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.
Walking Downward-Facing Dog
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. The downward facing dog pose is a simple yoga posture to target muscle tightness in the lower body and major leg muscles, providing excellent post-training recovery benefits in a matter of minutes.
- Legs and lower body: calf muscles, achilles, hamstrings
Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is a fundamental yoga pose, forming a central move in yoga Sun Salutations - a sequence of positions often used as a yoga warm-up. Performing downward-facing dog benefits you by providing a full-body strength and muscle lengthening stretch. However this slightly adapted version places particular emphasis on stretching the legs.
Standing with your feet a hip's width apart, bend your knees, lowering your palms to be placed on the mat either side of your feet. Ensure weight of the upper body is evenly distributed across the shoulders, arms and hands, and that the weight of the lower body is evenly distributed on each leg. Essentially this posture sees the body stretch into an inverted V shape. To enhance the intensity of the stretch - and the level of upper body resistance required to support the posture - further extend your feet away from the upper body.
Whilst firmly in this position, gently bend each knee in alternation, holding each time to increase the intensity of the stretch to the major muscles at the back of the legs. If you are flexible, performing this move with the soles of your feet flat on the mat or floor will provide optimum intensity of the stretch. Equally, this move can also be done with heels raised off the floor.
Repeating this movement of gently and slowly 'walking on the spot' whilst in downward-facing dog will not only provide an excellent stretch for contracted and tight muscles after training, but performed regularly will enhance flexibility of these muscles, and continued practice should provide a marked improvement in lower body flexibility and range of movement over time. This release of muscle contraction and gradual increase of flexibility helps to protect against the risk of injury incurred by tight muscles - such as strains and ruptures.
As well as providing comprehensive recovery and injury prevention benefits for the legs, assuming this posture also requires good upper body strength and core control. The resistance is excellent for improving upper body strength and muscle-toning. 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'.