By Lindsay Zemba Leigh | Dec. 04, 2017, 7:13 p.m. (ET)
Challenge yourself to add yoga to your offseason schedule — when your swim/bike/run volume is reduced — for greater mobility, flexibility, concentration, body awareness and stress relief.
If you can make it to a regular class a few times per week, that is ideal. Instructors will take you through proper warm-ups (usually sun salutations) and smart progressions to poses, called asanas. Instructors can also provide modifications to difficult poses, and some instructors will give hands-on adjustments, which can be helpful for body awareness and allow you to safely go a step deeper into a pose. But if you go to a yoga class, leave your competitive side and ego at home. This is really important to avoiding injury. “Do not covet thy neighbor’s asana.” Focus on yourself and how the pose is feeling — do not look at what those around you are doing. Listen to your breath and your body.
If you are not able to add a regular yoga class to your schedule, or you would like to add some yoga stretches into your daily routine on days you are not doing a class, here are some of my favorites for triathletes. If the pose does not feel good or your breathing becomes short, back off or modify it. Make sure you are warm before doing these stretches, so either add them post-workout or do a series of sun salutations before them. Hold each stretch from 30 seconds to two minutes each side.
This is one of the best hip stretches and can help lengthen the IT band, but it is also intense and may be too difficult if you have tight hips. Start with Modified Pigeon if you are on the tighter side.
Modified Pigeon: Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Cross your right foot over your left knee, with your right knee pointing out to the side. Keep your right foot flexed to maintain the integrity of the knee. Reach behind the hamstring on your left leg and hug it toward your chest. Keep your head flat on the floor.
Full Pigeon: Begin in downward-facing dog or on hands and knees. Bring your right knee between your hands, placing your right ankle near your left wrist. Extend your left leg behind you so your kneecap and the top of your foot rest on the floor. Press through your fingertips as you lift your torso away from your thigh. Work on squaring your hips and the front side of your torso to the front of your mat. If you would like to go a step deeper, you can lean your body forward with a long spine. To release the pose, tuck your back toes, lift your back knee off the mat, and then press yourself back into downward-facing dog. Repeat for the same amount of time on the other side.
2. Belt ITB Stretch
This is a great hamstring and iliotibial band stretch. Start by lying on your back with a belt looped around your right foot. Keeping your leg straight without locking your knee, bring your right leg straight up and hold, enjoying the hamstring stretch. Then bring your leg across your body until you feel a stretch on your outer thigh and hold. Keep your hips flat on the floor rather than letting them twist up. You can increase the stretch by turning your foot inward.
3. Spinal Twist
I am addicted to spinal twists, especially when they give me a good crack in my lower back. Reclined spinal twist pose lengthens and encourages mobility along your spine, massages the internal organs, and stretches the hips, chest, shoulders and upper back.
Begin by lying comfortably on the back. Bend your knees into your chest and extend your arms out alongside the body in a T formation, with your palms facing up toward the ceiling. Inhale here, grounding your tailbone. As you exhale, drop both bent knees to the right, while gazing to the left. Hold and repeat on the other side.
4. Fire Log Pose
Yep, another hip opener. If you are a triathlete and/or sit at a desk or in a car a lot, you most likely have tight hips.
Begin by sitting on one edge of a folded blanket, knees bent, feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip, and lay the outer leg on the floor. Then, stack your right leg on top of the left. If you have more flexibility in the hips, you can slide your left shin forward directly below the right to increase the challenge; otherwise, keep the left heel beside the right hip. If you’re tight in the hips, simply sit with your shins crossed in Sukhasana (easy pose). Keeping your front torso long, exhale and fold forward with a long spine. Lay your hands on the floor in front of your shins. Repeat on the other side.
5. Downward-Facing Dog
One of the first poses you’ll learn in yoga, and one of my favorite hamstring, calf and foot stretches. I like pedaling my feet while in downward dog to stretch out my toes and arches of my feet. The longer you hold downward facing dog, or the more repetitions you complete through the practice, the closer your heels will get to the floor, but do not worry if they’re not close to the floor when you begin.
To begin, come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Bring your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Spread your palms and fingers, and turn your toes under. Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first, keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them.
Lindsay Zemba Leigh is a USA Triathlon and TrainingPeaks Level 2 Certified Coach. She’s also a certified strength and conditioning specialist, certified yoga instructor and certified nutrition coach. She’s been practicing and teaching yoga for 20 years. She coaches triathletes and runners with No Limits Endurance Coaching and loves helping athletes achieve their big dreams. You can contact her via email at email@example.com.