The importance of cooling down and stretching should be a ‘no-brainer’ for most athletes and fitness junkies. And yet, many people skip this vital part of their workout entirely. Cooling down is critical when finishing up a grueling workout. When you stop exercising suddenly, without taking the time to cool down, you run the risk of dizziness and even fainting due to the sudden drop in your heart rate. With regards to stretching, there is no better time since your muscles are already warm! Stretching post-workout can dramatically improve your flexibility over time, which is always helpful in preventing injury.
Many athletes incorporate different types and forms of yoga into their existing exercise regimen especially during their pre and off-season workouts. Yoga helps increase flexibility and range of motion, improves balance and muscle strength and has the ability to relieve stress and anxiety. Not to mention, yoga places a huge emphasis on proper breathing technique and endurance which is of huge benefit to triathletes especially during competition. When you are completely attune to your body and mind, everything can be done in a meditative state. Yoga teaches you to pace yourself, slow and steady for the long haul.
Not everyone has the time, nor desire, to drop into a yoga class or stick to a weekly yoga routine. However, practicing these three yoga poses at the end of your workout is certainly a step in the right direction!
Pigeon Pose: Pigeon opens the hips, groin, hamstrings, and relieves pressure on the lower back and sciatica. Begin on all fours, with your knees directly below your hips, and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders. Slide your right knee forward to the back of your right wrist; at the same time angle your right shin under your torso and bring your right foot to the front of your left knee. The outside of your right shin will now rest on the floor. Slowly slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and descending the front of the thigh to the floor. Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor. Position the right heel just in front of the left hip.
Triangle Pose: Triangle pose stretches the hips, groins, chest, and shoulders;strengthens knees, thighs, and ankles. It may also help relieve stress and improve digestion. Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees. The center of your right knee cap should be aligned with the center of your right ankle. Pivot your left foot slightly inwards. Raise your arms to the side to shoulder-height, so they’re parallel to the floor. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, reach through your right hand in the same direction as your right foot is pointed, shift your left hip back, and fold over at your right hip. Rest your right hand on your outer shin or ankle and stretch your left arm toward the ceiling. Keep your head in a neutral position.
Downward Dog: Downward dog is your ‘go-to’ for tight hamstrings! It also stretches your calves and shoulders, strengthens the arms and legs, and may help relieve headaches, fatigue, and insomnia. Start on your hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below hips. Spread your fingers wide and tuck your toes under. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, drawing your hips up toward the ceiling. Ground your heels down to the floor or keep a slight bend in your knees depending on your hamstring flexibility. Press your hands firmly into the mat and draw your shoulder blades down. Keep the head between the arms.
Keep in mind, like any other form of stretching and/or exercise ease into these movements with caution always focusing on form. These movements should be performed slowly, consciously, and with adequate attention paid to proper inhalation and exhalation. Additionally, after being incredibly ‘warmed up’ post-workout, don’t let this give you a false sense of your own flexibility. You don’t want to risk muscle strain, damage to your joints, and/or ligament and cartilage injury.