Long before I started running and competing, I used to hate yoga. It was really hard, and holding all those different poses hurt. My body did not move, stretch, or bend in any way like the freakishly flexible yoga instructor who could turn herself into a pretzel. I gave it up for a while. Once I started college, I slowly started going to classes with friends and started to appreciate the mental and physical aspects yoga had to offer. Since college I started practicing yoga regularly (about twice a week.) I have included it into my training schedule to help my flexibility, breathing and mental awareness, all key elements when it comes to endurance sports.
Here are 3 reasons why athletes should include yoga into their training regime:
1. Increases VO2max
- Probably one of the most surprising statements I have come across. A study on the Effects of Hatha Yoga Practice on the Health-Related Aspects of Physical Fitness proved that regular practice of Hatha yoga improved VO2max. VO2 essentially has to do with your amount of oxygen uptake. The more oxygen you can take in during exercise the better your muscles can perform. The average untrained healthy female will score an average of 27-31 ml/kg/min. Elite female athletes can consume 77 ml/kg/min. The study found that VO2max of the individuals who participated in Hatha yoga, on average increased 6-7%.
2. Improves flexibility
- This one is obvious. But maybe you didn’t know that yoga is based on the premise of correcting the imbalances our bodies incur from daily activities and for triathletes that means activities like biking, swimming and running. The human body does not perform optimally when one aspect of the body dominates the other. Maybe one of your legs is stronger than the other or maybe one ankle can flex better when you swim. If you are unbalanced you aren’t using your body efficiently. Yoga has proven to decrease imbalances through the development of core strength. Your core is where all of your power and stability emulates from. The poses from yoga strengthens your core and elongates the muscles through stretching making joints more flexible by improving the range of motion (ROM). By incorporating stretching based practices like yoga you will improve your ROM which will help prevent joint injuries and keep your body in balance to help you perform optimally.
3. Creates mental awareness
- Have you ever listened to what your body is telling you? Besides being hungry. Taking a moment to listen to what your body is telling you while you tackle a busy day full of activities can prove challenging. One aspect of yoga I believe is a key factor to being self aware is connecting your breath to your body movement. Yoga teaches you to become aware of your breath. Tracy Weber explains, “This integration of breath and movement requires mindful attention and is the key reason yoga is so powerful at connecting body, breath and mind.” I cannot tell you how many times I have “checked in” with my body to see how I was breathing during my training sessions. Am I panting to hard? Can I slow my breath down? Yoga reminds you that you are in control of your breath, and in turn your heart rate (a key factor when optimally performing.) By practicing yoga and connecting your breath to body movement you become self aware of the power your breath has on your own body, and ultimately your performance.
I encourage all athletes to give yoga a try! You might actually enjoy a good stretch after weeks of pounding pavement. And who knows, maybe by next year you can turn yourself into a pretzel…..
– Train Hard. Tri Harder.