How Yoga Can Help Improve the Performance of Triathletes & Multi-Sport Athletes
“Since I started doing yoga, I have been able to train harder and prevent injury. I have also been able to recover faster after races. The biggest difference yoga has made is improving my mental focus,” – Matt Hanley, local athlete who has completed over 30 triathlons.
Triathletes are always searching for ways to improve their performance, whether it is in their speed, power, endurance, or stamina. Yoga is a discipline that can help them achieve that. According to Bill Garelick, certified triathlon coach, some areas that yoga can help in the performance are:
- The breathing techniques from yoga will help you calm your nerves before the start of the swim. Slow, deep inhales followed by slow, relaxed exhales help control the “fight or flight” response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Slow relaxed exhales will also regulate your stroke rate preventing you from going out to hard and possibly “blowing up” halfway through the swim.
Shoulder flexibility & mobility:
- Yoga will help increase the range of motion of the shoulders. This will help with the swim stroke as the more flexibility you have in the shoulder, the more relaxed and fluid the arm will be in the recovery portion of the stroke.
- Increased shoulder flexibility will also make riding in the aero position on the bike more comfortable as you won’t feel as much constriction to the chest cavity, allowing you to breathe more easily under hard exertions.
Lower back & hamstrings:
- Increased mobility and range of motion in the hips, lower back and hamstrings will allow you to get into, and hold your aero position longer and more comfortably. Increased flexibility in the hips & lower back will allow you to the option of having a lower stem height in relation to the seat for a more aerodynamic position decreasing wind drag. Increase flexibility in the hamstrings will allow you to increase the seat height just a fraction higher and moving it further forward to achieve a better “tucked” aerodynamic position.
- Because most of us are sitting a majority of the day during work and the sports of running and cycling always have the hips in a flexed position. This is an area that should always be addressed. Yoga can increase the range of motion of the hip flexors, which will help the triathlete be able to run easier after riding the bike. In addition, by increasing the mobility of the hip flexors, the chances of groin strains (and upper front thigh muscular strains) from an increase in running and cycling training decreases.
“Brenda did an awesome job with my back and hips. I had no issues after being on the bike for 8 hours!” – Dan Daly of Ridgewood, NJ, after successfully finishing his first Ironman distance race, the 2012 NYC Ironman.
Make the time:
Many triathletes have very busy training schedules and lives and skip yoga and stretching in general because of limited time. Here is a simple 7-pose routine you can do in the comfort of your own home 2-3 times a week (takes about 10-15 minutes). You don’t need any special equipment or expensive gear for yoga, although a mat is helpful.
- Make sure your muscles are warm before you take these deep stretches. Either, do it directly after your workout, after a hot shower or take 2 minutes of jumping jacks to heat you up.
- Move slowly in and out of your pose. Listen to your body. The goal is not pain. The goal is to slowly open your body up.
- Do not force a stretch! Doing so will only tighten your muscles and can result in injury.
- Hold each pose for 5 – 10 breaths, in and out
- Focus on full diaphragmatic breathing to open up the body and calm the mind. Breathe in and out of your nose.
Triathlete Yoga Routine:
- Down Dog (hamstrings, calves and shoulders) – start on all fours, wrists directly under your shoulders and knees under hips, curl your toes under press all the weight back into your heels, hips are high, looking towards your toes. Your body is now shaped like an upside down V.
- Plank pose (core strength) – come forward with wrists directly under your shoulders, weight back in your heels and core strong. To make this more challenging, come down onto your forearms.
- Cobra (chest and back) – lower down on to your belly with hands on the outside of your chest, heels and toes touch and top of foot presses floor, arch your back to take your chest off the ground. Don’t use your hands.
- Child pose (thighs and ankles) – sit back towards your heels and relax arms to your sides.
- Funky Hamstring (IT Band) – come back to all fours, step the right foot between your hands and flex the foot, keep your hips over the back knee, fold forward with an open chest, and hold. Then, come up and shimmy the foot to the left as much as you can, roll to outside of the right foot and fold forward with an open chest. Then, repeat both on the left side.
- Reclining pigeon (hips, groin and thigh) – lay on your back, cross right leg over left, send right hand between your thighs and interlace your fingers behind your left thigh. Keep your shoulders relaxed and head on the ground. Pull the legs in towards you. If this feels to easy, interlace the fingers in front of the left shin. Still too easy? Gently press the right elbow into the right inner thigh. Repeat on the other side.
- Reclining twist – still laying on your back, hug both knees into your chest and then allow them to gently fall to the left side of your body, ideally at belly button height. You can use your left hand to hold the legs down, as you relax the shoulders, right arm resting on the right side of your body and gaze towards the right hand. Try your best to ground your knees and shoulders. Repeat on the other side.
At the end of your routine, simple allow yourself to lay on the floor/mat for at least 2-3 minutes, totally relaxed. With practice, your routine will become more comfortable and you will see remarkable effects on your running, cycling, and swimming performance and recovery.
Brenda Blanco is a lululemon yoga ambassador, Thai bodwork practitioner and JCC yoga instructor. Brenda has a background in hatha, vinyasa and power yoga and has worked with numerous triathletes throughout Bergen County and NYC.
For more information on Brenda Blanco’s services, including private and group yoga instruction and Thai bodywork, visit www.brendablanco.com.