Yoga for Triathletes (or anybody for that matter)

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OK…so no matter how much I love P90X and Tony Horton’s fitness model, my ultimate fitness goals still come back to triathlons. If P90X didn’t help my triathlon performance, would I still do it?…probably not. I am a triathlete through and through now…I simply love crossing that finish line after pushing my limits in three different sports in the same race. There is no way to describe the feeling to those that haven’t competed in a triathlon. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you finish first or last or somewhere in between, competing in a triathlon or just plain completing one brings a sense of accomplishment like no other.

So, in light of the fact that triathlon performance is always my ultimate goal in all of my fitness endeavors, I tend to measure each fitness routine or activity in terms of how I think it will benefit me or how it has benefited me in my triathlon training. That includes my swimming, biking, and running workouts…just because a workout is in the three major disciplines of triathlon doesn’t mean that it will help you reach your triathlon goals…at least it doesn’t guarantee that it is the best way to reach your goals. Running the same flat road over and over again and just increasing your time to meet your workout plan may not benefit you as much as doing a shorter hill workout or an interval run on the treadmill or maybe even a plyometrics routine or a leg workout. So what is the answer?….BALANCE. Yes, that is the “B” in B.A.S.E. Training and I know you probably thought it stood for balance as in the “don’t fall over” kind of balance instead of the “variety” type of balance…but it stands for both! I know, it’s clever…and don’t tell me that I can’t make it stand for both because it is my business and I can do whatever I want. I can say that it stands for “Bike” too in my next blog if I want…but I digress.

So, back to balance in your workout plan: You need to incorporate a balance of different types of workouts into your routine and evaluate them for how they are helping you reach your goals. I think most triathletes have heard that strength training in addition to your swim/bike/run workouts is beneficial to performance, and most triathletes probably know that they should be stretching for injury prevention if for nothing else. Many have incorporated interval workouts, hill workouts, fartlek workouts, recovery workouts, long moderate workouts, tempo workouts, and more to increase performance. If you are one that has incorporated all or many of these things into your triathlon training or workout regimen then you are well on your way to achieving Balance (in the variety sense). However, there is one type of workout that many triathletes and general fitness fanatics overlook that I believe can do far more than most realize for bringing balance (of both types) and improved performance…YOGA!

Yes, that’s right, I am finally going to talk about yoga after over 500 words of not even mentioning it except for in the title. Did the suspense kill you? No?…you were just annoyed? OK, OK…yoga.

So, how does Yoga benefit a triathlete? Is it worth the effort and possible humiliation of having to tell people that I do yoga? Especially if you are a guy, doing yoga may be out of the question simply because guys just don’t do things like that…right? Well, open up your mind for a minute here and forget about all of the stereotypes and mental models that in your brain right now and think about your goals. Do you want to get faster, stronger, healthier, more fit, more flexible, more agile, etc? Do you want to perform better in all aspects of your fitness and life? If the answer is yes (and it probably is if you have read this far into this blog), then forget about what people who aren’t any of those things might say about it and simply evaluate if yoga can help you reach those goals. Here are the things that I believe that I have gained from doing yoga and how they translate into me being a better triathlete:

