It’s that time of year (despite the rather prolonged winter) that many people begin to transition from ‘winter training’ and begin to ramp up preparations for summer events. Maybe you’re running a marathon, taking part in a long distance cycling ‘sportive’, training for a triathlon or just keen to get exercising outside after months in the darkness in the gym. Whatever you’re doing, don’t under-estimate the power of yoga as a key part of your training programme. Nick Ryder (rugby player and yoga instructor), takes a look at why regular yoga should be one of the top priorities of any athlete – whether you’re undertaking your first 5km race or your 10th Ironman.
Regular yoga increases joint mobility and flexibility, which in turn leads to an increased range of motion. A cyclist with increased joint mobility will be able to operate at a higher cadence (with more power) and a swimmer with more range of motion will be able to capture more water (and swim faster) than someone with less range of movement. In addition, consistent work on range of motion and flexibility (whatever the sport) through yoga will decrease the chance of injury. A few months ago, I recommended a squash player take up yoga. I bumped into them the other day and they were singing yoga’s praises. Not only were they feeling much fresher and more supple on court, their reach had increased by nearly a foot as they could lunge much deeper and further thanks to yoga.
Whether you are brushing up your tennis serve in preparation for those long summer evenings or looking to add an extra 30 yards to your golf drive, balance is a key component in all sports. Better balance and coordination in turn lead to better technique and perfect form – the aim for all athletes. The majority of standing yoga poses require some level of balance, from the easier triangle pose all the way to the single legged warrior 3/ half moon/ tree poses. You can work on your balance at any time of day – waiting in line for coffee, on the phone or even watching TV. Simply take one foot off the floor and balance on the other leg. To add difficulty, close your eyes. You’ll soon begin to notice a difference. If you’re feeling particularly hardcore, why not try standing on the train/ bus/ tube without holding a handrail. With your eyes closed. Well maybe not the last bit… you’ll just end up looking strange.
Most people would agree that yoga is a ‘great workout’ that helps increase strength, balance and flexibility, but one of the biggest benefits is increased mental strength. For most people, this will manifest itself in feeling much more in control, less stressed and generally much calmer in the face of stressful situations. However, for athletes this is where the edge is gained. The meditative section of class – ‘savasana’ or ‘corpse pose’ – is where the mind works on quelling negative self talk and improving focus, ultimately leading to improved athletic performance.
I am currently training for the Ride London 100 Olympic legacy event, a 100 mile bike race through London and the Surrey hills. The mental relaxation side of yoga helps me to embrace (and even relax into) hill climbs, despite the raging agony in my legs. In addition, Ive seen my temperament improve hugely on the golf course. I used to get irate after hitting a poor shot and it would affect later shots, but the more I do yoga, the less concerned I am. I might not be playing significantly better, but I’m not throwing the clubs around anymore if I hook one into the parking lot!
If you’re a seasoned athlete or new to exercise, yoga is an important tool in anyone’s exercise regime. However many people train hard without adding the benefits of yoga into their schedule, which could be detrimental in the long run. Make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of sporting success by supplementing your training programme with yoga.