Serious Recovery: When to Practice Yoga
How to best integrate yoga's benefits into your trainingAugust 16, 2011
Photo by Ron Sombilon Gallery
As a yoga teacher and an endurance sports coach with a keen interest in recovery, I see yoga as a fantastic complement to triathlon training. Practiced with discretion, it can be a shortcut to recovery. Poses like putting your legs up a wall and other practices of restorative yoga can go a long way in rebuilding your energy and giving you time to unwind. Additionally, yoga’s mental and emotional benefits allow you tune in to your body and gain insight into the state of your recovery—both which which will help you know when to push and when to back off.
You can, however, push your yoga practice so hard that it starts interfering with your recovery, and hence with your training. If your yoga class leaves you dehydrated and sore for days, it’s no longer a complement to your training. It’s just more training—and not directly sport-specific, at that.
Looking at your yoga practice from a daily, weekly, and yearly perspective can help you maximize everything it has to offer. Here are some tips for timing your practice to best suit your needs.
Timing in the day. Schedule your practice away from your key workouts. Most yoga classes are based on static stretching, or longer holds, which will diminish your muscle power in the short term. This means you won’t be able to hit your peak wattage or pace goals. A general rule for daily yoga increments are train first, practice later. Scheduling stretching after your workout will hasten your recovery by preventing adhesions from forming in your soft tissue, and give you time to wind down from the session. Saving your yoga for a post-workout will help you go into the rest of your life centered and refreshed.
Timing in the week. Rest days can be the right days for yoga. But if you are choosing a 90-minute, 100-degree class, that’s not a recovery workout. Combine more intense practice days with easy to moderate workout days. Keep your rest day a true rest day, at the most sticking to gentle and restorative classes.
Timing in the year. In the off-season and base periods, yoga can help you build strength. But when you get into high-volume or high-intensity training, you need to choose a yoga practice that’s less physically demanding. This is a good time to focus on yoga’s benefits beyond the physical, using a gentler practice as a time to focus on presence of mind and on breathing. In general, choose a practice that is in inverse physical proportion to the work of your training. Thus, if you’re in your off-season, the sky’s the limit—this is the right time to try something new and fun. That might mean your first yoga class, or acro-yoga, or yoga on the stand-up paddleboard. As you move into your base period, choose medium-challenging classes that help you build strength, flexibility, and focus. As you reach your build, look for classes that will help you maintain core strength and flexibility without being too taxing. Near your peak, look for gentle, meditative, and restorative classes.
Developing a home practice will help you customize your routine so that you stay focused on your own needs. A private practice allows you to move to the pace of your own breath and tune in only to your body, not to what’s going on around the room. To acquire the tools for a home practice, however, classes can be useful. Just be careful with the timing. If no studio classes near you work with your training schedule, stream my Yoga for Athletes classes at Yoga Vibes.
Sage Rountree is a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach and author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga. Her latest book, The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery is now available on Amazon. Her extensive research and work with triathletes and ultrarunners have taught her to value recovery. She leads yoga workshops nationwide and presents regularly for USA Triathlon. Visit her schedule at sagerountree.com.