Adding in a new form of exercise to your weekly routine may be the last thing you want to think about after an intense training session, but did you know that by adding a yoga practice to your regimen, you can actually take your fitness to the next level? From improved joint health and muscle function to balanced breathing and a deeper sense of connection with your body’s abilities, there are plenty of reasons to practice yoga, especially after your toughest workouts of the week.

To avoid injuries

Yoga practice gently works your joints through their full range of motion. In doing so, your knees, shoulders, ankles and hips become lubricated, which helps to prevent strain and injury. With regular practice, yoga can even prevent conditions like arthritis and chronic pain, according to a study published in the International Journal of Yoga.

Yoga may help you prevent injuries in the same way some experts believe a dynamic warm-up does. The practice amends muscle imbalances, increases flexibility and agility, and simultaneously assists in recovery from more intense training. By practicing yoga with a skilled instructor, you maximize the benefits of deep stretching and an instructor will lead you through a full sequence and cool-down. You also avoid the possibility that you’ll cut your yoga flow short, particularly if you’re tired. Taking a class usually means you’re less likely to injure yourself too, as an instructor will correct your form and answer any questions you might have.

To achieve active recovery

Active recovery is a workout that is easier than your regular routine and a part of every cohesive workout plan for the week. It helps to minimize residual muscle fatigue through low-intensity movement. Your choice of various types of active recovery are subject to your personal fitness level, but can be anything from yoga to walking or swimming. Yoga can be gentle enough to be an ideal active recovery workout, whether you are a trained athlete or are just starting to work toward your fitness goals.

The benefits of using yoga as a form of active recovery are extensive. Holding poses restores and rebuilds connective tissue and strengthens bones. In an article on, triathlete Heidi Resiert noted that yoga practice helped improve her recovery time during triathlon training, by decreasing joint soreness and tight muscles after grueling swimming, biking and running workouts.

In addition, going to yoga on your “off days,” helps you to stay true to your daily exercise commitment. By taking a yoga class on your rest days, you can maintain the daily routine of exercise to avoid falling into a slump and giving up on your goals. Plus that one hour of yoga can be your “me” time, void of any technology or other to-dos in your life.

To improve muscle function

Yoga is just as much about focused breathing as it is about controlled movement through a full range of motion. This regular practice of deliberate breathing provides your muscles with more oxygen, which increases blood flow and improves muscle function.

Kate Holcombe said in Yoga Journal that there are three breathing practices to get you started — basic breath awareness, the cooling breath and the long exhale. These diaphragmatic breathing techniques support the parasympathetic nervous system and help with attention and mindfulness during your practice.

These good breathing habits will benefit you in more than just yoga class. By learning yoga’s deep breathing techniques, you’ll enjoy more efficient oxygen intake and deeper, more complete exhalation. You can practice this controlled breathing in other workouts too, which will enhance your overall muscle function, according to training experts at Muscle and Fitness. And you can also practice yoga breathing techniques any time of day when you’re stressed and need to calm down.

To enhance your mind-body connection

A strong mind-body connection improves your mental game, helping you crush barriers and take your fitness to the next level. It’s essential for athletes because it helps you learn how to better deal with stress and obstacles to succeed. The Center for Mindfulness at the University of California, San Diego concluded that mindfulness makes an impact on athletic performance.

Yoga can help you bolster your own mindfulness as you master breathing techniques, which are deeply rooted in intention. Yogic breathing regulates your inner focus to move past obstacles in both your athletic performance and personal life.

By slowing your thoughts and focusing only on taking deep breaths, you can finish anything from an Ironman triathlon to a tough set in the weight room.

Incorporate yoga — from poses to breathing techniques — into your weekly exercise schedule for better recovery (and a welcome “break”) for your usual rigorous routine.