Yoga For Athletes

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 help with recovery.

On this page:

  • Tight Calves & Hamstrings
  • Release Shoulder & Neck Tension
  • Extended Triangle Pose
  • Warrior One Pose

Yoga for Athletes: Tight Calves & Hamstrings

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.

Areas targeted:

  • 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.

How To

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'.

Yoga for Athletes: Release Shoulder & Neck Tension

The Plough Pose (or plow pose) is a yoga position 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. 

Plough Pose

The Plough Pose (also know as Halasana) is one of the most effective yoga poses for neck and shoulder pain. 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, the range of movement and stimulating the spinal nerves. 

The distribution of one's 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. 

How To

Lying flat on your back, with your arms by your side, palms facing down 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, benefiting various muscle groups, that can be added to your personal recovery 'toolkit'.

Yoga for Athletes: Extended Triangle Pose

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 a simple yoga triangle pose which targets muscle tightness in the lower body and major leg muscles, providing excellent post-training recovery benefits in a matter of minutes. 

Triangle Pose 

Areas Targeted: Chest and shoulders, hip flexors and hip joints, neck, spine, thighs, core, calf muscles and hamstrings.

Triangle pose (or Trikonasana) is excellent at releasing tension and lengthening muscles in the legs and torso. The hamstrings, inner thighs and side waistline are particularly targeted by this pose. Triangle pose is also excellent for strengthening and mobilising the major neck muscles. 

Regular practice of triangle pose can help improve spinal mobility and improve motor control, and improve your ability to generate hip torque - an important factor in helping to improve strength in athletic performance and help prevent injury. 

How To:

Stand with your feet about three to four feet apart firmly on an exercise mat. Rotate your right toes 90 degrees to the right and your left toes 10 to 15 degrees in the same direction. Reach your right arm out straight, parallel to your right thigh, stretching as far as you can. 

Next bring your right hand down to the floor by your right foot, or to your right shin, with your left arm reaching straight up towards the ceiling. Once you are in this position, contract the quadriceps on both legs. Ensure the knee joints are stabilized and that the major leg muscles are supporting the movement, and not placing additional pressure on the knees. 

Rotate your head to look up towards the ceiling, parallel to your arm. If you have restricted neck movement or significant stiffness, keep the head and gaze in a neutral position. Hold the pose for as long as you feel comfortable, then alternate to the other side and repeat.

Yoga for Athletes: Warrior One Pose

This Warrior pose benefits the upper and lower body and is simple to perform.

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 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.

Warrior One

Areas targeted: Shoulders, deltoids, lats, pectorals, hips, core, groin and thighs.

Warrior One pose (or virabhadrasana) is excellent for relieving shoulder and upper back tension - and is particularly useful for those suffering from frozen shoulder. Providing thoracic extension paired with shoulder and hip flexion, Warrior One is excellent for improving balance and overall mobility.

It is also excellent for improving mobility and flexibility in the hip flexors and groin, so would be an excellent addition to any training plan for those experiencing weakness or strain in these areas.

How to:

Stand straight with your legs wide apart by a distance of at least 4 feet. Those with higher flexibility can adjust their stance accordingly to destabilise the movement if a higher intensity is sought. Turn your right foot out by 90 degrees and left foot in by about 15 degrees, ensuring the heels of the right foot is aligned to the centre of the left foot. Next raise both arms sideways to shoulder height, parallel to the ground, with your palms facing upwards. Bend your right knee, with your right knee and right ankle forming a straight line. In this position, extend your arms further, and gently push your pelvis down to stabilise the movement. Hold the posture with an emphasis on maintaining straight arms and a strong upper body posture and straight spine. Hold the posture for as long as is comfortable. Breathing in, come upright and lower your hands down from the sides. Repeat the yoga posture for the left side.