to become shorter which results in improper breathing, and poor posture. This can lead to an injury of not just the physical state, but of the mental state and endurance events, especially triathlon, are battles of the mind as well as physical. PROPER DIET As I have pointed out getting the proper nutrition is imperative to a triathlete. Filling your body with poor nutrition will lead to less energy and not the proper fuel while out training. Making sure that you are eating whole foods with lots of color will provide the athlete as well as the yogi the proper amount micronutrients which are important in having the ability to go longer and faster. The way that yoga is involved in the proper diet, is that if you are not eating healthy and nutritious meals will result in a mental inefficiency. Not being mentally prepared to tackle the extremes of a triathlon will possibly lead to injury and a mind set of giving up. The beauty of yoga and triathlon both is that it is a way to exercise not just the body but the mind, and being properly fueled is important.
Proper fueling during training is important but it is also important during the race. While it is impossible to fuel during the swim, getting the proper amount of calories on the bike and run can be done. A triathlete can zip-tie gels to their bike frame as well as have a hydration system where it is as simple as bending over to get a drink. During the run there are aid stations where water and an electrolyte drink are provided which will help in getting calories and micro-nutrients into the system. Being properly hydrated and fueled will make the time while in the saddle and on the run of a half-Ironman and Ironman race easier to handle. POSITIVE THINKING / MEDITATION In triathlon or any endurance sport for that matter the mental portion is needed to not only compete in a race but to also endure the hours on end of training. When training in a pool and seeing that black line repeatedly for an hour one needs to have the mental fortitude to get through it. Going out for a 6 hour bike ride or a 20 mile run is not just physical, but being able to know mentally that you can do it is just as important. While during this training how does an athlete generate positive thoughts? How do you teach yourself to enjoy the life around you with family and friends? Dealing with all of this is not easy but being positive and keeping your mind fresh is the key. We, the triathlete, seem to deal with the same mundane items with what are seemingly countless hours of training. The days seem to blend together and usually incorporate the following, wake, eat, train, work/school, eat, train, eat, train and sleep then do it again. In there the mind needs to be able to stay sharp and fresh so that those days are enjoyable and keep us coming back for more. Incorporating yoga into our training will teach us to be mentally sharper and focused so that our training remains enjoyable. Keeping training as a positive aspect of our lives will allow us to continually keep pushing ourselves to go farther and faster. By combining the principals of yoga into the training regimen will allow the triathlete to become one with their body. Knowing what to eat and how that impacts your body, plus staying relaxed and breathing properly during the race will lead to improved results. Staying positive regardless of outcome will also lead to improved results. Didn’t get your PR? Not a problem, how did you do in each of the three events? Was your swim better then you would have thought? Break down the race so that you know what to work on and take the positive out of the results. Yoga is a great compliment to the biking, swimming and running of a triathlete.

What are your thoughts on incorporating yoga into your training?

Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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