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Yogi-Athlete Spotlight: Ironwoman Amy Ware

I met Amy Ware on the pool deck before a Master’s swim practice about six months ago.

We were both procrastinating getting into the water, knowing a tough workout was ahead and preferring to remain social. I asked her, in true athlete small talk, what she was training for. She said, “Well, I signed up for Vineman.”

“Half?” I asked, referring to the 70.3 distance some of my friends had on their schedule.

“The full,” she grinned. “I’m not sure I’m really going to do it. I don’t know what I got myself into.”

I nodded. I’ve never done an Ironman distance triathlon, but I am married to someone who has, and I know the training is grueling. It’s at least a part-time job, sometimes demanding more than 20 hours of training a week. It’s not for the faint of heart.

We got into the water and did our workout, and soon I’m following Amy on Strava. Then I’m riding with her and running with her (me working hard to keep up, mind you) after swim practices. Then we are carpooling to a race. Then she’s coming to my Active Recovery class. And then, just about two weeks ago, she not only finishes the full Vineman, she kills it.

Amy is inspiring. Here’s a little more about her journey and how yoga works into her life as a triathlete, nurse and partner.

When did you start doing yoga and why?
I started doing yoga after a knee injury side lined me from running in 2010. I started with Bikram yoga, as I was mostly interested in the “workout” aspect of the experience, so I attended class 2 to 3 times a week to “keep up my fitness” while I was unable to run.

As it turns out, I enjoyed the other aspects of yoga too, so have added vinyasa and restorative yoga to my schedule.


Amy with lots of energy left and a big smile on the run at Ironman Vineman 2016.

How do you yoga has affected your triathlon training?
Yoga has been super helpful! I try to integrate it into active recovery days after hard training sessions for the stretching benefit and to change the way I’m working my body.

What’s your favorite thing about yoga?
I love that it challenges me in entirely different ways. I work different parts of myself and bring awareness to what I’ve got going on, and where I’ve got strength and weakness and what’s hurting or feeling really good.

What would you tell your athlete friends about why they should do yoga?
Yoga is an amazing addition to a training program of any distance! It helps strengthen both mental and physical elements and it has helped me bring awareness to what’s going on inside and outside of myself. Plus, who doesn’t need an hour or two of dedicated stretching a week in their training?!? Yoga is a perfect complement to the craziness that is Ironman training!

When’s your next Ironman? (wink, wink)
Haha! Good question! I’ll be doing the 70.3 in Palm Springs in December, but I technically don’t have another long course on the schedule… yet….

Athletes and Yoga: A Complicated Relationship

The other day I came across an article exploring the myriad of reasons why athletes should do yoga. Actually, this was the second time I had read this article, but reading it again after some time had passed and after gaining more knowledge and experience in working with athletes on the yoga mat, I’ve come to some of my own conclusions. But I still have a lot of unanswered questions.

As an athlete myself, I love the way yoga loosens up my tight muscles and joints that have been working really hard to get me into race shape. Sometimes I am so tired and worked from training for triathlons that all I want is my yoga mat. I crave that time to nurture my body and give it some release. I crave the quiet and the attention to my body the yoga space provides. I don’t think I could train so hard without it.

But I also love yoga and have loved it for many, many years. And not all athletes do.

While exercise gurus and trainers will tout the many benefits of incorporating a regular yoga practice into an athlete’s workout routine, and while I agree with them, I have found a lot of resistance from athletes.

Reasons I’ve heard for not doing yoga are many, but the most common are:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I hate yoga.
  • I’d rather lift weights or do Pilates.
  • I’m not flexible.

Of course I could just shake my head or begin to argue with these reluctant athletes. Instead, I have found that allowing them to be on their own path and not trying to convince them that yoga will indeed help them as an athlete is a better option for me and for them.

It is true with non-athletes as well. People who come to yoga come because they feel drawn to it. Some are curious and come to their first class and never come back, saying it’s not for them. Others come to class and become a die hard yogi, starting up a regular practice that gets really deep. Both choices are OK. People will come when they are ready, and if they’re not ready when I think they should be, that’s OK too.

So, yes, I think it’s good to explain the benefits of doing yoga for athletes, and to encourage them to give it a try. But I also think it’s important that they come to it when they are ready so they will be more open to experiencing it and feeling its benefits.

Sure, sometimes people just need a little nudge, and I’m perfectly comfortable being the one to give that nudge. But I’m also perfectly happy to wait and let someone come around on their own.

Here are some things to think about if you’re an athlete who’s on the fence about yoga:

  • Take some time to find a good teacher who will help you feel comfortable in your practice but also challenged.
  • Don’t write off all of yoga after doing just one class and not feeling completely sold. Experiment with different styles and different teachers. It’s often the teacher who will make you feel connected with yoga at first.
  • Be patient with your body as you become familiar with yoga. If you’re not used to being in some of these rather twisty poses, give yourself permission to take it slow. Your body will gradually adapt and loosen up. If you take it too quickly and push too hard you will injure yourself.
  • Think of yoga as a time to heal your body and give back to it for all the hard work it does during your athletic training. Every stretch, every pose will bring balance to your body and the muscles that can often get strained from overuse. Even if going to yoga class means missing a regular workout, that’s OK. Your body will get a lot out of doing yoga that will enhance your training and protect you from injury.

If you’re not on the fence about doing yoga, you’re either doing it or not doing it. And if you are, great! I hope it’s helping you in your training. If you’re not doing it and feel like sharing reasons why you aren’t, please leave a comment and share what you do for activity/training.

Here’s Jack Maitland, coach to the very fast Brownlee brothers who do very well with triathlons, talking about why yoga is good for endurance athletes.