Friday, February 1, 2008


I've been curious about yoga for endurance athletes for a long time. Several of my athltes have tried it with good results as far as their range of motion goes. Others have liked it for the meditative state which they believed enhanced recovery. So I asked Sage Rountree, the author of The Athlete's Guide to Yoga, to write a guest post for my blog. Her comments follow. I'm curious as to what others have experienced with yoga. Please feel free to add your personal experiences under 'comments'. -- Joe

Why Do Yoga?
By Sage Rountree

In a training week already chock full of wor
kouts and other commitments, it can be tough to see the benefit of adding yoga to the mix. Wouldn’t that time be better spent on the road, trails, track, or in the pool? Not necessarily—especially if you have limited flexibility that impairs your range of motion. Yoga can certainly improve your flexibility, but it will also enhance your training by increasing your strength, your mental focus, and your mind-body awareness. In addition, yoga gives you an opportunity for recovery between workouts.

Strength: Yoga uses whole-body movements to increase your functional strength, making you stronger organically. This serves as a good complement to the work you do on the weight-room floor. Be sure to schedule your class or longer home practice on a day when you are not lifting.

Flexibility: Yoga’s stretches, practiced mindfully and noncompetitively, will increase your flexibility and help correct imbalances in the body. This improves your efficiency and can help prevent overuse injuries.

Focus: Yoga teaches you to focus your attention on the present moment, using form and breath to stay relaxed at the edge of intensity. It’s an experience very similar to being in a race: you come up to just below the limit of what you expect you can sustain, and keeping your attention on form and breath, you hold yourself there.

Breath awareness: Yoga emphasizes long, slow, diaphragmatic nasal breathing, which teaches you to use oxygen efficiently. The more you know about your breath and its patterns, the more you can use it as a tool to gauge your effort. Breath awareness also improves your swimming by helping you grow more comfortable with different inhalation to exhalation ratios.

Recovery: A dedicated yoga practice gives you a chance to relax. On the mat, you’ll tune out the distractions of your day and tune in only your breath and your body, focusing just on the moment. Some yoga positions, like the one described below, can actually speed up the recovery process.

A Pose to Try
Viparita karani, or legs-up-the-wall pose, is a great pose for practice after a long workout or on a rest day. You’ll give your legs a chance to recover while resting your back and, depending on your flexibility, stretching your hamstrings.

Sitting on a soft surface (a mat, a blanket, a carpet), scoot one hip as close to the wall as you can, then swing both legs up so that you are “sitting” on the wall. If your legs don’t want to stay put, you can strap them together with a yoga strap or a necktie, or slide your seat away from the wall a little without locking your knees. Hold your spine neutral and choose a comfortable position for your arms: in an inverted V by your hips, out to a T, bent to a W, or in a full V overhead. This will give you a chest stretch as you rest here. Stay for at least three minutes and up to ten or more, breathing slowly and deeply. If you find your mind wandering, bring your awareness back to the sensations in your body—they should remain pleasant—and to the motion of your breath. To come out, turn to your right side and rest a few breaths in a fetal position before moving on.

Finding a Class
Many athletes are turned off of yoga because they drop in on a class that’s either far too easy or way too hard. You’ll want to find a class appropriate for where you are in the training cycle. In the off-season and base period, a more dynamic class (Ashtanga, power, and vinyasa yoga) is appropriate. As you build, stick to gentler classes that focus on flexibility. Your racing season is a good time to work on restorative and very gentle yoga classes, and these make a good introduction to yoga throughout the year.

Look on and to find a local studio or teacher. If you don’t connect with the first teacher you meet, visit other classes—there is a wide spectrum of styles out there, and with a little searching, you’ll find a good match.

For More
To learn more about how yoga will enhance your training and racing, see my book, The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, just released by Velo Press. It contains a DVD to guide you through 15 minutes of yoga practice. (A full-length DVD will be released by Endurance Films this spring.) I blog about yoga and training at You can follow my podcast of short post-workout routines and check out my upcoming workshops, including one in New York City on February 9, at


At February 1, 2008 11:25 PM , Blogger nickel said...

