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Yoga For Triathletes (Part 1): Floor Exercises

By Dan Head

Group of people performing 'child's' pose, (Balasana)
PM Images/Iconica/Getty Images

If nutrition is the so-called fourth discipline of triathlon, then yoga (or at least strength and flexibility training) ought to be considered the fifth.

In another article, we looked at the importance of having a warm-up routine or ritual. In the past few years I've been using a specific series of yoga poses as mine. I've found yoga helps calm my nerves and focus my mind pre-race.

Yoga, in other words, is an excellent form of active warm-up, especially for triathletes.

Yoga ensures the body is warmed properly. Yoga will stretch one thoroughly prior to the execution of a major effort or race. Proper warm-up is important to achieving peak performance and preventing injuries.

I should note, however, that I am not an expert in yoga, nor am I a yoga instructor. I am merely an enthusiastic practitioner who's more than willing to share what he's learned. If you find this article interesting, I would strongly encourage you to read more and to perhaps take a class at your local gym.

Yoga Floor Exercises For Triathletes

As with many other aspects of triathlon, yoga is one of those things you'll have to try for yourself. Experiment with in order to find what works best for you.

With yoga, you can work hard, but you should never force it or cause yourself pain. Remember: stretching is great, but tearing something by being too aggressive is not smart.

With all of that in mind, my pre-race routine typically runs through a series of loosely connected moves and poses. I've found the progression to be useful, but I do the activities listed below in whatever order I think is most effective on any given day. Feel free to do the same.

I time my routine by counting the number of times I breathe during each pose.

  • Sunrise Salute: The Sunrise Salute is a perfect example of an active warm-up routine. I do it first in order to get my heart moving and my head in the right mental space. It prepares my body for serious stretching.
  • Table: The Table position is not so much a stretching pose as it is a starting point. When I finish my Sunrise Salutes, I drop into Table and then progress from there through the rest of my warm-up, always using the Table as my central reference position.
  • Forward Fold: I usually do the Forward Fold seated if I can. It's your typical "touch your toes" stretch, and I hold it for ten long, deep breaths. This stretch is good because it works your hamstrings and lower back, and as a triathlete, you're going to need those.
  • Downward Facing Dog: Downward Dog is another good active stretch. It works mainly on your calves. I hold Downward Dog for eight long, deep breaths.
  • Upward Facing Dog: The Upward Facing Dog, or Cobra, mainly works your abdominal muscles and your lower back. It's another active stretch. I hold it for six breaths. Holding this stretch for too long tends to make my back hurt.
  • Cobbler's Pose (Butterfly Stretch): Everybody has their problem areas, and mine are my groin and lower back. I therefore do a lot of stretching focused on loosening my groin, but I start with the Butterfly Stretch. I don't push it when doing this stretch. I just hold the pose, keep my back straight, and let gravity do its thing. I hold this pose for between eight and ten long breaths. As the stretch progresses, I often lean forward to increase the stretch, carefully keeping my back straight.
  • Seated IT Band Stretch: From Table, you want to push yourself over and sit with both legs off to one side. Then take your outside leg and pull your foot across your inside leg, so that your knee is sticking up in the air. Then pull on your knee, stretching your glutes and your iliotibial band (ITB). ITB tightness is a major source of knee problems among runners, so this stretch is absolutely fundamental to avoiding injuries during your training season. I hold this stretch for between six and eight breaths.
  • Seated Twist: I hold the same pose as above but turn away from the knee I just stretched, keeping my back straight and stretching out my lower back. Again, you don't want to force it or try to pop your back. Just stretch the muscles and get loose. I hold this stretch for six breaths.
  • Lunge: This is another great stretch for the groin. There are a lot of versions of this one, but I like to keep my hands on the ground, so that I don't put too much pressure on this stretch. I also keep it light because this isn't a workout for me, it's a warm-up. I hold this one for eight breaths.

Once the Lunge is done, I'm usually done with my floor exercises. After that, I'm up and doing active warm-ups, not so much stretching as actively preparing myself for the hard work to come.

In the next article, we'll go through the standing portion of this routine and discuss finishing and preparing for work.

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