I am strongly convinced that yoga (if done correctly) can be a way to fundamentally ensure great health and fitness, and turn you from a fit person into someone that feels “bullet proof”
Listed below are the 10 main reasons why I think every endurance athlete (or even weekend warrior) should be practicing yoga regularly.
1. Strengthen Your Core
Many yoga poses work to strengthen your core muscles, from the obvious “boat pose” to balancing poses such as “tree” or “dancer”. Strengthening your core through isometric exercises is important for projecting your back, something that becomes critical during events such as GORUCK or Death Race where you are lifting and moving awkward imbalanced weights.
Most of these poses also teach you how to engage certain muscle groups to protect other weaker areas of the body. For example, firing up the glutes and the core (the “cage” of abdomen muscles) is a great way to protect the back during heavy lifts or shoulder press style work.
2. Learn To Breathe
Breathing is easy, right? Well sort of, but conscious breathing can be key for many strength endeavors. Breathing can also be used as a tool to alleviate and reduce both mental and physical stress. Physical stress comes in the form of lifting really heavy stuff, or perhaps doing your 24th inch-worm push-up. In these circumstances deep and controlled breathing through the nose can calm the heart rate, and improve performance. It also helps maintain focus and discipline.
Additionally, I have used deep breathing practiced in yoga to prevent myself shivering and warm up my body during cold weather events.
Side note. Mark Divine’s (founder of SealFit) book, “Unbeatable Mind”, introduced me to “box breathing” and other tools to induce calm at times of stress.
3. Reduce Injury Risk
Yoga uses safe and controlled movements and poses that help re-align and strengthen joints, as well as strengthen the core. I have found that continued yoga practice vastly reduces the pain and injury I feel in my back, knee and shoulders. Controlled movements and isometric holds have been phenomenal not only for improving strength in problematic areas but also building an increased awareness of the body and how it reacts to physical demands upon it.
4. Reduce Stress
I personally do power yoga, which for the most part is pretty intense. That said, there is also a relaxation benefit, most obvious in the final “shavasana” (direct translation is “corpse pose”, and is the final relaxation portion of a yoga class).
Endurance athletes, or athletes in any discipline for that matter, can easily develop imbalances and shortened muscle groups if training is too targeted. This ultimately leads to great injury risk and reduced performance. Yoga will help maintain overall muscular balance and also ensure that soft tissue (muscle, tendons) don’t shorten over time.
6. Increase Muscular Endurance
In most yoga classes, you will enter and hold a given pose for a relatively significant amount of time. My own regular yoga instructor makes sure, too, that the poses are performed correctly and deeply. Warrior pose, for example, can be a lazy affair if you let it. If, instead, you fire up and straighten the back leg, drop the front leg as low as it will go, and fire up your arms to stretch up while tightening the glutes to protect your back, you have yourself an intense isometric exercise that burns through all the major muscles. Holding this for many seconds will not only increase your muscle endurance under contraction, but also help you learn how to give in to the muscle burn and use breathing techniques to push through. In something like the Death Race (lots of hill climbs) this can be a critical skill.
7. Reduce Your Ego
People “practice” yoga because they are never “done”. Every pose can be challenged further, with deeper stretches or modifications to increase the intensity or stretch achieved. Yoga is a combination of breathing, strength, balance, flexibility and poise. The classes are go to are usually a mix of men and women. It always amazes me how much easier the women can hit certain poses, and how much stronger they can be in balance poses. Its humbling, and I like that.
8. Recover Quicklier
Yes quicklier isn’t a word, but it’s faster to say than “more quickly”. Anyway, I will often take a restorative yoga class or a gentle flow class the day after a big race or event. This not only stretches all the major muscle groups, but increases blood flow and therefore recovery times are greatly reduced. Admittedly the first 15-30 minutes (and sometimes the entire 60-90 minute class time) sucks but the benefits vastly outweigh the short term pain.
9. Cardiovascular Endurance
Hot yoga, and specifically power yoga, is particularly good here. When you progress through certain flows at an increased pace in a 95F heated room its amazing how much your heart has to work.
Yoga teaches you to stay in your body. The amount of concentration and focus needed for the majority of the poses can be pretty amazing. The ability to focus, dial in your
Most men still consider yoga as being something in the female domain, which is a shame. Its origins actually had it as a very male dominated endeavor and given the benefits of strength, focus, balance, poise and endurance I would like to see yoga practiced by everyone.
It has particular applications to endurance athletes, especially those doing unique events that require endurance, strength, focus, etc.
Yoga can be practiced at home, but I highly recommend that novices go to a class with a good instructor. They will help you develop the poses and ensure you are doing them correctly so they are effective and safe.
- Yoga Mat
First and foremost, if you practice regularly you will want your own yoga mat.
I have 4 that I use, and the YogaRat Pro mat is a good value choice. The key is that you want a level of cushion, but also a surface that is slip free.
- Yoga Towel
If you practice hot yoga of any form, a yoga towel is critical too. As you sweat (and you will sweat) your mat will become slippery. A good towel prevents this.
There are plenty to choose from, and I own a few. I like microfiber towels or regular towels if they have a non-slip base (usually in the form of rubber nubs)
Again this towel from YogaRat is pretty decent.
- Optional : yoga blocks, straps.
Personally I find these a crutch and can get in the way of a pose. Most studios have them to borrow anyway, so ave your money here
As a male you will want non-restrictive clothing. Long shorts can catch on the knee and regular t-shirts can become cumbersome as you sweat.
My favorite shorts are specifically for yoga by Shakti Activewear.
For hot yoga, I personally avoid wearing a shirt. Mostly because I sweat. A lot.