Monthly Archives: February 2016



I met Sage Rountree at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA. Rountree was there to teach and I was there to study. I had seen a course advertised that I thought you, Active Vermont readers, would like to learn more about, so here goes.

Athlete's Guide to Yoga CoverYOGA FOR ATHLETES

The very thought of what is perceived to be yoga is abhorrent to many athletes. For some, the competitive fire is burning so brightly that the idea of taking time away from strenuous training is simply inadmissible. For others, those for whom hours to devote to training are hard to find, exchanging a personal nose-to-the grindstone workout, or better yet, a sufferfest, for sitting in a studio chanting ommmmmm (or whatever) is unthinkable.

But think again.

Athlete: “One who participates in physical exercise or sports, especially in competitive events. One possessing the requisite strength, agility, and endurance for success.” ( Consider the growing fitness industry, the number of individuals from all walks of life, shapes and sizes and the swelling number of entries in 5ks, half-marathons and century rides. Notice your neighbors hiking, playing ice hockey in the winter and softball in the summer, moving away from inactivity and taking on activity. All are athletes.

Yoga: the Sanskirt word means to yoke. Rountree defines yoga as connection. “When you are connected you can get things done. We need to connect body with breath, breathing with intention,” she said.

Athletes who counter strength, endurance and sports-specific skills training with the practice of yoga to address flexibility, core strength, physical and mental balance and breathing, are the ones who live most fully the promise of an active life.


Rountree, who lives in Chapel Hill, NC but is internationally recognized, is a young and vibrant 44-year old daughter, wife, mother, athlete, writer, speaker, business owner, teacher and oh did I mention competitive athlete?

She has written six books, travels widely and presents often, is a certified triathlon and running coach, a yoga teacher, on the faculty of Kripalu, and specializes in endurance sports. Rountree talks the talk and walks the walk.

Rountree admits that she hated her first yoga class. She struggled with the poses feeling unbalanced and inflexible and resented giving up her aerobics class or time in the weight room for the hour. Later, however, in marathon training with her husband, she tried again and to her surprise realized that her yoga classes supported her running, strengthening her both physically and mentally and making the pursuit of her sport less painful while avoiding injury.

This, she says, is the only way to convince a doubter that yoga is beneficial. If the athlete will just give it a try, improved performance will do the rest. Rountree’s goal is to “help people find the right balance between work and rest for peak performance in sports and in life.”


Yoga for athletes is not athletic yoga. Athletes are usually inflexible, driven, and not good candidates for some of the more gymnastic poses found in some forms of yoga. Athletes need to “leave your ego at the door,” Rountree said, “and be part of the journey from physical to mental and integration. It’s whatever it is that brings you to your mat.”

“Yoga should complement training, not be an extension of it. Our goal is balance for injury prevention and emotional/mental health. The physical intensity of yoga should be in inverse proportion to the physical intensity of training.”

Some use yoga for conditioning. That’s fine. But athletes need more. Athletes need to plan their yoga practice to coincide with their periodized sports training. When it is off-season for a sport, it is time to ramp up the intensity of yoga practice and, conversely, during the competitive season, yoga should be for rehabilitation and recovery.

Yoga at the track; triangle pose before running; photo by Wes Rountree

Yoga at the track; triangle pose before running; photo by Wes Rountree

“Yoga should help maintain flexibility as training gets more intense,” Rountree said. Learning mental and breathing skills helps competitive athletes remain calm even in the face of competitive or training intensity.

In other words, practicing yoga for the athlete is more than physical exercise yet the work results in the ability to use physical strengths more efficiently and effectively. “Avoid trying to win at yoga,” Rountree said. “To stay on the edge and keep pushing is not the way to go. Maintain presence in the face of intensity.”

Focus is important. If, in the midst of heavy training or difficult racing the athlete loses focus, he or she will become scattered and inefficient. Performance will suffer. The ability to maintain focus is one of the things one learns in the practice of yoga.

In my own experience I have found that when I walk, hike, run or ride I keep a good pace when I am focused. When I daydream, I find myself falling behind my companions or competitors. I learned that dharana, one of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, is about focus. At one point in a TT (time trial) last summer, I thought I would have to back down, but then I kept my focus by repeating “ride through it” until I crossed the finish line. At that time I knew little of yoga but this concept rings true.

If you are a runner, you may have been taught to breathe in and out with every 2 or 3 or 4 steps. If you are a swimmer, your ability to coordinate breathing with strokes is imperative. Weight lifters are taught to exhale at the point of greatest exertion while all of us are encouraged to become adept breathing through the nose.

Yoga teaches forms of breathing that include short, explosive breaths as well as breaths with slow, deep inhalations and exhalations. Practicing holding the breath when fully inhaled or exhaled is also significant. Simple awareness is equally valid.

Recently I read of square breathing: inhale for a predetermined number of counts, say four, hold for same number (or four counts), exhale for same, and again hold for the same (or four counts).

