In the midst of this pandemic, yoga can be something you continue at home or be a new form of exercise that you begin during this social distancing time to enhance your mind, body and spirit, or to improve yourself as a triathlete and person.
Take this opportunity to utilize the following to make your mind stronger, your body stronger and also help prevent injuries.
Yoga can take on many different forms and routines, but one part I see many people skip in the beginning of a class is when the instructor is doing a centering or mindfulness activity to set the tone for the class or your day. This is one part that I see many athletes fast forward through when at home; however it is a vital practice, especially during this time and also during training and racing.
We have all had training sessions and races go perfect, but we all have also had races that did not go according to the plan. The skills and tools that you gain during the centering and mindfulness will assist you in those rough moments to remain calm, which will help you adjust to the best new plan and ultimately help you have the best race that you are capable of performing.
As many of us are now limited to swim cords or various dry land swim work — that maybe we have never done or have neglected — the following yoga poses will assist in helping you reach your goals and possibly help prevent soft tissue injuries during this time. Yoga offers an ideal way for swimmers to build strength, flexibility, and core stability.
Basic yoga poses to help your swimming
People who swim competitively or train rigorously are often tight in the shoulders, hamstrings, and hip flexors. When done regularly, yoga can help swimmers boost their performance in the pool and decrease their risk of injury.
These stretches warm up your spine and help integrate the front and back bodies. They also introduce the idea of movement in concert with breath. The cow position, with an arched spine, is done on your inhalation and the cat position, with a rounded spine, is done on your exhalations.
The domed back position will probably feel more comfortable to swimmers, so make sure not to linger here and give a short shrift to the arched spine, which stretches open the chest that tightens during your swim stroke. Pay special attention to your feet, curling the toes under during the cow and releasing them in the cat as you start to work on your foot mobility. Do five to ten rounds of this stretch.
From your all-fours position of cat-cow, inhale and lift your right arm straight up toward the ceiling. On an exhale, release that arm and thread it under your left armpit, bringing your right shoulder and right cheek to the floor. This is excellent to open up the shoulders. Please hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
Upward Bow Pose or Wheel Pose
This pose opens the entire body including the spine, shoulders, chest, back, and thighs. It helps to correct the common "swimmer hunch" by strengthening the back and improving posture.
Yoga for cycling
One of my concerns as a coach was the shoulder injuries from increased shoulder strength activities by my athletes but what came very quickly was all of them asking for more biking and running to replace lost swim time and aerobic time swimming. So immediately I refer to my first rule of coaching which is keep my athletes healthy as they progress. It's important that we take the opportunity to make gains in biking and running as that is more easily available, but we also need to strengthen our core. and through yoga use poses and sequences of poses to create flexibility and strength to stay healthy. The hip flexors and lower back often become less flexible and strained during longer biking so I have included a few great poses to counteract the static position of biking.
Lowering from a high push up position to a low push up position. It strengthens and tones the wrists, arms, abdominal muscles, and lower back. It prepares the body for more challenging arm balances. Similar to a traditional push-up, it also strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine, which helps to improve posture. All of which are similar to holding your handlebars and moving in and out of the aerobars.
Upward Facing Dog
Moving into an upward facing dog from the lower push up position targets the upper back, shoulders and arms for strength, but also stretches the front of the body from the hip flexors to the muscles of your upper chest. Studies have shown yoga improves respiratory breathing capacity by increasing chest wall expansion and forced expiratory lung volumes, a large benefit for cyclists
Warrior One usually follows downward facing dog and is part of the Sun Salutation B series.The movement into Warrior One is a great core exercise itself with the shifting of the shoulders and one leg forward into a lunge, and lifting of the torso. Warrior pose targets the hips, and quads for strength while stretching the hip flexors. Single leg exercises are great exercises for cyclists since cycling happens one leg at a time, and yoga has plenty. Holding this pose for extended periods can be a real leg burner.
Benefits and Poses for Runners
Many athletes have running imbalances that often sideline them with injury. Yoga can help to create balance and improve areas often most affected, reducing the chance of running injuries. Below are a few common poses and sequences that can be helpful.
Revolved Lunge Pose
This is a twisted variation of crescent lunge. Revolved Lunge Pose opens the heart and detoxifies the whole body by stimulating the spinal nerves and massaging internal organs. It is a great hip opener as well. There are many different variations and different poses, so experiment with them to see which one is appropriate for you. Below, the lunge is shown on the left and on the right the revolved triangle, which is phenomenal as well.
Pigeon yoga stretches and variations
In running, cycling, and every day work environments, we develop increasingly tight hips. Most people have strong feelings about Pigeon. It seems like they either love it or hate it. I used to be in the hate camp, but now I’m totally in love, mainly because the things we tend not to enjoy are EXACTLY what we need to do to improve overall health.
Whether you use yoga as your main source for strength training, or once a week as a supplement to other forms of strength training, it can provide great performance benefits.
Yoga is full of dynamic and static movements that help strengthen all the muscles of the body. This helps create muscular balance to prevent injury, and builds a stronger support system.
We are all only as strong as our weakest link; yoga will help you find and strengthen them.
Tim Gerry is a QT2 Systems and USAT Level 1 Coach and a Certified Yoga Instructor. He is also a physical education teacher and coach at the high school level. He has competed in triathlon since 2004.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.