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Why Yoga Can Benefit Endurance Athletes

By Kellye Mills

mzYoga is most often associated with benefits such as flexibility, stability and strength, all of which are very important. However, it’s not as often associated with endurance, which is yet another wonderful advantage to be gained from yoga classes. Endurance athletes spend countless hours training their neuromuscular and metabolic systems in an effort to increase their endurance so that they may race efficiently for extended periods of time. However, the hours spent using their bodies to swim, bike, and run can often lead to injury and burnout.

These exercises require a great amount of strength endurance in order for your muscles to repeatedly produce and sustain maximal power output over the course of the activity. Certain types of yoga classes are designed with strength endurance in mind providing opportunities for your body to repeat exercises requiring a great amount of strength with little to no rest. This creates a similar effect to that of the training we usually endure without the added stress on our bodies from too many miles of swimming, biking and running.

There are many different types and styles of yoga. Yoga classes can be designed as restorative classes, incorporating poses with the main purpose of recovery of the muscles. There are sequence classes designed to allow students to learn the poses and how to posture them correctly, and there are also yoga classes designed to build strength and strength endurance in the body. These “power” or “vinyasa” style classes provide opportunities for the body to hold strenuous poses for extended periods of time, while maintaining a steady flow between the poses in order to build physical endurance.

During these power classes, students teach their body to maintain mental and postural composure. A good yoga instructor will guide you through holding your poses, while controlling your breathing, maintaining your mental stability, and focusing on your body in that given moment. These key factors are just as important in training regimens as logging the miles for their endurance events. Taking one of these classes allows for multiple opportunities to work with your body and mind to perform at a given level, while increasing your physical and mental endurance.

As with any new exercise program, it’s important for an athlete to begin at a basic level and progress appropriately into a more intense level of training. Many athletes come into a yoga program with very little flexibility, stability and often with injuries. Beginning with a sequence class where you can learn how to align your body into the poses properly is the best place to start. Most often people begin incorporating a yoga routine into their schedule during their offseason. This tends to work out well as you will have more time to incorporate something new into your routine. You are doing less strenuous training overall, and it’s often beneficial to change the exercise routine to keep mental and physical training fresh. From this starting point, as your strength, stability, and familiarity with the poses increases, you can then step it up to the power level yoga training and begin reaping the benefits of strength endurance as well.

For many athletes, this can be the missing link in their training. No matter how much you may swim, bike and run, not having the ability to continue to push through a difficult moment or situation during a race, physically or mentally, can make the difference between successfully meeting a goal or not. Including yoga in your training schedule allows you to increase your endurance levels in a constructive way, without having to pile on unnecessary miles that could lead to injury.

Kellye Mills is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, a Level III coach with USA Cycling, and a RYT 200 hr certified yoga instructor.  She coaches endurance athletes of all levels through The Sport Factory, where she also teaches yoga classes specifically designed for athletes. Additionally, she teaches multiple yoga classes at Ember studio in Woodstock, Ga.  You can contact her at her training page http://thesportfactory.com/site/coaches/Kellye_Mills.shtml or directly at her email kellye.mills@gmail.com.

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