Benefits of Strengthening and Lengthening Your Body
By Kelly Wissolik
Laying in the grass, looking up at the beautiful blue sky while holding that hamstring stretch you think, “Ahh, another workout in the bank! What a great day! A long endurance ride followed by a solid 45 minute run. Okay, time to shower and eat.” So you head inside and tackle the other tasks on your to-do list. Tomorrow brings a long run and perhaps a swim. As a triathlete, your days are filled with swimming, biking and running. With your busy schedule and all of this sport-specific exercise, how often are you really taking the time to stretch? How often are you strengthening your core?
Strengthening and lengthening the body is an often overlooked task for most endurance athletes. However, the benefits of spending just a few short sessions a week on stretches and strengthening exercises such as yoga or pilates are immense. Many endurance athletes are turning to workouts like yoga, pilates and other forms of core conditioning because they see significant performance gains due to increased flexibility, improved core strength and injury prevention.
There are various types of yoga, which has roots in religion and spirituality. Yoga typically uses a combination of physical postures (known as asanas) and breathing techniques (known as pranayama) as well as meditation to purify the mind, body and spirit. The word “yoga” means "union," a definition that fits well with its ability to center the mind and the body.
Yoga allows the mind to enter a relaxed and meditative state while also pushing the body to gain increased flexibility, strength and balance. Athletes use restorative yoga sessions to put the mind and body back in balance by deeply opening tight muscle groups through deep stretches and various poses performed in a relaxing environment. Other short yoga sequences are often used during a warm-up and/or cool-down to center the mind and steady the pulse. Yoga poses increase range of motion which supports and stabilizes the skeletal system, further preventing injury. The concentration and mind-body connection gained in yoga can enhance the mental focus needed in endurance sports training and racing. Combined with slow breathing, relaxation and meditative aspects of yoga, it can be a great way to relax and unwind. Yoga alleviates stress, muscle tension and many aches and pains as well as improving flexibility, muscular strength, posture, circulation and general well-being. With all of these benefits athletes are able to train harder, get faster, prevent injury and stay focused!
Pilates and core conditioning are also proving to be advantageous to endurance athletes. Pilates was founded by Josef Pilates back in the early 1900s and continues today because of the numerous benefits including increased flexibility and core strength. Pilates teaches control of the muscles with the mind. Pilates builds strength in the body’s core postural muscles which support the spine. Each exercise requires awareness by control of breathing, spine position and torso muscles thereby creating a total body workout with minimal impact. During pilates movements, the mind and body connect while focused breathing provides a relaxed environment. Controlled positions heighten the sense of awareness as each core muscle is used to strengthen and lengthen in position. Pilates tones and realigns the body improving flexibility, strength and posture. Pilates and other core conditioning exercises develop a strong core, lengthen the body’s muscles, reduce the chance of injury, realign the body, even muscular imbalances and develop a sense of focus, calm and relaxation. Because pilates improves posture, helps prevent injury, and increases energy, strength and flexibility, athletes see dramatic increases in speed, power output and performance.
As an endurance athlete, we need to keep that sport-specific mileage up, but adding things like yoga, pilates or other core conditioning exercises will take your training and racing to a whole new level!
Kelly Wissolik is an elite triathlete and professional triathlon coach (USAT Level II Certified). Kelly is the creator of Triathilates™, a system that utilizes several basic mat Pilates movements and various other core conditioning and balance exercises specifically to improve muscular imbalances of endurance athletes while sharpening their mental focus. Visit her website at www.energyfitnesscoaching.com or visit her Triathilates page.