The extensive benefits of yoga are well publicised in modern media, and it has become a firm mainstay of Western culture. For athletes who have never practiced yoga before, certain simple yet highly effective poses can make an effective additional to a post-training muscle recovery protocol.
Yoga postures (asanas, to give the proper term) can be used like a personal toolkit, effectively targeting specific muscle groups. The muscle-stretching and lengthening benefits of yoga are particularly relevant as a post-training protocol, as muscle contraction and tightness can result in discomfort and increase the risk of injury.
Here is one such yoga posture that has particularly useful benefits for athletes. Utilising this posture within your post-training stretching protocol provides excellent musculoskeletal recovery benefits in a matter of minutes.
The Plough Pose (Halasana) is an excellent posture for reliving neck and shoulder tension. Repetitive movement, weight and resistance exercises, stress and poorly aligned posture all contribute to the build-up of upper body tension, unnaturally tightened muscles and discomfort. Plough is such an effective move as it extends and stretches the muscles in the shoulders, upper back and neck, as well as lengthening the spine. The movement also mobilises the spine, enhancing spinal flexibility, range of movement and stimulating the spinal nerves.
The distribution of ones own body weight in performing the movement, creates an applied pressure on the upper back. This results in a self-sufficient massage similar to myofascial release massage therapy, or the benefits incurred by using a foam roller to release muscle tension.
As you become more familiar with performing the movement, you will be able to effectively target specific areas with more self-applied body weight resistance, and therefore pressure, as required.
Lying flat on your back, with your arms by your side, palms facing downward towards the mat, bring your knees to your chest. With your arms and palms supporting the movement, begin to rock the knees, gently massaging the back. Keeping your upper body and neck on the mat, gently extend the legs, and with a slight rocking movement to add traction, roll your knees and feet towards your shoulders.
Depending on your flexibility and range of motion, repeat this movement until you can rest your toes either side of your shoulders. Releasing the movement periodically and rocking on your back will massage the spine and the muscles that have been stretched by performing this posture. Performing this in intervals will allow your body to warm up, and increase the flexibility and range of motion with which you are able to perform the posture.
As you get used to performing plough, you can distribute your bodyweight in order to add resistance to target particular areas. For example, particular tension on your left shoulder can be specifically targeted by positioning your legs more to the left when bringing your feet up over your head. With practice, you will be able to increasingly target the move to your individual needs - a very satisfying ability in the absence of an immediate sports massage!
Plough is excellent for musculoskeletal release in the upper body. Lengthening and massaging the spine, shoulders and neck, performing the move effectively also requires core abdominal strength and control.
Athletes have much to benefit from by adding simple yoga postures like this to their post-training recovery protocol. Each week we will add a new posture, benefitting various muscle groups, that can be added to your personal recovery 'tool kit'.