Two-time World Rowing Champion and 2016 Olympic representative, Sophie MacKenzie is pursuing her passion for yoga and healthy living. She chats to us about rowing, taking care of your body, and her new stretching series!
When and how did you first discover your passion for yoga?
When I was 16 my former dance teacher ventured into yoga (by this stage rowing had taken over and I had finished dancing) so I went to a few of her classes here and there when I had extra time, and I absolutely loved it! It helped me to feel calmer, and more flexible.
How have you personally practiced yoga to enhance your career as a rower?
I began integrating a short warm up yoga sequence (it’s actually the one I put on my poster) in 2014 before my first stint in the elite lightweight double. I would finish breakfast and quickly go back to the room and do 10mins of yoga to limber up, but I think it also helped me calm any nerves (as it was my first time on the elite stage). From then I kind of just continued it because I found it really worked.
You already have a presence online and on social media through your site Megs and Soph, what motivated you to start this page and how would you describe your message?
We started this page because we both had tummy issues and found that by paying more attention to the foods we were eating helped heaps. A while later we had a small collection of recipes each and decided to share them, plus it’s always so much more fun doing something together with one of your bets friends! Our message as athletes is to simply eat wholefoods and eat delicious foods. Not depriving yourself of foods you enjoy, but also making them as wholesome and healthy as possible- hence our big obsession with cacao and avocado smoothies!
You have had a very successful career as a lightweight rower, something that can be very hard on the body, what habits have you developed to keep your body healthy under the stresses of being an athlete?
This one has been my biggest learning curve by a long shot. Taking time out to rest and recover is essential, something I struggled with as I would always be on the go. Eating lots of good foods and always, always eating after training and racing. Drinking lots of water – that’s a given. Talking to your teammates, coaches and family about how your feeling, coping, and dealing with the extra pressure of being lightweight and life in general – support is a really important factor for myself and my team.
Have you had injuries or niggles as a rower that yoga has helped you to overcome?
Hmmm… I definitely had injuries but none that kept me out of the boat longer than a week so I guess in that light my yoga and stretching helped a lot ;) plus we had great physio’s.
Do you have a favourite stretch or pose? If so which one?
Yes, I love pigeon pose which targets your glutes. Everyone hates this one to begin with but honestly, it’s the best stretch out!
What are the benefits of stretching for athletes or people who exercise often?
Muscles can get super tight and can sometimes become imbalanced which often leads to injuries. Stretching helps to not only relieve the tension and tightness in muscles, but also prevent injury from potentially occurring from having imbalances in the muscles. There are honestly a million reasons why but this is one of the most beneficial.
What would you recommend to rowers who might feel stiff or tight after a hard-rowing session?
Always a good hip flexor stretch as the rowing position and workload makes this super tight! Also, pigeon pose cause nothing better than stretching out a glute after way too long sitting on them and making them work!
You have recently started a website ‘Soph's Series’ what does the site offer and what does it mean to you?
I started my website Soph’s Series as a platform to share my experience and learnings from being an elite athlete, but also putting my knowledge from my years of study into action. Post Olympics’ I did a series on ‘Fit and Unhealthy’ which explained a lot of female athlete issues openly, it was challenging yet eye-opening to write and share online (the public) but I think these are topic’s we need to be able to talk about more openly.
I want my site to be a place where people can come and learn from my experiences, or even just be a relatable normal person and also encourage people to stretch more, especially athletes.
Sophie's stretching poster is the perfect guide to working stretching into your daily routine, available now from her website (details below)
What inspired you to start Soph’s stretching series?
I had the thought bubbling away in my head for the past few years and then I completed my yoga training and personal training courses that I felt ready to dive in and start creating it. Plus, I had a lot of my yoga clients, family members and friends asking for stretches for ‘my back’ or ‘my shoulder tension’ and ‘my aching legs’ so instead of creating ugly word sheets with google images I created my own version.
Tell us about your stretching poster, what is the best way to get started?
You can simply begin by sitting on the floor, getting out your poster and choosing 3 stretches you’re going to practice – easy as that. I find most people get on a roll and do a few more than they thought they would because it feels really good releasing old tensions from the body.
Your journey and successes as a rower are very inspiring, and your work with ‘Megs and Soph’ and now ‘Soph's Series’ motivational, what inspires and motivates you in life?
How much I have learnt over the years from all of my super highs (winning World Champs back to back) and low low’s (experiencing depression post-Olympics’ in my time out of rowing) I want to be able to share what I have learned from these events’ and my journey so that people can avoid some of the lessons I learnt. The stretching series helps to not only stretch out a tired, fatigued, tight and stiff body, but also relaxes the mind and gives you space to wind-down from the day and prepare you for a new one.
What is one thing you have learnt in your journey as an athlete so far, that you have used positively in your life during your break from rowing?
Commitment, passion, striving for goals which you may not always hit but you learn to grow and become better from that. The main one I guess is that if you really want something you have to be prepared to work extremely hard to get it and focus your lifestyle around it.
Will we see you out on the water again anytime soon? (you don’t have to answer this one if you don’t want to 😊)
You might ;)
Grab your copy of Soph's Stretching Series Poster HERE
Check out her website for more: www.sophiemackenzie.co.nz
Facebook: Sophie MacKenzie
Instagram: @sophiemackenzie.nz, @sophsstretchingseries