Yoga Practices for Athletes
As you know, yoga is a practice that is important for everybody to do. Whether you have never done it before, or you are very experienced, yoga is for you.
When it comes to athletics, yoga can be vital for helping to keep the body in good shape and preventing injuries. It can also increase flexibility, mobility, performance, and endurance. With all that in mind, it should make sense why yoga is a great practice for athletes!
When it comes to more cardio based exercises, such as running or swimming, yoga can be especially helpful for reducing stress and increasing oxygen levels of the body as well as lung capacity.
Online resources are very helpful, especially for those who do not want to take a class in person. There are many yoga videos online, especially on youtube and vimeo, that can help you with your practice at home.
Did you know that we have many resources for athletes who are looking to start a yoga practice? Our youtube channel has many videos for runners, strength-trainers, and other athletes. In addition, we offer many videos for beginners as well to help guide you through a new practice. Click here to check out our youtube channel!
When is the Best Time for Yoga?
Yoga for athletes can be beneficial in many ways. The great part about yoga is that there are different times you can do it for different results. For example, you might use it to warm up before a big game or athletic performance. During breaks, you could use yoga to restore and rejuvenate the body before going back out there. After your practice, you can use yoga for recovery and cool down.
But, is there a best time to do yoga?
Depending on the activity, there might be a specific time that would make the most sense for you.
If you are weight training, you might want to save yoga for recovery after so that the muscles are not overly-stretched beforehand. If you are running a marathon, you might use specific stretches and breathing techniques as a warm up. The specific yoga needed will vary person to person, but there are some practices that everyone can do.
Practicing breathing techniques before an athletic event is also a great way to prepare. When we use breathing exercises, we increase strength and capacity of the lungs while bringing oxygen all throughout the body.
When the body doesn’t get enough oxygen, it can experience both stress and fatigue. There’s a reason we become so exhausted after an intense workout.
Yoga for Warming Up
If you are using yoga as a warm up before a game or athletic event, you will want to focus on very gentle poses that stabilize the muscles. If you do too much stretching before an athletic event, your muscles will be much more open, and sometimes, this means they won’t have the same elasticity needed when running. However, some gentle poses for warming up can be useful. For example, you might try squats or lunges to stretch out the leg muscles before running. Deeper stretches are better for afterwards to aid in recovery.
Yoga For Cooling Down and Recovery
After an athletic event, using yoga for cooling down and relaxing the body can be very helpful, allowing for nice, deep stretches. This is where more flexible poses come into play. This is when it is a good time to try poses like pigeon pose, or a gentle reclining twist to let the body rest.
After a swim meet, or even a marathon, the body will usually be exhausted and need some time for recovery. This can also help to prevent soreness of the muscles after the fact.
Which Yoga Poses are Best for Athletes?
There are specific poses that are great for athletes, especially runners, swimmers, and those practicing similar athletics that require constant endurance. The poses below are suggestions to try for athletes, but remember that these are never a replacement for medical advice. Always listen to your doctor first and foremost.
Keep in mind that these are only some of the recommended poses for athletes, but there are so many more as well. We offer many resources for athletes looking to start a yoga practice.
Ten Poses for Athletes:
1. Dancer’s Pose- This fun pose is a great way to build up one’s balance. To do this pose, start by stepping the right foot into the center and bringing your other leg back behind you. Now, reach your left hand back for your left ankle, pressing the ankle into the hand for support, and bring your right arm out in front of you. Find one unmoving spot to rest your eyes to help with balance. Hold for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.
2. Squat pose- This easy pose allows for a wonderful stretch in the thighs, hips, core, and lower back. To do this pose, step the feet hip-width distance apart, and turn the toes away, bending the knees as you drop the hips down. From here, you can bring your elbows inside of your knees and place your hands together for traction. Keep your back nice and tall, and hold for a few breaths or as long as you’d like. Come up on an inhale, and as you exhale, bring your legs back together.
3. Cat/ Cow- If you have any past knee injuries, this might not be the pose for you. When doing this pose, begin on your hands and knees. As you inhale, arch your back and look up to the sky. As you exhale, round your back, hug your core in, and tuck your chin to your chest. Repeat these two movements, flowing from one to the other as you work with the breath. This is a great stretch for the core, hips, and back of the body. Continue this practice for a few breaths or as long as you’d like.
4. Bridge Pose- Begin on the back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, Bring your hands down by your sides, and as you breathe in, press into your hands and feet to lift your hips up. As you breathe out, you can bring your hands together beneath your hips to hold yourself up off the mat. You can stay in this pose for at least three breaths, or as long as it feels good for you. Enjoy the stretch in the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and core. When you are ready to come out of the pose, exhale to come down.
5. Seated Forward Fold- This is a great stretch for the hamstrings and the back. Bringing your legs straight out in front of you, flex your feet to protect your hamstrings. From here, as you inhale, bring your arms up and keep your back long. As you exhale, reach towards your toes, continuing to keep a tall back. If you need to round your back, then you’ve gone too far into the pose. Listening to your body prevents over-extending and/or hurting yourself. If you can’t reach your toes, simply rest your hands on your legs and breathe gently into the stretch. Hold for about five breaths and then inhale to come out of it.
