It’s tough for athletes to stay motivated all of the time. Sometimes, we don’t quite achieve our goals and get down on ourselves. Othertimes, we hit a mental slump and find it hard to crawl out of it. These are the times that staying consistant with our training plans are the most important. Maintaining consistency will keep our bodies up to par during those times when you want to sleep in or indulge in girl scout cookie season. You may not push it as much but you will still climb those hills and get out of that saddle. A coach is key to helping you stay motivated when you need a push. By keeping to your plan you have the ability to jump back when your mental block goes away and are back in business. We all have those days or weeks but staying consistent to the larger goals will help you to avoid those stumbling blocks that sometimes get in our way. It’s part of being human.
Endurance activities are repetitive, linear and utilize a limited range of motion. These ingredients are a recipe for excessive stress on specific muscles, joints and bones. As a result our bodies teeter toward imbalance and manifest asymmetries – common culprits of injury.
Yoga (speaking generally rather than specifically about particular disciplines) provides a range of benefits from muscular strength and flexibility to mental stamina and empowerment.
The practice trains functional strength through flowing movements and static poses utilizing gravity and body weight for resistance. Yoga employs many single leg standing poses honing balance, strength (major muscle groups and stabilizers), stamina and mental focus. In our endurance pursuits – we want each leg to be independently and effectively deliver power. Training single legged postures improves stability and core strength, while also reducing asymmetries. These poses are mentally and physically challenging yet rewarding when consistent practice reveals tangible improvements in symmetrical strength.
Our repetitive endurance activities use the same muscles over and over, strengthening certain muscles, neglecting others. Yoga poses help maintain muscular balance through flexibility, allowing muscles to harmoniously function as units. Improved muscular flexibility facilitates gains in strength, range of motion, mechanics and recovery. A consistent yoga practice elongates musculature facilitating improved blood flow – resulting in better nourished muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Endurance activities’ limited range of motion shortens and stiffens muscles. Tight muscles lead to poor body alignment and imbalance. Yoga resolves stiffness and provides an opportunity for us to develop a body awareness to discover and employ a fine balance of muscular suppleness and strength.
Joint mobility and range of motion is of equal importance in injury prevention and positively affected by yoga. Properly functioning joints allow proper muscle recruitment contrasting with improper recruitment and tendency toward overuse injuries.
Through the many single leg balance poses, yoga heightens body awareness and proprioception, This translates to efficient controlled movements in our endurance world. In running for example – it is a tool to enhance our ability to safely anticipate movement changes, smoother, quicker and with less impact.
Ryan Bailey with East Wind Yoga in Auburn says, “Yoga improves the overall consciousness of the body. This mental work and resulting deeper mind-body connection helps endurance athletes stay better connected over long endurance events. This fine tuned awareness helps athletes more efficiently react to what they are feeling.”
This heightened awareness – helps us tune in to our bodies on a constant basis. I have found this especially valuable, when for example, I increase the intensity, running or cycling, and feel my body’s tension increase. Yoga engrains an instantaneous ability to resolve tenseness with relaxation.
The practice brings awareness and effectiveness to our breathing – it connects movement to breath, improving circulation and more efficient oxygen delivery to working muscles. Bailey feels the breath work is especially pertinent to athletics. He says, “Yoga teaches us to control and work with breath, we learn the rhythm of breath guides the movement. It also teaches us to breathe through challenging sticking points in our yoga practice and we can effectively extend this to endurance activities. We learn the breath controls how we react – in yoga and in life. ” We learn that breathe can provide a sense of calm and composure or the opposite effect of fight-flight franticness. When we stay calm – as applied to endurance injury prevention, we stay present and make sound decisions with resulting skillful actions.
Consistent yoga acts as an effective recovery and regenerative strategy. Susan Whitaker of Canyon Spirit Yoga in Auburn says, “Yoga instills that value of rest and rejuvenation providing uninterrupted time to slow down, stretch, prioritize restoring the body and connect with the mind. It fills the gaps that may arise from single-minded pursuits, and provides a healthy mental and physical perspective.”
Besides the injury prevention benefits of balance, range of motion, flexibility and strength, yoga delivers mental empowerment allowing us to overcome self-imposed physical limitations and improve performance. The yoga practice leaves us with powerful mental mantras that mentally boost us, with the body in tow, over perceived physical hurdles.
Yoga offers a mental and physical retreat – providing that rare protected opportunity slow down, and develop awareness. As an endurance athlete – I appreciate the slowness, gentleness and calmness that balance other aspects of my athletic life. I am not necessarily looking for another workout, but relish the complete escape to focus on mind-body connection, breathing and deep relaxed stretching. The trick is to take the benefits off the mat, out the door and into life, activities and athletics.
Well apparently we ARE going to have a winter. I was getting used to all the nice weather we had through Jan & Feb. I did feel mildly guilty about enjoying the warmth when we should of been in the middle of cold winter weather.
However, it’s here now. Time to shift gears again and bundle up for some outside quality training.
I always wear more warmth than I should. I’d rather peel off the layers than have nothing to put on over what I am already wearing. Since I’m a cyclist, I try my best to keep my legs warm. My muscles tend to tighten easier and are more susceptible to cramping when they are not warm enough. So I bundle up my most critical muscles.
Another thing I make sure to do is stay hydrated. Even though it’s cold and I may not seem to sweat, I know I still need the hydration.
Just finished another race in the cold this past weekend. I fought with it a bit at first but because I was warm enough and hydrated enough, it wasn’t such a battle for me. I may call that tricks of the trade but it’s really just common sense.
A common issue amongst endurance athletes is pain resulting from postural weakness. This weak link in our body’s kinetic chain inhibits performance, leads to imbalances and potential injury.
