Yoga for Athletes

Periodize Your Practice

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Training for an athletic event, whether it is your first triathlon, a distance
bike ride for charity, or an ascent of Mount Ranier, will be cyclical.
That is, there should be discernible periods to the training. For an
endurance-sports athlete, these include a base-building period, a period
of more race-specific training, and a period of rest before the race.
For a team-sports athlete, cycles include precompetition, competition,
and for those lucky enough to reach it, a postseason of especially
important events, such as playoffs or championship races. These distinct
phases, called periodization, allow you to focus your physical efforts
on various skills and to absorb the work of those skills before you move
on to the next focus.

The yoga classes you enjoy at your
favorite studio, however, probably are not periodized. As an athlete in
training, then, you must be strategic when choosing classes. Better
still, develop a home practice that allows you to periodize your yoga
practice in proportion to the work of your training.

When you are
still months from competition, in your base or precompetition phase,
your body is ready for a yoga practice that will help you build strength
and correct the imbalances in your body that put you at risk of injury.
During this stage, if you happen to stumble into a class that’s more
challenging then you’re used to, it won’t sideline you at a critical
point in your season, as your key event is still months away. Be smart
about pushing, and you can make strength gains that will prepare you to
move into more sport-specific training.

As you move into more
concerted and intense training, your build period or competitive season,
you’ll need to pay closer attention to the demands of your yoga
practice. Is it supporting your training, or is it wearing you down? For
example, a too-intense yoga practice may impair your ability to hit
performance benchmarks in training, and can leave you sore for a few
days. Classes that move more slowly–a slow flow or gentle yoga
class–are better choices during this phase. It’s also a good time to
build a home practice that targets your personal, sport-specific
physical needs and incorporates breathing exercises and meditation
(which can be important tools for your training goals).

In the
final few weeks of your training season, as you approach your key race
or playoff, you’ll need to dial back your yoga practice even more. If
you’re heading to the studio, choose a yin or restorative class, or plan
to skip poses that feel too demanding. (Let your teacher know what you
are planning.) Better still, enjoy a gentle practice at home with plenty
of time spent on tuning in to the state of your body, breath, and mind.

same kind of periodization of the entire training cycle should play out
over the course of each training week. On days when you are training
hard, make your yoga practice easy, and on days when your workouts are
light, you might choose a more challenging practice.

periodizing your practice in inverse proportion to the intensity of your
training, you’ll have a more enjoyable and successful training season
and head into your event stronger, more flexible, and more focused,
thanks to yoga.

Sage Rountree is a yoga teacher,
endurance sports coach and athlete, and author of
The Athlete’s Guide to
Yoga. She teaches workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide and online
at Yoga Vibes. Find her on Facebook
and Twitter.