by Lynne Ray (PT, PYT, CSCS)
Yoga is an excellent supplement to the schedule of an endurance athlete, and one that is often overlooked. Yoga increases flexibility, builds stability and strength, all well known facts. Additionally, a regular yoga routine can also enhance mental focus, deepen breathing patterns, prevent injury, and offer a form of recovery non-impact exercise.
Endurance athletes need properly aligned bodies so that they may be as efficient as possible when training for long distances. Thus proper hamstring and hip flexor length as well as gluteal strength are essential for maximal performance. A consistent practice of yoga helps one elongate their tight, shortened muscles, and build strength where needed. Musculoskeletal balance can be achieved through yoga.
Yoga focuses on stability before mobility. Ensuring core strength is a priority of yoga. With a strong, stable core, endurance athletes improve their running posture and protect their hips and back. In the long run this creates a healthier, and more competitive athlete.
Yoga teaches deep breathing techniques, pranayama. Studies have revealed that deeper, focused breath allows one to perform at a higher work load with less lactic acid build up. Which in turns allows an endurance athlete to race harder and recover faster.
Mental endurance is necessary for all multi-sport athletes. Yoga has meditative techniques that will train an athlete to focus during those final miles of a long race. Yoga may require a participant to hold a difficult posture, asana, for prolonged periods of time which not only builds endurance strength but mental endurance.
Considering the countless hours endurance athletes spend swimming, biking and running, the minimal time spent practicing yoga can reap maximum benefits. Yoga should be an essential part of an endurance athletes training program.