It has greatly improved my hip mobility. I am trying to figure out the best poses to use for active stretching before a training ride.

At February 3, 2008 1:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've used yoga to train for surfing and it works. It also improved my overall balance when switching my weight from one leg to the other. I could stand for longer periods on one leg without having to hold on to something to stabilize my balance. It works, and I need to get back to basics and incorporate this back into my regular strength training during the week. I always feel a little weird showing up in a mostly female class, but once I get started it is possibly the best exercise I know for inproving balance. Thanks Joe, you are an inspiration for many I am sure.

At February 7, 2008 8:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yoga has been a great accompaniment to my training. Spending so many hours on the bike has really compromised my hip mobility and flexibility, as well as my psoas. Not only has yoga improved my hip flexibility and tight psoas, but there are many postures that help strengthen and train core stability muscles that I use in cycling. It's all to easy to forget that your back counts as your core.

At February 23, 2008 8:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been attempting to work out a limiting condition of premature fatigue of my left leg while riding at high intensity. CHIRO/PSYTHRPY/focused personal strength trainer/MRI. After 3yrs decided to give it all up as i was getting no where. My Left leg would just fatigue and i'd have to drop the intensity. I'd make the moves in road races and make the splits only to be spit out. I finally tried Yoga after some pleading by my wife. 1month in, not much had changed 2 mos...some change 3mos feeling bilaterally strong!..6months and i was earning UCI point in Cyclocross races that the previous years were only dreams. The only training I changed was the yoga in the past years. My limitating left leg was strong and constant! If you have any limiters give it a try you'll be glad you did. Many $$$$ spent and all it took was Yoga...all the best MJG

At February 26, 2008 10:39 AM , Blogger Sarah said...

I absolutely love yoga. The problem is finding enough time to really do it. If you're already training 10-12 hours/week and you work a 40 hour work makes it really tough. Now that I've been doing it for a couple of years, I have some basics that I can do on my own. However, for beginners, and I think for a true yoga session, it's best to get into a class.

I am amazed at how much it has opened up my hips, how aware it's made me of my hip imbalances, how much it's improved my balance, how well it stretches my hamstrings and back, and to quote myself from one of my posts - I often catch myself thinking "this is nearly as good as a massage!" The way it massages your organs and muscles can simply be incredible.

Finally, the core strength that yoga helps you to develop is, I feel, far superior to any number of core strengthening workouts that we all do.

Again...the major limiter is time and of course, it's not cheap. I'm happy if I can get one yoga workout a week and try to do some shorter 20-minute sessions at home to supplement and stay flexible.

At July 9, 2008 3:40 AM , Anonymous Yoga Instruction Man said...

Thanks for the post.

At October 22, 2008 3:08 PM , Blogger JoeyB said...

Just a comment on breath. The next step as you watch your breath is to put yourself in the gap in between breaths. It can be a frightening process but you will eventually find that you have even greater control and improved performance. Namaste. -John

At December 30, 2008 7:47 PM , Blogger Booksy said...

I started incorporating yoga several months ago. my hip mobility has greatly improved and my hamstrings no longer inhibit my hip rotation. I feel more comfortable and confident on the bicycle. The focus that is mentioned in the article has perhaps been the biggest change. I've been undefeated since I started doing a 10 minute AM Yoga routine in the mornings before the drive to the race. I feel like I'm much better able to stay right on the edge.

My digital cable offers a rotation of routines free and I've downloaded a few onto my iTunes that I use when I'm traveling. Doing it at home definitely makes it easier to focus... for a variety of reasons!

I recommend yoga to everyone.

At May 10, 2009 9:18 PM , Anonymous Crystal Singing Bowl said...

Great post. New to your blog, but you got great writing style. You had some very interesting points that I liked. Looking forward to more of your thoughts.


Post a Comment

<< Home