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Yoga and the Olympic Hopeful

Cross-training helps U.S. Swim Team member Keri Hehn boost her performance.

Client: Keri Hehn

Personal Trainer: Kimberly Fowler, Yoga for Athletes®, founder of YAS Fitness Centers

Location: Venice, California

First Steps. Like many competitive swimmers, Keri Hehn dreamed of qualifying for the Olympic team. A member of the U.S. Swim Team, she spent hours every day in the water, struggling to improve her 200-meter breaststroke time. During the qualification trials for the 2008 team, Hehn’s efforts fell short by 0.2 second.

Disappointed and uncertain, she decided to supplement her training at the behest of Amanda Beard, teammate and friend. Beard brought Hehn to IDEA member Kimberly Fowler’s Yoga for Athletes (YAS) studio in Venice, California. “Keri understood that she’d gone as far as she could on talent and was looking to improve cardiovascular strength and endurance,” recalls Fowler. “She’d initially come to the studio to do indoor cycling to work on cardio, but decided to give yoga a try.”

Overcoming Fears. Hehn was skeptical of yoga at first, says Fowler. A former triathlete, Fowler was all-too-familiar with an athlete’s state of mind and concern that supplemental training might impede performance. “Like anyone in her position, Keri needed to trust that doing yoga would help, not hinder her.” Fowler made every effort to persuade Hehn that yoga could be instrumental in improving her performance and could aid in training recovery. “I get so tired from swimming that it’s really hard to incorporate something else into my regimen,” says Hehn.

Despite her concerns, Hehn conceded to Fowler’s recommendations and worked to implement more yoga into her schedule. “When I realized the days that I was swimming faster were always the days after I’d done yoga, it made the extra effort much easier to expend,” remarks Hehn.

Yoga for Athletes. Fowler has made a name for herself for the bare-bones way in which she addresses yoga. “The Yoga for Athletes workout is designed to be straightforward, well-rounded and easy to perform,” she says. “I’ve found that technically sound, yet uncomplicated [training] works for athletes.”

Fowler often integrates movement patterns that release overstressed and injury-prone areas of an athlete’s body, such as hips, knees, lower back and shoulders. “With individuals like Keri, who have a specific discipline they hope to improve through yoga practice, I give pointers and poses that address specific goals,” adds Fowler. “Balance and core strength are both huge for swimmers, so I might work on side-arm balance or crow poses. Or I might have her do eagle crunches to work her core, for example.”

Calming the Competitive Mind. A major consideration when working with an athlete doing yoga is to find a way to quell the competitive nature, says Fowler. “Someone of Keri’s caliber doesn’t get where she’s gotten without being a fierce competitor. Getting someone like that to not be competitive in yoga is a challenge.” Many times, an athlete’s competitive spirit will override the benefits of practice, resulting in soreness and diminished recovery, she adds. “She needed to be reminded that she didn’t have to outdo others around her. She needed to work within herself.”

Another challenge Hehn faced was to taper yoga practice as competitions drew near. “Swimmers use a pyramid training schedule that calls on them to really back off on training weeks before a big competition. You don’t want to overwork them in those periods so they get sore and have to recover,” says Fowler.

Olympic Hopeful to Yoga Teacher. Hehn’s yoga practice paid off. “She qualified for the world championships for the first time!” Fowler says proudly. “She took second place here in the U.S. in qualifications and ninth in Rome.”

“Not only did Kimberly and YAS help me rebound [from disappointment], but the work I did with her helped me get to the world championships the next year,” states Hehn. “The change in training benefited me a lot. It [made me] a better, more well-rounded athlete and person.” Hehn now believes so much in cross-training that she completed Fowler’s teacher-training course and is now an official YAS teacher. “The proof is in the pudding,” says Hehn. “I’m stronger than ever and thinking about how much better I can be instead of thinking about retiring.”



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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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