Which reminds me of something that I’m sure you have also noted. In our ever-expanding world of teaching, training, learning and integrating disciplines, we find more and more a connection between orthopedics and cardiology in the health professions; physical therapy and personal training in the rehabilitative; and Pilates, core conditioning, functional training and yoga in the athletic. For example, a plank is a plank is a plank whether it comes from your physical therapist, personal trainer or yoga teacher.


Add yoga to your daily schedule. (well, almost daily) “When just beginning a sport,” Rountree said, “frequency is most important (enough to create change but not enough to break down). It is better to do yoga 3, 4, 5 days a week for as little as even 10 minutes, than to do one long session per week.”

“Learn to be comfortable with discomfort,” she said. Accept that stress is good for you. There is a fine line between beneficial, productive stress and needless suffering. Discern between a groove and a rut.

An athlete needs enough stress to create change, but not so much as to injure, “work to the edge but do not fall over it,” Rountree said.

Also practice being comfortable with comfort. “Play the bottom edge,” she said. “As an athlete who pushes the upper edge, this is important.”

Balance training helps prevent injury. It’s easy to understand that the body’s balance in space can help prevent acute injuries. Another kind of balance, balance within the body, helps prevent overuse injuries while the balance of stress and rest prevents burnout.

Balance helps prevent injury. Sage Rountree. Photo by Wes Rountree

Balance helps prevent injury. Sage Rountree. Photo by Wes Rountree

Yoga leads practice in all forms of balance: strength and flexibility; mobility and stability’ soft tissue and bones’ stress and rest.


In her book, “the Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, an integrated approach to strength, flexibility and focus,” Rountree writes: “… you must practice with the body you have in this moment, not the one you had ten years ago, ten weeks ago, ten days ago, or sometimes even ten minutes ago. At the same time, don’t be complacent. Stretch yourself, physically and mentally. Try challenging poses, but try them with respect and care.”

Set small goals. Begin with a dynamic warm up. Practice balance, core and static stretches after your workout. Practice reclining twists and restorative yoga at any point of your season. Visit the six positions of the spine and four lines of the hips regularly. Honor preemptive rest.

“Just as you plan a season, a training block, or a workout with a sense of its purpose, you’ll want to approach every yoga session with an intention.”

There’s much to be said and Rountree says it directly to us, the athletes, and says it well. I encourage you to explore Rountree’s writings, or go to or

“It’s tough,” Rountree says about taking that first step into the practice of yoga. “It takes faith and patience to get into the softer stuff. Try it and see.” 

And her final words of advice: “Relax.   Relax so you can go harder in the next race.”                                                                       

Athletes recover in child pose. Photo by Wes Rountree.

Athletes recover in child pose. Photo by Wes Rountree.

                                                                                                      Linda Freeman

Wearables v. Unplugged



Unplugged  Jeb Wallace-Brodeur;  Winter hikers from Vermont unplugged as they descend from the summit of Mount Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Unplugged Jeb Wallace-Brodeur; Winter hikers from Vermont unplugged as they descend from the summit of Mount Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Time to deliver the mail, to deliver you on target in this new year and make the most of your time. Before we do that let’s take one step back and ask a key question. Could you go one day a week unplugged? That means not plugged into a device of any sort, but plugged into the moment, plugged into reality, instead of virtual reality. If the answer is no, you could not go a day without your device, maybe that is your new year’s resolution. To plug back into you and those around you!

If the answer is no, then let’s figure out why. Or, as this is a fitness article, let’s figure out if your devices are serving you or are you serving them? We know from brain imaging that a ping, ring or vibration for most people activates a dopamine squirt in the brain. Simply put, dopamine is a chemical created in your brain that is generally released and is associated with a reward response. However, too much “reward”, like too much of any good thing, can quickly become not a good thing. That is why we’re now seeing more and more digital addiction as devices surround us every day. Hence, the pressing need to unplug on a regular basis.

But let’s go back to the first sentence. Mail delivery; how does that relate to what the fitness world and to what marketers are calling wearables? Before wearables, we relied on training by feeling, or what exercise physiologists called RPE, rate of perceived exertion. There are a variety of RPE scales, 1-10 and 6-20 tend to be the most common scales used. The scales correlate on the lower ends with exercising easily, and as the scale progresses, exercise increases from moderate to hard at the top end of an RPE scale. Training by feeling is like delivering the mail to the right street. It generally gets you close to the destination of exercise that is on target.

One of the first wearables, in a consumer sense, is now known as the ubiquitous heart rate monitor (HRM). A heart rate monitor simply does that, measure your response to exercise, which is generally associated with an increase in heart rate as exercises becomes more difficult. Training by heart rate will show several patterns over time, but I would argue that training by heart rate is like delivering the mail to the right block on a street. It gets you close to the intended address, but not to the exact house all the time. The house you’re trying to deliver your mail to is the house that has the right intensity of exercise at the right time. The danger with heart rate training is generally most people just play the high heart rate Olympics, seeing how high they can get their heart rate up each workout. This isn’t a system that will support sustainable fitness. Rather it is a system that will ensure that the mail will get farther and farther away from the intended address as time goes on, farther from becoming a fit, happy and healthy person.

