10 Yoga Poses to Help You Train Smarter & Prevent Injury

10 Yoga Poses to Help You Train Smarter & Prevent Injury
Presented by Spartan Training®

If you’re not already incorporating yoga regularly into your fitness routine, it’s high time you get on the bandwagon—even if you’re not the kind of person who can imagine themselves saying 'Namaste'. Specifically, practicing yoga for muscle recovery will level up your overall training, says Eric Paskel, an LA-based internationally-renowned yoga teacher and author of The Unfucked Code. “The benefits of cross-training are bountiful, but when you throw yoga into the mix, you reach training perfection and optimization,” he says.

How Yoga for Muscle Recovery Helps Even the Most Hardcore Spartans

That’s because many yoga poses focus on stretching the superficial muscle tissues in the hamstrings and deeper stretching of the connective tissues. The importance in stretching these areas for any type of cross training race is simple: “You want maximum power, as well as suppleness to get you over, under, or through any obstacle,” says Paskel.

Practicing yoga for muscular recovery also helps your body to bounce back from the intense stress of a hardcore obstacle race, and adding yoga for muscle recovery to your training routine every few days does wonders for injury prevention. “When you’re strength training, you actually shrink the muscle, which creates tension,” says Paskel. “So stretching is critical to recovery because it helps ease the muscle back to its normal state.”

The Mental Bonus: Mindfulness for Race Day

All Spartans are fundamentally chasing the same thing: to maximize his or her potential. But during a race, there’s a ton of stimuli—the course, other participants, the weather, and, of course, whatever’s going on in your own head. “Whenever you learn how to be present and mindful, to breathe and stay within yourself, it plays into your ability to focus and overcome each obstacle directly in front of you,” says Paskel.

Even though yoga for muscle recovery is physically active, the focus is on mindfulness and presence no matter what’s going on around you, he adds. Developing that perspective takes practice, but “without that mindset, you’ll never get 100 percent out of yourself,” says Paskel. “Nothing prepares you for yoga, but yoga prepares you for everything.”

Eric Paskel’s Spartan Sequence: Yoga for Muscle Recovery & Injury Prevention

Hold these poses for 90 seconds each, unless otherwise noted. A minute and a half is how long it takes for your muscles to actually stretch. “It takes a moment for the muscle to awaken, then the muscle feels it and will react (that tight, resistant feeling), and then it will find its place in the stretch,” says Paskel. “After a period of time, even if you’re shaking, your muscle will relax into the stretch.”

Do this 20-minute routine daily to stretch and lengthen your muscles, prevent injury, and promote recovery. After just a few short weeks, you’ll feel more open and effective in your training.

1. Child’s Pose

Time: Hold for 90 seconds

Start kneeling on the floor, big toes touching, and sit on your heels with your feet flat against the mat. Separate your knees a little wider than your hips. Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs, extending your arms out in front of you. Push your hands into the mat and release your shoulders down your back away from your ears.

“The benefits of Child’s Pose are endless for runners,” says Paskel. “It’s a great stretch to the tops of the feet and it opens the joints in the knees, which are counter poses for running. It also stretches the quads, which counters the squatting, lifting, pressing, and low-back tension you get from weightlifting.”

2. Cat / Cow Pose

Repetitions: 10 total; 5 rounds

From Child’s Pose, press up into tabletop position, hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips. Inhale, drop the belly, lift the heart, and look up for Cow Pose. Exhale to round your spine, pulling the low belly in and feeling for extension across the back body. Inhale for Cow. Exhale for Cat.

Continue like this for 5 full rounds to get your blood flowing, and open up the lower back and front of spine. “This dynamic movement should feel really refreshing,” says Paskel.

3. Spinal Traction

Repetitions: 30 seconds each side; 3 rounds total w/ Child’s Pose between

From tabletop position with a neutral spine, inhale to lift your left arm straight out in front of you and your right leg straight out behind you. Point your left thumb to the ceiling and your right toes toward the floor spiraling your inner thigh in. Hold for 30 seconds and breathe. Then switch sides: bring your right arm straight out in front of you, left leg straight back. Hold for 30 seconds. Find tabletop position and press back into Child’s Pose for a few breaths. Repeat for two more rounds.

