Training Hard? Yoga for Athletes Is Exactly What You Need

Peloton
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An active recovery is a key part of every workout routine, and there’s no better way to structure your rest days than with yoga. Yoga for athletes can be a key pillar in maintaining elements of your fitness, such as balance, flexibility and core strength, as well as counteracting typical pains or soreness from overuse and tightness. “Cyclists power hard through their quads and get super tight in the front of their thighs and hip flexors. They also get stiff shoulders and complain of lower back pain from rounding over the bike. Runners have super tight hamstrings and can have a lot of knee and foot pain. All athletes who work out daily and fail to stretch, feel sore all over and find their muscles tighten up,” says Peloton yoga instructor Kristin McGee. If that sounds like you–and you haven’t popped into a Peloton yoga class yet–instructors Aditi Shah and Kristin McGee explain why you should give it a try.

Yoga for Cyclists

One inevitable downside of finding a workout you truly love is that doing the same movements every day isn’t great for you over the long term. “Your body gets used to doing the same movements and will adapt to accommodate repetition. Including movements that challenge you to move in new and different ways is important,” says Aditi. If the workout that gets you revved up is cycling, here’s a few things to look out for:

  • If you’re feeling your wrists after a long ride, stretching the wrists happens in many different poses, some more accessible than others, says Aditi. “For those newer to yoga, I’d suggest just simple wrist stretches on the mat on hands and knees, flipping fingers to the sides or back towards the knees and moving around, clasping the hands and rotating them in circles. If you’re a little more mobile and advanced, reverse prayer is a nice wrist stretch.”
  • Simple neck stretches are also going to be effective for cyclists, and they’re built into a yoga practice. “All yoga poses have a “drishti” or gazing point where the yogi is supposed to look. Therefore, we end up moving the neck in a range of motion,” says Aditi. “Any yoga class is likely to include looking up, down and side to side.”
  • For tight ankles or feet, Aditi suggests sitting in a supported hero’s pose: kneeling, placing a block between the feet (toes pointed) and then sitting back on the block. “After some time, maybe lose the block and try to sit back on the heels with toes pointed,” says Aditi. “For tight arches, start kneeling with shins and ankles all of the way together, tuck the toes under (so arches are stretched) and sit back on the heels. The challenging part of this is keeping the ankles touching, but it gets easier over time.”

Yoga for Runners

“Yoga can specifically help enhance a training regimen like running by aiding in recovery as well as strengthening opposing muscle groups,” says Kristin. “Yoga focuses on the core, back and inner/outer thighs and hips. Often times runners and cyclists focus mostly on the quads and hamstrings. Yoga helps stretch and loosen the muscles and bring more range of motion to the joints. The more mobility you gain, the greater power you have. You can move your limbs through their full range of motion and cycle or run faster.”

  • Have a long race coming up? “Yoga also helps with focus and concentration,” says Kristin. “When you’re training hard your mind needs to be on board as well and keep you present and concentrated on the moment and what your body is doing. Yoga enhances your breathing and cardiovascular system. When you learn to tap into your breath your circulation is better and you can adapt to higher intensity cardio easier.”
  • “SO MANY yoga poses ask for a combination of stability and flexibility through the legs,” says Aditi. “If runners are too sore or if their muscles are too tired to do challenging standing postures, sitting and supine variations are just as useful. Anjaneyasana (crescent lunge) for opening the hip flexors, pigeon or any figure four position for tight hips, gomukhasana (cow faced pose) legs for tight hips, and if forward folding is difficult seated, then supta padangustasana on the back is always an option.”
  • “For runners, lower-body tightness and soreness is a common problem,” says Kristin. “Yoga can help with IT band tightness and other running issues by stretching out the hips, hamstrings, calves, and lower back while also strengthening the glutes, core and feet. Certain poses such as fallen warrior specifically stretch the IT band. I also love all lunges and warrior poses for runners.”

Yoga for Other Sports

“I often hear people say they can’t touch their toes or their hips are so tight that they hate pigeon pose,” says Aditi, and that amount of mobility and flexibility is key for almost all sports. Aditi suggets supta padangustasana (translates to supine hand to big toe pose) which is a supine hamstring stretch with a strap, or supported pigeon with blankets/bolsters/blocks. “For tight shoulders and upper back, I think all the yoga arm variations are helpful. I taught a Beginner Yoga class focused on arms and we cover all of these.” In addition to general mobility, keep these tips in mind as you build yoga into your training routine:

  • “Restorative yoga is always a nice way to get rest while still reaping the benefits of postures,” says Aditi. These classes feature lots of supported postures that use yoga props like blocks, bolsters, and blankets to allow you to stay comfortably in a single pose for an extended period of time. If you’re looking for something more active, Aditi says, “beginner classes are also a great way to focus on form without getting exhausted.”
  • “Some key yoga poses for all-around fitness that athletes shouldn’t skip are cat/cow stretch, plank pose, downward facing dog pose, warrior 2, side triangle, crescent lunge, seated spinal twist, boat pose and bridge,” says Kristin. As you’re learning, Aditi advises that if something feels tight, pay attention to how you feel and if it hurts, then back off. “Like any other practice, it’s important to tune in to your body. No teacher in the world can know what you are feeling – only you can – so it’s important that you are kind enough to not push too far past your edge,” Aditi says.”
  • “Since athletes love to push themselves, the most important way for them to stay injury free in yoga class is to listen to their breath and the cues from the instructor,” says Kristin. “When the breath gets held or rapid paced, it’s a good idea to back off until you can take a deep full breath in each pose. Also remember to modify and take it at your own pace. Yoga is a lifelong practice more of a marathon not a sprint and in order to keep at it, you have to be patient and progress at your own pace. It’s fun to challenge yourself but make sure it’s in a safe and informed way and you’re always mindful of your alignment.”

Working hard? Here’s why you need a recovery day.