Swim, Bike, Run...and Yoga

Your goal is to improve speed and performance. You're not interested in chakras, contortions and chanting, much less sitting still, meditating or focusing inwardly on your breathing. Although you keep hearing about the benefits of yoga, you feel like it's probably a waste of your precious and limited training time and is either too easy or too hard—or just too weird. Yet thousands of athletes are cross-training with yoga to give them an extra edge—reducing chances of injury, muscular imbalance and overtraining while improving endurance, focus and flexibility.

What if there was a style of yoga that offered all the benefits but without the extreme poses and strange stuff that might make you uncomfortable? What if there was an athletic yoga specifically for triathletes? Well, the following sequence of yoga-based stretches focuses on alleviating some of the biggest race-season-enders for triathletes: stiff shoulders, sore hips, achy low backs, and tight hip flexors, quads and hamstrings.

Getting Started

Athletic yoga will increase your flexibility, strength and balance, which can have a positive effect on performance—but like all training, yoga needs to be practiced regularly for top results. The pose sequence in this article is a great place to start, and you can do it at home in under 20 minutes.

You don't need any special equipment or expensive gear (although a yoga mat is suggested). The time you take to add yoga to your training routine can actually save you recovery time and spare you injuries.

While doing the entire sequence three times a week is ideal, think of it like training for your first triathlon: You didn't try to do the entire distance in the first week, and you shouldn't expect to touch your toes in your first yoga session either. As you gain flexibility and get more comfortable, you can add poses and increase your yoga training time.

During the summer and fall, while your race schedule and mileage is heavy, focus mostly on gentler flexibility poses, especially if yoga is new to you. After your race season ends, consider adding more challenging strength, endurance and core-conditioning poses.

Athletic yoga sessions end with a final relaxation where participants lie still and rest. This motionless pause is truly the pose athletes need most. Taking the time to rest increases energy, strength, power and potential, and instead of feeling exhausted and over-trained you feel energized, empowered and ready for what's next.

Triathletes are determined, persistent and committed to being their best. While it's fun and addicting to compete and train hard, it is important not to be competitive with yoga poses. Athletes are used to pushing through pain and connecting with the more-is-more philosophy; however, a less-is-more approach works best for athletes who are used to pushing through pain and beyond their limits. After the yoga session you can go back to being a competitive athlete.

Practice Tips: Stretch Without Strain

  • Move slowly and deliberately through the sequence, listening to your body.
  • Like anything new, yoga may feel a little awkward at first, so commit to at least six weeks.
  • Do not force a stretch. Doing so will only tighten muscles and could result in injury.
  • Hold each pose for 5 to 10 breath cycles before moving onto the next stretch.
  • Use full, diaphragmatic breathing in and out through the nose. Feeling breathless is an indicator you've gone too far.
  • For the best results, practice this sequence three to five times a week, or after each swim, bike or run.
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