Perception and heart rate are fickle responses to a variety of stressors. They are affected by many variables. The key ones are generally sleep, nutrition, stress, hormonal variation and hydration. Often those five are interconnected. Each (and other “stressors”, including positive stressors) has an impact on perception and on heart rate. For example, if you haven’t slept enough or ate a big meal the night before exercise you might feel sluggish the next day. That means, what was an easy workout yesterday might feel hard the next day and your heart rate might be higher or lower than usual. Again, your fitness mail won’t be delivered to the right address and you won’t be making the most of your time.

That is where wearables and measurement come into play. Many of you likely received Fitbits, Garmins, Misfits or Jawbones (or one from a host of other companies), power meters or another type of GPS devices or apps over the holidays. Or you’ve already been using one or many of them. The real question is, are you using them or are they using you? Do you know what that data overload means and why you’re doing what you’re doing?

The key functions of devices like Fitbits (the most common wrist wearable) are to measure steps, purported calories (which in most cases when compared to lab results are highly inaccurate), heart rate, and sleep. There is other data you can mine from these devices, but those are likely the key metrics. A power meter (usually associated with cycling or rowing) measures watts – just like the power a light bulb uses. A power meter measures the power one produces while exercising. Finally, a GPS usually is used for outdoor exercise and measures pace per mile. In the very near future we will be potentially wearing oxygen measuring devices and accelerometers are already being used in the commercial marketplace to measure speed of movements.

Whatever device you’re using, the key becomes the use of the information to create positive change. If you’re not using the information (inferring meaning) and tracking progress then you’re likely using the wearable as a toy, a digital distraction that is eliciting a digital dopamine response. Some are calling this digital cocaine.

However, if you are using a wearable to create a better sleep pattern for example, or to increase your pace per mile, set steps goals every week, or increase your wattage output with the same or lower heart rate, then you are on the right path. If you are doing these things (or other strategically tracked and utilized metric), using the data to create change, then you are delivering your fitness mail to the right address every time you use your wearable or device. You are using a feedback loop called assessment (data) to inform instruction to create change. That change will be a newer, stronger, fitter, and faster you in the year ahead. And a smarter you by unplugging from your devices once a week and plugging into your life. Wishing you miles of safe smiles in 2016 and a fitness quest that is dialed in. 

Joey Adams, M.S. Exercise Science, Intelligent Fitness, Metabolic Specialist, VO2 assessments and performance analysis.

WHAT ARE WEARABLES?  Fitness gadgets flood the market. Becoming more and more easily accessible, these gadgets run the gamut from Fitbits to power meters measuring everything from calories burned to oxygen processed.

You see them on your coworkers’ wrists. You wear them in your Spinning® class, on your cross country ski, even in the pool. You sleep in them at night to determine your resting heart rate and you check in with them to see how you’re feeling.

What we call wearables is high level technology that may even surpass that of computers and smart phones. Narrowing the topic to fitness, wearable tracking devices do just that, and more.

Of course there’s the element of GPS that can find your location, plot a course or record your travel. Fitness tracking devices can also give you immediate access to pace, speed, distance, time, altitude, heart rate, watts, calories and oh so much more.

Furthermore, this data can be uploaded to a computer program used to record and store workouts or compare with previous training sessions, assessment and sharing with others such as a coach or training partners or competitors.

Wearables, as opposed to hand-held or equipment mounted, come in a staggering variety of styles and models. The technology in each is similarly efficient and reliable. The difference is primarily one of individual needs and preferences.

For example, are you a runner, cyclist or swimmer? Do you want to record your effort during weight lifting of your heart rate in the pool? Do you want to know where you’ve been when snowshoe touring or where you need to go to find the next shelter on the Long Trail? Do you want alarms to notify you if you are leaving a training zone or reminders to get up out of your chair and move a bit? Are you fine-tuning your competitive performance or simply wanting the motivation to lead a more active daily life while you check to see how much you are sleeping? You could, after all, just be looking for a fitness watch as some new bling.

Yet wearables have stepped far outside the restrictions of watch design. Leading wearables include Jawbone, Garmin, Fitbit, Microsoft Band, Moov Now, Misfit and Polar. Wearables are found on wristbands, clip-ons, glasses, shoes, helmets and even socks that tell you when to buy new ones or headbands that interpret dreams.

For years runners have worn chips to clock their race time and other micro chips have been implanted in pets for identification.

Those uses are tame compared with some of the more weird devices such as Ping garments that allow social networking on Facebook, digital tattoos, pet pac collars that transmit bio data directly to the family veterinarian, and a tweeting bra that, yes, allows the wearer to use Twitter. (And we thought amazing the early tracking devices worn by seniors who tend to get lost.)

Mind you, I do not condemn the use of wearables. I confess that I am an athlete heavily reliant upon my heart rate monitor and power meter. Both have helped me train more effectively and given me confidence to push to the next level. Perspective, however, is an important tool in our training toolbox. Balance is, as always, imperative.                                 Linda Freeman

These articles first appeared on the Active Vermont page of the Rutland Herald & Times Argus on January 29, 2016.