Because triathlons require mastery of three very different sports, triathletes must train their bodies for peak performance in all the ranges of motion associated with swimming, biking and running. That's where yoga comes in, because it can take your body through several planes of movement while focusing on strength and mobility in the areas you need it most.
Too often yoga is an afterthought, literally, the thing you think to do after a triathlon for recovery. Although restorative yoga can be very effective post-race, or even after a grueling training session, using yoga to enhance functional mobility and stability as part of your overall conditioning can increase performance and decrease injury risk. But I'm not suggesting adding hourlong yoga classes to your already intense training schedule! Simply integrate appropriate postures into what you're already doing to get the most benefits in the least amount of time.
As a triathlete, you need an open chest with stable, mobile shoulders and hips for swimming; integrated core strength with a stable, functional pelvis for biking; and leg strength and flexibility with knee stability for running. That's why I suggest the postures below, which address all those areas, often at the same time.
Strengthens the back, enhances shoulder and mid-back mobility, opens the chest, lengthens the core
While on your stomach, put your legs together and your hands next to your mid-ribcage with your elbows bent, hugging the sides of your body. Press through the base of your palms as though you're trying to slide your upper body forward through your arms to create length in your spine. Inhale as you begin to straighten your arms (but maintain a slight bend, as pictured) to lift up and arc back. Exhale and focus on drawing the bottom points of your shoulder blades slightly in and down toward your waist. Keep your elbows hugged into your sides. Take five long deep breaths. Rest and repeat.
Promotes proper pelvic/hip function, strengthens the core and shoulder girdle, enhances shoulder mobility, increases leg flexibility
From a neutral all-fours position on hands and knees, place your forearms down, keeping your elbows aligned under your shoulders. Interlace your fingers to form a triangle shape with your clasped hands and arms. Curl your toes under and begin to straighten your legs as you press your body up into an inverted "V" position. Your back should remain straight with your core engaged; if you can't straighten your legs without rounding your back, keep a bend in your knees. Take five long, deep breaths. Rest on hands and knees for a few breaths and repeat.
Enhances hip and shoulder mobility, opens the chest, strengthens and lengthens the core, promotes knee stability, increases leg strength and flexibility
From standing, step your right leg back into a lunge position. Drop your right heel and turn your toes out to 90 degrees. Inhale as you reach your left arm up and back, extending from your back and side-waist muscles, while allowing your right arm to slide down your right leg. Maintain the alignment of forward knee bent above your ankle. Take five long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Kneeling lunge with twist and reach
Promotes proper pelvic/hip function, increases hip flexor and leg flexibility, strengthens the core, opens the chest, and enhances shoulder and mid-back mobility
From a kneeling lunge with your right knee aligned above your ankle, place your left hand on your right thigh and rotate from your mid back to reach your right arm behind you with your palm up. Engage your core for balance. Take five long, deep breaths. On your exhales, focus on dropping your ribcage and shoulder blade on the side you're twisting toward. Repeat on the other side.
Efficient integration is the key to reaping the benefits of these poses. Add them to your workouts before or after cardiovascular conditioning, or in between sets of functional or weight training exercises. For an extra endurance enhancer, add yoga's focus on diaphragmatic breathing to boost oxygen/waste exchange, lower stress hormones and increase mental focus.