The only way to build up your endurance is to run miles at a time, right? Wrong. Endurance is composed of many different parts, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, breathing, and mental endurance. These facets can be worked in many different ways but perhaps the biggest sleeper training is through yoga.
When you run, swim, lift weights, or play basketball your body needs to respond to the oxygen needs of your body. Depending on the nature of the event, your body metabolizes your oxygen and fuel reserves differently: this breaks down to anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. Action that uses, or requires, short bursts of speed or strength produce anaerobic metabolism (weight lifting) and those activities that are performed over a longer period of time (long-distance running) produce aerobic metabolism. However, there are activities out there where both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism comes into play and this is where yoga comes in.
Yoga, with its lengthy holds and sudden changes, becomes an exercise producing both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. Because your body has to be able to sustain a position or action for a lengthy amount of time and then to respond with quick, sudden bursts, your muscles become better prepared for activities like running and biking, and they develop a separate kind of strength usually found in most weight lifting regimens. For example, most people are familiar with bicep curls: you start with the dumbbell near your waist, lift it to your shoulders, hold, lower, and repeat.
Now, imagine that you’re raising that dumbbell about halfway up, holding it for several breaths, and then bringing it up to your shoulders. This becomes a dually aerobic/anaerobic exercise and you’re muscles are stretched in both their long fibers and their short fibers, not to mention the connective tissue at the joints. And as yoga is a full-body workout, you can imagine that process happening throughout your entire body. These kinds of stretches are also great for days in between long runs, swims or other endurance activities as they will help work out the lactic acid and re-oxygenate your muscles.
The breathing aspect of yoga is another fantastic benefit for endurance athletes as performing any athletic feat requires developing and sustaining a rhythm. One of the first things you’ll hear from a yoga instructor, whether he’s teaching a class new to yoga or one that’s more seasoned, is to focus on your breathing.
The long inhales and exhales of yoga are designed to calm the mind, bringing you to a meditative state that makes the action easier, as well as enrich your blood with oxygen. As you work through the movements, your body becomes more relaxed and limber, and this isn’t just in your skeletal muscles but in your diaphragm and respiratory system as well allowing your lungs to fill up with more air.
The increase of your lung capacity should have perked up the ears of just about every athlete; the effect is like both boring out the cylinders of your engine and getting a bigger gas tank, giving you more fuel to work with and more explosive, powerful results.
Of course, the mind is one of the biggest hurdles for any athlete and needs to be conquered in either aerobic or anaerobic exercises. Yoga will help you learn to clear your mind and enter a liminal state where you can forget about the outside world and just focus on the here and now, and then forget about that as well until you’re performing like a machine and this is done through the breathing techniques taught in yoga.
Endurance training requires practice, care, and conditioning; and while yoga won’t run the marathon for you, it should be no less important for your training than stretching, warming up, and eating right.