Flexibility: When I started my first round of P90X I could barely touch my toes when I would sit on the floor with feet extended and flexed out in front of me. Since completing P90X I have continued to do yoga and almost have to use a yoga block on the bottom of my foot just to get a hamstring stretch (i.e. I can reach about 5 inches past my entire foot in that stretch). I used to have lower back problems every once in a while, but yoga has increased my flexibility to the point that my lower back pain is gone (I believe my tight hamstrings were pulling on my back and causing discomfort). It may be obvious how this would translate into being a better triathlete but let me just spell it out for you: injury prevention, comfort in the aero position on the bike, better swimming form…just to name a few of the benefits.
Recovery: Although I sweat more doing yoga than I do in many of my other “harder” workouts (I put “harder” in quotes because that is what I used to think about yoga…yoga is easy), it actually helps me recover from those other workouts. When I am sore from a good leg workout, from running hills, or from a long bike ride, I can do yoga in the evening and the soreness is greatly reduced. Using yoga to aid in recovery can help you feel ready for that next “harder” workout.
Strength: Many people think that yoga is all about stretching and that you don’t really have to be strong to do yoga…just flexible. Wrong! Some of the positions that you have to hold in yoga take an incredible amount of strength…especially in the more advanced poses of power yoga that Tony Horton teaches in P90X and the One-on-One series. But the strength that you get from yoga is a little different than the type you get from lifting weights because you are holding an isometric position for an extended length of time with muscles stretched. This lengthens your muscle fibers and gives you some functional strength that lifting weights simply can’t provide. Because you have to balance and hold your body in those positions, various muscles that you normally wouldn’t work are working very hard…all while you stay calm. How does this help you become a better triathlete? Well, when all those little stabilizer muscles are strengthened, they do a better job of supporting your body in other activities like swimming, biking, and running.
Breathing: This is probably the biggest benefit for most triathletes. Breathing easily during your normal triathlon training is a problem for a lot of triathletes. The run is probably the biggest challenge in terms of breathing easily with the swim being second (although breathing in the swim is a bit of a unique challenge). Yoga can make this problem go away by forcing you to concentrate on your breath during difficult poses and postures. When you first start yoga, you will likely have a difficult time breathing at the right time (or breathing at all). However, with patience, yoga will eventually teach you to breathe properly and it will translate well into your triathlon training.
Focus: Yoga teaches you to concentrate and focus while being at peace. If you have ever seen someone doing yoga you may have noticed that it often looks like they are relaxed and calm. This is probably one of the major reasons that people think it is easy. However, if you look closer you will often see that they are working quite hard while maintaining that calm appearance. In P90X, Tony talks about the “calm” and “storm” referring to the calm face and appearance and the hard work going on underneath it all. How does the skill of remaining calm amidst the storm translate into triathlon? Imagine if you could run the 5K at the end of that sprint triathlon at your goal pace without looking like you were about to puke. Imagine looking and feeling focused and relaxed while putting forth a personal best effort. This is what yoga can do for you.
Balance: Yep…both kinds. You need balance to swim, bike, and run efficiently and just plain function. You need balance in your workout program so that you don’t miss important aspects of fitness and so that you don’t get bored and quit.

OK…so I know that was a pretty long blog post but I am becoming more and more passionate about the benefits of yoga for triathletes and anyone who wants to get fit so I feel the need to pass that on. There are actually quite a few articles and blog posts going around right now about yoga and its benefits but I felt that I needed to put this in my own words. I hope you will consider incorporating yoga into your training plan. My suggestions are Yoga X from the P90X program and Tony Horton’s Fountain of Youth Yoga from the One-on-One series. If you want to try either one of these programs click here. If you want help incorporating yoga into your triathlon training plan or any other fitness plan, email me at ryan@tribasetrianing.com

Ryan Chapman
B.A.S.E. Training
Swim, Bike, Run, Bring It!

14 Comments

  • Jenna

    March 31, 2010

    Didn’t see this before my FB post this AM – but I always feel way better after doing yoga – regardless of my normal workouts or not. There are also the added benefits of the sort of meditation and calm that regular yoga practice can bring…

    • tribasetraining

      March 31, 2010

      I agree Jenna…the meditation and calm is another benefit.

  • Coach Designer Handbags

    April 9, 2010

    I don’t think I have seen this depicted that way before. You really have clarified this for me. Thanks!

  • angie

    April 13, 2010

    Thanks Ryan…I am not currently doing yoga in conjunction with my tri training but am going to start. Your blog about it was very entertaining and interesting!! Great job!! Are you going to be at the TriBabes Meet & Greet this evening?

    • tribasetraining

      April 13, 2010

      Thanks, Angie! I am not going to be at the meet and greet tonight but Lisa said that she was going to promote my training services tonight at the event. I am hoping that the TriBabes will be interested in my services.

  • Fred Williams

    April 16, 2010

    Having done P90X and used yoga in my now successful quest to return to triathlon training and racing, I can’t begin to express how dead on you are in your post about the benefits of both. I didn’t use YogaX much because I already had an established yoga practice prior to starting P90X, but whenever I didn’t make it to class, YogaX was a capable substitute.

    Honestly I think one of the reasons I was able to complete my first Ironman was the strength and recovery I gained from practicing yoga and having it at the center of my training program.

    Thanks for the post and train well!

  • Gaye Mcchristion

    April 17, 2010

    Many thanks for your explanation and taking the time to email me as well 🙂

  • nfl youth jerseys

    April 23, 2010

    A good article Thank you!