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3 Reasons to add YOGA to your Weekly Training Program

Nicole Grace completed the Florence Marathon in 2014 – she learnt many lessons along the way. Below is her story…

As a marathon runner I know how important a well-balanced training program needs to be. I have been guilty of over-training, under-recovering and not listening to the warning signs my body was giving me, to the detriment of my health. During the peak of my marathon training I was more concerned about pounding the pavement, interval training and climbing more hills. Replenishing, restoring and nourishing my body (and mind!) was never a priority. Sure, I used to stretch before and after runs and completed the ocassional strength and yoga class – but it wasn’t enough for a well-balanced programme.

Fast forward a few years later, with hindsight on my side and the knowledge I now have as a Yoga Teacher, I have no doubt that if I had included a weekly yoga practice into my training and integrated the tools of yoga into my life, not only would I have been a better athlete, I would still be running today.

Injuries and mental burnout inhibit the athlete’s ability to consistently train and progress. Athletes ranging from novice to elite (across all sporting disciplines) are turning to yoga to offset these challenges.

Below are 3 key reasons that support the benefits of yoga:

  • Physical Benefits
    Endurance athletes spend the majority of their time in the forward moving plane of movement. Runners and cyclists propel their bodies forward through recruitment of the hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core. Swimmers propel their bodies forward through the repetitive movement of rotating the shoulders, utilizing the chest muscles, upper/mid back muscles, and the core. The repetitive nature of these sports (overusing some muscles while underusing others) put the body at risk for muscular imbalances, which could eventually result in injury and poor performance. Yoga restores balance and symmetry to the body, making it the perfect complement to runners and athletes.
  • Mental Benefits
    Endurance sports take an incredible amount of focus, persistence, patience, and adaptability. An athlete can be in the best shape of his or her life, but if on race day their head is not it, neither will their body be. The practice of yoga improves mental focus by utilising both the breath and the body as an anchor for the mind. The practitioner becomes more aware of their own thoughts as they improve their ability to be fully present with their body and breath. Yoga teaches the individual to stay calm, focus, and breathe with whatever shows up on their mat, and athletes can certainly take these skills with them into their sport when the going gets tough.
  • Improved Breathing
    Lung capacity is of prime importance for runners and endurance athletes because it creates the ability to maintain an even breathing pattern through all phases of running. The better the lung capacity, the more oxygen is circulated through the system, which is most helpful for running long and strong. However, the breathing pattern used in running and other forms of aerobic exercise involves quick and shallow inhalations and exhalations. This uses only the top portion of the lungs, leaving the middle and lower portions untouched. Yogic breathing involves slow, deep inhalations and long exhalations, making use of the upper, middle, and lower portions of the lungs. Yogic breathing has been shown to increase lung capacity, and greater lung capacity increases endurance and improves overall athletic performance.

Nicole Grace
Nicole is a Yoga Teacher at Holistic Movement Studio in Collaroy. She is passionate about working with runners and endurance athletes to create a balanced approach to their training.

Resources: Yoga for the Endurance Athlete (Sarah Oliver) | Yoga for Runners (Christine Felstaed)

➺ Click here for details of our 10-week Yoga-FIT program

Three Mental Strategies for Endurance Running

As a runner, our biggest asset (or sometimes our greatest enemy) is our brain. Physical training is important, but that alone is not enough to put wings on our feet. What we feel on and off the road has a huge influence over how we perform once we lace up.

Professor Tim Noakes MD (author of acclaimed Lore or Running – and a real guru in the running world!), recommends we train our brains to cope with ‘discomfort’. Interval sessions, hill repeats, tempo runs, endurance runs – exactly the type of training sessions that should be included in our training programs. What is a hard training session one week, becomes a manageable session the following week. Why? Our brains become conditioned to accept and manage the ‘discomfort’ – twinned with an improvement in our physical conditioning.

In the Runner’s World book ‘The Runner’s Brain’, Jeff Galloway (USA Olympic Runner) shares his three mental training methods that he has used for over 40yrs:

  1. Visualise the Race

    Rehearse the outcome over and over. Imagine what you will feel like at certain stages in the race. When you will have strategic nutrition breaks, when you will walk, etc. Visualise key milestones in the race (historic building, bridge, park), where your supporters will be waiting for you, the various terrain (hills), etc. Rehearse your race step-by-step.

  2. Use Magic Words (Mantras)

    Magic words distract you from the discomfort while connects you to your inner thoughts:

    • Relax – There is no pressure on me | I am relaxed | I am enjoying the endorphins | I feel comfortable
    • Power – I feel good about myself | I know what I’m doing | I can do this | I am going to nail this
    • Free – I feel light as a feather | I am floating through the crowds | I am running smoothly
  3. Use Dirty Tricks (Mind Games)

    These are quick fixes to get you from one point to the next. Imagine wrapping a giant invisible rubber band about the runner ahead of you, start cinching him/her in towards you so that you can feed off their momentum. Another trick is to create songs of the names on posters of those who are being supported – i.e. Angela | Pamela | Sandra | Rita… “Mambo No. 5” 😚

There is no right or wrong mental strategy. What works for one person, may not necessarily work for another. The key take-out is that we should identify which mental strategy(ies) work for us and then practice them over and over again.

 

If you train your mind for running, everything else will be easy — Amby Burfoot