Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Triathlon is a fantastic sport. By incorporating three different sports (swimming, biking, and running) athletes decrease their injury risk, remain fresher, and hopefully decrease their risk of overtraining. However, injuries are still a possibility when it comes to triathlon training. Triathlon is a very linear sport. With all three sports we move in a very compact position in a straight line, often for hours on end. We become very economical and efficient in swimming, biking, and running but sometimes very inefficient in movement outside these three sports. We’ve all seen the swimmers who during the recovery phase swing their arms way out to the side as opposed to over their head. The cyclists who ride with their hips and knees flaring out as if they are on a horse and not an 8.2kg piece of carbon fiber between their legs. And, especially the runner with no hip flexion and locked knees looking as if he/she is running to find the nearest oil can. These issues don’t just place athletes at risk for muscular imbalances and subsequent injuries, it also places athletes at risk of aging poorly and having issues as they grow older.
I view triathlon as a lifestyle sport. A sport an athlete can age up with and continuously enjoy. It’s great to train for performance and throughout one’s career there are times and places for that, but if you don’t balance out how you treat your body, you are setting yourself up for failure both in sport and life.
Enter Yoga! I’ve competed in sports my whole life. In high school I played soccer and lacrosse on competitive teams. In college I played on National Championship lacrosse teams. After college I entered into the endurance sports world. Throughout all of this I have tried to maintain some form of deep stretching, meditation, and at times a yoga practice. I’m not immune to the stressors of a busy life, balancing a full-time job, a part-time job, kids and triathlon training. At times yoga has gone non-existent. When I was in my early thirties I remember telling my wife one evening after completing a yoga class that no matter what I needed to maintain a weekly yoga practice. The benefits are too numerous to not prioritize it. However, I’m guilty of letting it fall to the wayside, going days, then weeks, then years of not practicing yoga.
Fast forward to spring 2022 and now I am 44 (actually I’m 45, but in the spring I was a younger version of myself at 44). After a disappointing performance (for me) at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in September of 2022 I put solid periodized blocks of training in and was able to achieve my best race performance and time result at Ironman Eagleman 70.3 in June 2023. I was exhausted afterwards, and by afterwards I mean weeks after the race and not just the hours and days following the race. In addition to the increased fatigue I was getting clusters of migraine headaches that were at times debilitating and leaving me unable to get out of bed. I realized as I recovered from that race that I needed to add even more balance to my routine. My body needed it and my mind needed it. I resumed yoga practice. I started off slowly adding a more Yin style of practice. Yin yoga is more relaxing and meditative. It is slower and has you gently holding poses for long periods. It complemented the acupuncture treatment that I began as well, in an effort to restore the homeostasis my body desperately needed. From a Yin base I progressed slowly into Vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa yoga is a bit more creative and incorporates flowing poses that require balance, strength and stamina. Throughout the practice breathwork is diligently practiced and maintained. A technique called Ujjayi Pranayama. Each movement is partnered with the breath, whether it be the inhalation or exhalation.
Although there are other forms of yoga, I feel Yin and Vinyasa complement triathlon beautifully. We cannot ask our bodies to go all power all the time. By incorporating Yin yoga we allow ourselves the opportunity to slow down and breathe. Yin yoga calms and balances our body and mind. It reduces stress and increases circulation. Yin yoga allows you to gently stretch and lengthen your muscles and connective tissues. Vinyasa yoga has all the same benefits and also improves overall strength and balance. It helps to build muscular endurance. The type of muscular endurance that is required for activities with everyday living, such as carrying your children. Vinyasa yoga flows through the movements and requires great breathing control. Both styles counteract the muscle tightness triathlon causes from being in such compacted positions for long periods of time. Over time riding our bikes in an aero position and running can shorten our muscles particularly the muscles around our hips. Swimming, biking and running are linear sports and require our bodies to perform for long periods of times in one direction. Yoga balances our bodies out, by incorporating many different positions. It strengthens and develops the supporting muscles that are neglected in triathlon training. In turn this leads to increased performance and a reduced risk of injury.
Yoga can be incorporated into any phase of your training and by incorporating a mix of both Yin yoga and Vinyasa yoga it can be maintained throughout all phases of training. There is no shortage of guided online and in-person classes. Try out many different classes to find instructors who you align with, but don’t be afraid to develop a routine that works for you. Triathletes often have a more is better philosophy. They often feel anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Avoid falling into this pitfall with your yoga practice. Many benefits can be obtained by incorporating short sessions into your weekly plan. Time management is key with triathlon training and you don’t want to be exhausted from your yoga practice and not be able to execute a key ride. Therefore, start slowly and begin with Yin yoga. Then if you are adapting well try adding in Vinyasa yoga. Remember though, there is nothing wrong with sticking with a Yin practice as your main form of yoga. When beginning, keep the sessions on the shorter side for both time management and to minimize fatigue.. Twenty to thirty minutes is a great starting point. Allow yourself to be creative. Incorporating yoga 10 minutes prior to a swim, bike, or run session and 10 minutes after is a great way to fit it in. There is no right or wrong. Save the data collection and time splits for the three disciplines of triathlon. Allow your yoga practice to be your release from the overly hardcore goal oriented sport of triathlon. Yoga should be your calming Yin to triathlon’s active Yang.
**The beauty of yoga is that it can be done anywhere without equipment. All you need to bring is your breath. As you advance if you feel you would like to add props start with a mat and one or two blocks. I believe living an athletic lifestyle through sport and movement is how we connect with nature, with our inner child, with our spiritual self, with our peers, with our significant others, with our bodies and this how we better ourselves. We are fortunate to have partnered with Yara Kamal and her team at Scoria "who are on a journey to reconnect again with childlike behaviors of being playful, having an active imagination and appreciation for storytelling as a grown-up. They are dedicated to shining a unique perspective on wellness, striving to create a space where others can fearlessly be themselves. " If you are looking to add some props such as a mat, blocks, bolsters or any other tool you believe will help deepen your practice then be sure to visit scoriaworld.com for 10% off your purchases.
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