“This is the healthiest thing for your back, strengthening-wise, and relieves pressure buildup from explosive working out,” says Paskal.

4. Straight Leg Forward Bend

Time: Hold for 90 seconds; can work up to 3 minutes

From tabletop, cross your ankles and transition to a seated position with your legs straight out in front of you. Flex your toes back toward your face. Inhale, drop your arms along your sides, palms turned up. Start to tilt your head and spine forward letting it drop down naturally on the exhale.

This pose is not about trying to crank on your hamstrings or lower back to fold, but rather about melting in time as your muscles relax. “Wherever you go, you go,” says Paskel. “You can work up to holding this for up to three minutes over time. Do this for a few days in a row and you’ll notice the backs of your legs will just start to open up.”

5. Head-to-Knee Forward Bend

Time: Hold for 90 seconds

From Straight Leg Forward Bend, bring your right foot into your left groin, with your left leg still straight out in front of you. Push your right knee into the ground. This will give you a natural tilt to the right so your hips aren’t actually centered. (This makes it tougher to fold super far forward during the stretch, but will open your groin muscles to maximize your efforts.) Inhale to reach your arms up overhead, then exhale and drop your hands to grab your foot, shin, or thigh — wherever your groin allows you to drop without torquing. 

6. Pigeon Pose

Time: Hold for 90 seconds

From Head-to-Knee, swing your left leg around behind you keeping your right knee bent where it is. Align your right shin as parallel as you can get it to the top of the mat. Left leg should be straight out behind you, the top of your feet pressing into the mat. Come up onto fingertips to settle your hips, and then slowly walk your fingertips forward until you are folded over your right leg. You’ll feel a deep stretch in your outer right hip, left hip flexor and right IT band. Breathe.

7. Shoelace Pose 

Time: Hold for 90 seconds

Gently push up and back off of your right leg and come into tabletop position. Then cross your left knee behind your right and sit down. Your right leg and knee should be on top of your left leg and knee.

“This is one of the best things you can do for your IT band, glute, thigh, and hip,” says Paskel. “If you can’t get into it right away and it’s uncomfortable, try a comfortable cross-legged position with your right leg on top and work up to it.” He also recommends using a pillow or a block to support your right hip as you ease into the stretch.

From here, roll back into tabletop and repeat poses 5, 6 and 7 on your left side.

Then, to wind down your practice...

8. Bridge Pose

Time: Hold for 30 seconds; 3 rounds

Sweep your feet forward and lie down on your back, placing your feet hip-width distance apart. Press your hands down into the mat along your sides, and inhale to send your hips upward to the ceiling. Tuck your sacrum and relax your glutes, and press down into the four corners of your feet to use the strength of your legs to find opening through the upper chest. Hold for 30 seconds. Then slowly lower, touching each vertebra to the mat. Breathe. Repeat for two more rounds.

9. Reclining Spinal Twist

Time: Hold for 90 seconds

From your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, exhale and draw both knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around them. Extend your left leg on the floor keeping your right knee drawn into your chest. Extend your right arm out along the floor at shoulder height with your palm facing down. Shift your hips slightly to the right and place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. On an exhale, use your left hand to guide your right knee over the left side of your body in a spinal twist. Turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze toward your right fingertips. Keep your shoulder blades pressing toward the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knee even closer to the floor. If your right toes can touch the floor, allow your foot to rest. Hold the pose for 90 seconds. On an inhalation, slowly come back to center, bringing both knees into your chest. Exhale, extend your right leg along the floor and repeat on the right side.

10. Resting Pose, Savasana

Time: Hold for 90 seconds

Once you feel complete with your spinal twists, extend your legs out in front of you, heels in and your toes can relax out to either side. Tuck your shoulder blades down your back and away from your ears, and send your arms down along your sides flipping your palms up. Start to let go of breath and thought, and feel your muscles melting away from your bones as you relax.

“This resting pose is really important, don’t cheat yourself of this valuable time,” says Paskel. “It’s the best way to train your mind — notice your thoughts and let them go without judgment to clear your mind. Take a moment to reflect, repair, and recover. These 90 seconds will be the most important part of your day.”

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