Does this sound familiar…
While cycling, have you experienced lower back pain as a result of rounding at the lower back, due to fatigue from duration, intensity or increased resistance? This rounding contrasts with the proper strong pillar-like posture which provides leverage, stability and access to glute power.
Runners, do you hyper-extend your lower back in an attempt to find speed, either as a result of over-striding or incorrectly trying to find what we feel is a faster forward position. Or feel this same loss of stacked postural integrity while descending? This loss of posture may result from weakness and an inability to maintain a neutral spine and level pelvis. This sway back results in an anterior pelvic tilt and contributes to high hamstring strains at the insertion point on the ischial tuberosity (sit bones) – ouch. (Of course there may be other contributing factors, for example tight hip flexors, dominant quads and weak glutes and hamstrings.)
How about those of us who, while running fall victim to hinging at the hips, especially when ascending. This results in low back pain and inefficient technique with the mass of the body – hips and glutes falling behind the feet forcing us to fight gravity. Conversely, an efficient stable posture is characterized by a neutral spine, maintained by drawing up on the pelvic floor and in with the transverse abdominus, securing a level pelvis. While the upper abs draw down insuring the ribs stay in a line with the spine. When we lock in to this posture we stabilize and efficiently utilize the mass of the body, falling slightly in front of the feet pressing on to a bent, dorsiflexed ankle creating leverage and a forward shin angle.
And finally a show of hands from swimmers who experience lower back issues? A stable pillar, among other reasons, equates to performance by creating a streamline position with minimal drag. When swimmers lack that postural strength, for example in that pelvic floor they experience anterior pelvic tilt, hyper-extending the lower back, creating pain and producing drag.
Consistent practice and practical application of Pilates can help resolve these scenarios. As with past articles – we communicate in absolutes and make them relative to our individuality, the same goes with our Pilates discussion, much depends on specific postural habits… everybody is different.
As endurance athletes the core – glutes, hips, abdominals, back and shoulders – constitutes our foundation. We want this foundation to resemble a pillar versus a wet noodle. The core is the center of the body’s kinetic chain – a strong core efficiently and safely generates movement and power to the extremities while stabilizing.
Paula Smith of Full Circle Movement Pilates studio in Truckee commented, “Pilates is ideal for injury prevention because the exercises focus on the deep stabilizing muscles of the body. The small deep muscles are necessary for healthy spine and joints. Pilates is also helpful to balance muscle strength. Often bodies rely on few muscle groups to make movement happen. Pilates is technique for overall muscle strength and length.”
I was thinking about the importance and application of a strong stable core the other day while running intervals on the trail – maintaining a neutral spine and level pelvis demands strength, especially with increased intensity. While the undulating, inconsistent terrain demands stability. Pilates effectively reaches, trains and strengthens those deep stabilizing core muscles – key word being deep.
A consistent pilates practice can help us build deep abdominal strength as well as increased body awareness. Pilates moves us beyond the sit-up and crunch and incorporates exercises that emphasize proper alignment. In our endurance activities – as mentioned, we strive for a pillar posture, and do not want to crunch and bend as we move, but rather maintain stability while moving our arms and legs. A Pilates program starts with exercises like the plank and bridge and then progresses to more dynamic ones that challenge deep stabilization while introducing movement.
The demanding, precise Pilates exercises utilize for example a variety of bridges, which ingrain that braced abdominal and stable level pelvis, while teaching us to deeply fire our muscles and effectively engage our extremities. This variety of exercises also trains us to deeply engage the core while strengthening the glute medius to establish correct muscle-firing patterns. Other Pilates maneuvers effectively ward off patellofemoral and IT issues by training a stable pelvis, engaging the glutes while extending the hip flexors.
Personally I have benefited from Pilates by the emphasis on the deep muscular work to achieve greater hip and femur independence – think Barbie or Ken doll. This helps facilitate a more efficient biomechanically sound hip, knee, ankle relationship. Smith comments, “The first step in achieving independent movement of the femur is pelvic stability with a strong pelvic floor/transverse abdominus. Then focus on balancing leg strength by stretch/release rolling the piriformis and strengthening deep external rotators. We continue working toward muscular balance by stretch/release rolling the rectus femoris and quad as well as strengthening deep hip flexors, the psoas and upper hamstrings.”
The hard-to-reach, running relevant piriformis muscle, found deep in the glute is responsible for external rotation of the hip joint. When the piriformis tightens it can lead to sciatic issues which in turn inhibit the lower extremities motor and sensory abilities. Pilates exercises loosen the piriformis facilitating that hip-femur freedom, resulting in improved joint range of motion as well as improved muscular flexibility and circulation.
The deep Pilates abdominal stabilization exercises train postural musculature endurance and better mirror endurance specific demands than the traditional crunch-centric core programs. It fine tunes and heightens our body awareness, training us to lengthen from our tailbone to the crown of our head, maintaining the stacked, stable pillar posture. Ultimately Pilates balances the muscular load between the back of our bodies, glutes and hamstings and front, quads and hip flexors, strengthening the glutes and simmering hyper-active hip flexors improving muscular balance and effectively warding off injury.
When you’re as busy as I am, when it comes to training, structure and quality are key. Really, just going out and riding tons of miles does help get you fit. But it takes a lot of time. To me, it also gets redundant and boring. I like to cut to the chase which is why I incorporated Julie’s training plan.
It’s amazing how fit you can get when you focus on quality vs quantity. I absolutely love having my training plan created for me each day and each week. I look forward to each day’s workout
Now that all my training is more structured and focused, I have more time for other things in life that I love to do.
I did a lot this week and ended the weekend with a good fun, long mountain bike ride.
It can all fit into your schedule!
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