Over the last year or so of consistent swim, bike and run training, my flexibility has deteriorated and I have become as stiff as the proverbial British upper lip. Being inflexible has a myriad of possible consequences, including not being able to hold an aero position on the bike for as long (or as low in the first place), less effective sleep, and a vulnerability to injury - especially back injury.
Last week I got handed a flyer for Gym n Tonic when I was at the beach with the kids. When I read that not only did they have a gym with all the equipment you'd ever need but they also ran Yoga and Pilates I was quite interested. The gym and studio are both quite near to my house, so I went to have a peek! The studio was closed when I went past, and the gym looked quite small, but nice, as I peered through the windows from the street.
So, today I finally went to the gym to see what it was all about and to sign up. I was taken on a tour of the gym by the owner, Ray. He introduced me to all of the (very impressive) range of equipment, explained how to use each piece and suggested why each would (or would not in some cases!) be complementary to my triathlon training. The gym is much, much bigger than it looks from the street and it has a huge range of cardiovascular, strength and conditioning equipment. It was quite quiet and the ratio of staff to gym users seemed to be pretty high - very unusual, and very different to the usual crowded scene you see in most big commercial gyms these days. Gym n Tonic has very long opening hours - 6:30am-10pm, so in order that you never have a problem getting in, the door is opened by members' fingerprints. No worries about forgetting a membership card!
Less than 40 minutes after joining the gym and having my finger print registered I started my first Gym n Tonic Yoga class. The studio seemed brand new, as did the equipment in it. Lisa, our teacher for the class came in and introduced herself. She asked us (five of us) a few questions to make sure the class was right for us or if there was anything she needed to watch out for. We began with some breathing exercises, and then the difficulty escalated... fast... before I knew it I was sweating profusely and in the middle of the hardest, really 'hardcore' core workout I had done in years. Lisa was great, her instructions were very clear, the speed of the class was just right and her voice was really quite nice to listen to... not always the case I have found in the past. As the class was so small, she was able to give us all quite a lot of attention, she shared a few pointers and tips and corrected us if we were not doing the movement or pose quite right. After the core exercises we went into a phase which was more about stretching and flexibility, then the pace slowed and we ended with a few minutes of deep relaxation. I was very impressed.
I wouldn't call myself an expert, and perhaps it is partly due to my level of fitness, the state of my body and my needs right now, but I am pretty sure I can safely say it was the best Yoga class I have ever done. I enjoyed it, and I really think that it will be beneficial for me to do more regularly.
Yoga, and any kind of exercise that involves twisting, stretching, strengthening your core and mindfully relaxing is great for everyone, but especially beneficial for endurance athletes. The twisting helps to 'massage' your internal organs, thereby improving digestion and elimination of toxins. Stretching can help all of your muscles to regain their optimal length and keep your joints all in the right place, which can prevent a lot of pain (and save a fortune on massages!). Strengthening the core and postural muscles can prevent injury, back pain and stabilise the whole body to make us less vulnerable to other injuries. Having a strong core can also help runners and cyclists go faster; for example, running with a stable, strong core means that with each step we can transfer the vast majority of power generated by the running motion into forward propulsion, losing less 'out of the side' from wobbling and not wasting precious energy to rebalance the body with each step.
I'll be back next week, Lisa!