Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: The Athlete's Guide to Yoga

The Athlete's Guide to Yoga is slightly misnamed. Like a lot of books, when they say "athlete" they mean runners. Well, possible swimmers or bikers, too, but mainly runners. When the book discusses using yoga, it mentions "a big race" and lactate threshold training and building a strong aerobic base. It doesn't even give lip service to non-endurance athletes. This is fine, but it would be more accurate to name the book "The Endurance Athlete's Guide to Yoga." The only non-endurance athletes who get a mention are NFL players, in the "even NFL teams do you" sense. Again, fine, but be aware that non-runners might find the advice good but lacking in specifics of their own situation. Runners will be very happy with how on-target it is.

The author also comes from an interesting background - she started in yoga, and then moved on to marathon running. So this is advice for athletes by a yogi-turned-runner, rather than a runner-turned-yogi. It makes for a subtle spin, because the basic understanding was of yoga and then it was adapted to running, rather than a runner seeking poses to deal with specific issues.

The book gets many bonus points for emphasizing hinging at the hips. Forward bending poses, bent-spine poses, and upright poses with a bend are all taught as starting at the hips. Even bent-spine poses are taught as bending at the hips and then relaxing the spine into the final position, not forcefully bending or stretching the lower back into position. This is a vital teaching point if you believe that the lower back is meant for stabilization and the hips for mobility, not the reverse as is often the case.

Most of the book is dedicated to poses - broken up by categories such as standing, sitting, etc. Poses are shown with one picture per pose or variation of the pose. The accompanying text is quite rich, but dense - it's not broken out into bullet points or short descriptions. It's a solid block of writing, generally, in normal paragraph format. This makes it a little tough to follow. You have no visual guide except how to end up in the pose, and then text describing the start and middle that gets you to the finish. This does allow for a lot of poses to be covered, but it sure doesn't help a visual learner understand them. That said the written instructions are quite clear and well-written. If you can follow written instructions for a physical task with minimal visual reinforcement, the book is fine.

The book also comes with a DVD, which is basically a teaser DVD for the full version (sold separately, not reviewed here). The DVD is clearly filmed but I found the audio a bit fuzzy with a lot of "noise" when I turned it up. The DVD covers a basic warmup and cooldown for yoga but not much else.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this book is periodization. I mean, your "training plan." This is the first yoga book I've seen that uses the words mesocycle, macrocycle, and microcycle at all. It uses them correctly - basically you break up your program into sections, aiming to peak for a specific event. You start out emphasizing one aspect of trainng (here, it's an aerobic base) and then as you close in the event you change the frequency and intensity of your training as well as the nature of it. The section is short - only 10 pages - but it's probably the most valuable section of the book. It's vanishingly rare to find yoga books (heck, exercise books) that treats their methods as something to be fitted into an overall training program on a goal-oriented basis. No surprise, though, the example is yoga for a endurance race runner's cycle. Even the next section discusses "athletes" but means "runners."

Content: 4 out of 5. Misnamed - it should say "runners" not "athletes" - but the information is quite solid.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. Not nearly enough pictures, crippling the book for visual learners. Well laid-out, well written, and well-organized. Noise on the DVD audio was irritating, too.

If you are a text-learning runner, read this book. If not, it's at best a useful read-through but not a great reference guide.

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