Yoga gains popularity year on year. From the young to old, sedentary to athletic, it seems the benefits cross all borders and apply to all. But should endurance athletes do yoga? Discover five potential gains and four reasons you might want to give it a miss
Should endurance athletes do yoga - 5 reasons to give it a go
1. Reduce injury occurrence
Most yoga moves are dynamic and recruit both large muscle groups as well as small stabilising ones. This has the combined effect of not only making you stronger but also more injury resistant. This is because the small stabilising muscles are often the source where injuries originate, so strengthening them is a great benefit of yoga.
2. Strengthen your core
We’re not just talking abs here. Indeed, your transversus abdominals, obliques but also the muscles around your lumbar all benefit from yoga moves. Endurance athletes tend to neglect core work, yet we all know the benefits of a strong core, so weekly or biweekly yoga sessions are ideal for addressing this limiter to many athletes’ performance.
3. Improve muscle coordination
You might think your coordination is spot-on, but I’ll bet it’s not! Endurance athletes have large engines but often lack finesse and even though this may not be as important a factor as cardio capacity or strength, developing coordination will still benefit performance. When you consider the definition of coordination - “the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently” – it’s easy to see how important it is for many endurance athletes. For runners, efficiency is one of the pillars of performance at all distances and swimmers’ ability to coordinate their limbs to move smoothly through water is the bedrock of good swimming.
4. Boost balance
If you’re a road runner, triathlete or swimmer, you might not think balance is all that important, but you’d be wrong. Ultra and cross country runners well know the benefit of being able to glide over debris-laden trails, as cyclists also understand the importance of balance as they sweep round tight turns on a white-knuckle descent.
5. Improve flexibility
Even with the best intention we neglect flexibility but for most of us there are performance gains to be made here. Whether you’re a swimmer reaching for a better catch, a time trialist pushing for a more aero position or a runner looking to open their hip angle further to increase stride length, flexibility affects everything from comfort to power delivery.
There’s plenty of reasons endurance athletes could give yoga a go…
Should endurance athletes do yoga – 5 reasons to stay clear
1. It’s time consuming
Most of us squeeze training into gaps around work, family and social commitments. Prioritising is therefore key to getting it all done. When you consider the sessions that deliver most bang for buck, yoga sits lower down the ranks than more sport-specific training. To add yoga into your weekly schedule, something will have to give.
Having said that, it doesn't have to be time consuming. We're huge fans of DoYogaWithMe: fully instructed bite-sized yoga sessions you can do anywhere. We tried classes but once accounted for the driving to and from the gym, it took a couple of hours out of our day. These videos let us practice yoga just 15-minutes each morning, and we have to say we really feeling the benefits.
2. It adds fatigue
You’re likely already maximising your training time around life’s other obligations. If you add yoga into the mix, be aware of the extra fatigue this will place on your body. It may feel like a ‘soft’ session compared to a hard tempo run, but it’ll still deplete your stores which needs recognition and attention. Yoga is not a super-easy recovery session.
3. It can cause injury
Despite being a good way of building tendon and ligament strength (and thus reducing injury occurrence) there’s another side of this coin. Those new to the discipline often bring their egos onto the mat and push too hard too soon. Injuries caused from over-reaching and over-stretching are not uncommon in beginners. So, remember to leave your ego at the door and don’t be competitive with the person on the adjacent mat.
4. It decreases muscle elasticity
The flip side of #5 listed above, some studies have shown that tighter muscles improve economy, particularly in runners. The stretching of muscle might improve flexibility giving you a longer stride length but there’s always a yang affect to the ying. In this case, reducing the elasticity of your muscles - and energy stored in tendons - can reduce the ‘snap’ runners need for faster efforts.
…but there’s two sides to every story and for some, yoga might not be worth it
Should endurance athletes do yoga - conclusion
This is one of those frustrating articles that provides no clear-cut answer to your question: should endurance athletes do yoga? That’s because, as you’ve read, incorporating yoga into your training depends on your personal schedule.
Who should do yoga? If you have a few hours per week to spare and can add it to your training schedule without sacrificing any key sessions from your main sport, then I’d say go for it. Start slow, leave your ego at the door and get consistent with it.
Having said that, if you had a couple of hours free per week on top of your sport-specific training I’d put strength and conditioning above yoga on the priority list.
Who shouldn’t do yoga? If you’re tight on time and train less than 6 – 10 hours per week, then I’d leave it at the door. You’ll reap greater gains by drilling the sport-specific workouts and dedicating any extra hours to strength and conditioning.
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