Yoga for Improved Strength and Flexibility
From Active.com - Register Online For Thousands of Events and Activities
months fitness makeover request is from 38-year-old Chris Rudin of Silverlake,
An avid fitness buff who enjoys weightlifting,
swimming, and jogging, Chris main concern is that hes feeling less
overall flexibility than he did in his early 30s.
"I used to be able to lift weights one day and
swim comfortably the next," he writes, "but more often than not these days,
Im really tight when I begin my swim and I feel totally inflexible
throughout my workout."
An additional problem is that Chris finds it
increasingly difficult to maintain his overall strength he notices this
in the weight room, where he does the same amount of reps as he did years ago,
but with slightly less weight before "maxing" out.
Loss of flexibility and the gradual loss of
strength are facts of life as we age, but there are ways to slow the process
and perhaps even stop it. Recently, Ive been facing similar issues
its been months since Ive felt really good in the water, and in the
weight room I struggle to lift the same amount of weight as I once did, while
losing patience and motivation.
I have a solution that is currently improving my
flexibility and strength, and while its still too early to tell how yoga
will affect my athletic performance in the long run, I have a hunch it will
help me greatly because it is doing wonders for me now.
I was initially a skeptic. Only a few months ago I
was turned on to the yoga craze by a friend; a former swimmer who was now a
yoga enthusiast. She claimed it was a great workout, strengthening her entire
body while making her muscles pliable. More out of politeness than keen
interest, I agreed to try a beginners class.
For someone who thought yoga was not really a form
of exercise as much as a state of New Age mind, I was in for a rude awakening
(and a pleasant surprise). Not only was the class challenging and difficult,
but it left me feeling euphoric and relaxed. The next day, I had the best swim
workout Ive had in a long time. Something was definitely up with this
I began taking classes more regularly and reading
up on the subject. I found that yoga is basically defined as the uninterrupted
flow of movements combined with a system of meditative breathing. This
combination of movement and regulated oxygen intake creates increased body
heat. It is this heat that is used to heal, tone, and strengthen a body full of
tight, sore muscles.
Just as an artist uses heat to soften metal and
glass into artistic forms, so an athlete can use yoga to soften and strengthen
muscles to achieve athletic improvement.
In addition, the benefits of yoga extend to other
areas. As your muscles expand and contract during a session, blood flow
increases to areas that have formerly been blocked with accumulated toxins
(toxins that build up from overuse and overtraining). These toxins are flushed
out by the rush of blood that enters the blocked muscles, resulting in that
euphoric endorphin-flooded "high" you feel at the end of a class.
Mental concentration and balance are required
during yoga as well, elements that count toward overall athletic excellence.
The more you can clear and center your mind, the more likely you are to remain
focused and calm prior to an important competition.
The more capable of good balance you are, the
stronger your "core" strength will be, improving your overall body position
(regardless of your sport).
What follows is a very basic series of poses that
you can try on your own as a warm-up before getting into the pool or going on a
While it is definitely recommended to learn these
positions from a certified yoga instructor in a studio-class setting, the poses
below serve as introductory yoga exercises that double as pre-workout
Some of them may even seem familiar if you are
disciplined about stretching prior to athletic activity (and you should be, to
1. Beginning pose: Sun Salutation
by standing with your legs shoulder width apart, arms at your sides. Breathe
in, and bring your arms up over your head by tracing a circle from your sides
until your palms come together.
2. Folding Pose
Exhaling, bend forward
at the waist and reach toward your feet. If you can't touch your toes, then
touch your shins. Remember to keep a long spine, relax your neck so your head
hangs, and keep feet firmly planted in the ground (heels and balls of feet
support equal weight: concentrate on balance!).
3. Body Raise
Inhale and bring head up
slowly, lifting your chest up so that it is parallel to the ground. Stretch
your spine keep it long. Bring your chest and arms back down and touch the
ground. Bend your knees if you have to.
4. Pre-Downward Dog pose
walk or jump your legs back, lowering your body to the earth as if you were
doing a push-up. Stop in the down position with your elbows bent but tucked in
at your sides; your body should be as straight as a plank while parallel only
inches from the ground.
5. Upward-Facing Dog pose
deeply, push the upper body upward while pointing your toes (you can flatten
the tops of your feet along the ground now). Your hips should be square and
elevated a few inches from the ground so that your body is perched on your
palms and the tops of your feet only (in non-yoga terms, this pose is also
known as a "seal-press").
6. Downward Dog pose
your toes back into "push-up" mode and bring your waist up towards the sky as
if there is a string attached to the small of your back and someone is slowly
pulling you upward. Your body should now be in an upside-down "v," feet
shoulder-width apart, head hanging relaxed, palms firm and centered. Take
several deep breaths.
7. Body Raise 2
Walk your feet back up
toward your palms and reassume the Body Raise position (#3).
8. Folding Pose 2
Exhale deeply and
fold downward into the aforementioned Folding Pose (#2).
As you inhale deeply again, slowly raise your body
up into a standing position, arms at your sides as you bend up from the waist.
When you are standing upright, circle your arms over your head again, clasping
the palms together. Exhale.
Repeat this series of poses slowly and
methodically three to five times.
Try to reach, or stretch, a little bit farther
with each sequence. You may find that on the first round you are unable to
touch your toes or reach the ground, but that by the fourth or fifth cycle you
are making progress and doing poses you found impossible just minutes
I am finding out that mastering yoga takes time
and patience. But for you instant-gratification junkies out there it's also a
quick fix for sore, tight, and injured muscles. The more you do it, the more
flexible and strong you will become. Even a 15-minute unsupervised session like
the one above, practiced once a week, will provide the results our fitness
makeover subject is looking to achieve.
My advice for Chris is to look into taking a
beginning-level yoga class at least once a week from a certified instructor. It
should have an immediate effect on his flexibility and he should feel the
difference the first time he swims after taking a class.
In time, his strength will also increase, in ways
that are simply not possible with consistent weight training. By introducing a
new form of exercise into his long-established routine, Chris will use existing
muscles in different ways, resulting in greater strength and improved overall
Finally, yoga will help motivate, rejuvenate, and
instill discipline by way of concentration and balance; traits any athlete
should welcome with open arms or in this case, with a Sun Salutation
If you are interested in being the subject of a
Fitness Makeover, please e-mail
your questions to Alex, and include a phone number where you can be reached
upon your selection.