6. Downward Facing dog- This is a very common yoga pose and offers both a stretch and a restorative aspect. Begin on the hands and knees and then tuck the toes, lifting the knees from the ground and pressing the hips to the sky. Make sure the hands are flat on the mat and the spine is long. As you press into the hands, continue to list the hips up and back, keeping the arms straight. It is important to keep a tall spine, even if you need to bring a gentle bend into the knees here. Hold this pose for at least five breaths, and you can always begin to gently bring the heels back a little bit further each time.
7. Upward Facing Dog- Start on your belly with your hands to the sides of your chest and your elbows tucked in. As you inhale, press into the hands and lift up, and as you exhale, press into the tops of your feet to lift the knees from the ground. If your knees are on the ground, it is not safe to straighten the arms completely as it can cause pain in the back. Therefore, take your time to make sure you are properly lifting the knees, and then extend, lifting through the top of the head, and stretching through the core, chest, arms, and the back of the body. Hold for at least five breaths and then exhale to slowly lower back down to the mat.
8. Warrior I- Begin by stepping the feet about four to five feet apart from one another, bringing on in front of you, and one behind you. Turn the toes of your front foot so that they are facing forward, and turn the toes of your back foot in at a forty-five degree angle. Make sure that the heel of the front foot aligns with the arch of the back foot.. As you inhale, bring both arms up to the sky, and as you exhale, bend into the front knee, creating a ninety degree angle with that knee, and keep your back leg nice and long. Make sure the front knee does not go over the toes or bend too far inward. Hold for a few breaths and then step the back foot forwards on the exhale to come out of it. Repeat on the opposite side.
9. Warrior II- Start in warrior I, and as you exhale, bring your arms out to the side so that your front arm reaches over the front foot and the back arm reaches towards the back foot. Look over your front hand, focusing on an unmoving spot, and make sure the arms create a straight line from the tips of the fingers on one hand to the tips of the fingers on the opposite hand. Stay here for a few breaths or as long as you’d like, and then step the back foot forwards on the exhale to come out of it. Repeat on the opposite side.
10. Warrior III- This is a wonderful pose for increasing balance. Start by standing with your feet together. As you exhale, step one foot back and bend into the front knee, coming into a high lunge. Shift the weight into the front foot, bringing the arms either out to the sides or out in front of you, and begin to lift the back foot from the ground. Take your time here. If this is too hard, you can always hold onto a chair or the wall for support. Keep the back leg long as you fold forward into the pose. Hold this pose for a few breaths and when you are ready to come out of it, inhale to lift up, and exhale to bring your foot to the ground. Repeat on the other side.
Yoga for Cardio-Based Athletics
Yoga for Swimmers
The best yoga practice for before a game or event would be breathing techniques. This can help distribute oxygen throughout the entire body, increasing endurance and energy. These breathing techniques are also very useful for swimmers and help to build lung capacity.
One study introduced pranayama, or breathing exercises, to swimmers. Results found that after using breathing techniques for thirty minutes a day, the swimmers had better endurance, more strokes per breath, and less anxiety. (Hakked, et al.)
If you are ever curious as to why breathing techniques are so important, think about the necessary ways to breathe when you are lifting weights at the gym, or even running. For example, if you are lifting weights, you will typically breathe out when you lift and breathe in when you release. The control of the breath makes the exercise easier and safer.
Yoga for Runners
When it comes to running, keeping the body healthy and in good shape is very important. Whether you are a marathon runner, a leisurely runner, or if you just run because your sport requires it, yoga can help to build up endurance and increase balance.
One study divided college athletes into two groups. One group received bi-weekly yoga sessions while the other group continued with their normal routines. This study took place over a period of ten weeks, and at the end of the trial, results showed that the athletes receiving yoga had improvements in balance, flexibility, and even joint mobility. (Polsgrove, et. al)
For runners, yoga is usually best to do after a long run is completed. In this situation, yoga can be great for recovery.
However, there are also gentle stretches that are both safe and helpful to do before your run. Poses like chair pose, warrior I, and forward fold can be beneficial to warm up the legs before a run without overextending the muscles.
Our Yoga Edge training for athletes has specific stretches for runners. If you are a runner, we highly recommend checking out this training to learn more about which yoga poses would be best for you specifically.
When to Talk to Your Instructor
Your yoga instructor is always there to help. When going to a class in person, you can always get there a few minutes early to talk to your instructor. This allows ample time to let them know any concerns you might have. If you are new to yoga, it is always a good idea to talk to your instructor ahead of time to ask for any needed modifications, and to get any questions answered that you might have. In addition, if you have suffered from any past injuries, talking to an instructor can be helpful so that you know which poses to stay away from and which ones will be beneficial. Most yoga studios will be able to offer a class that is right for you. If you aren’t sure if you have found the right studio, feel free to give them a call and ask if they offer classes for beginners and/or athletes.
Modifications for Poses
If you struggle with certain poses, or are unable to do them, modifications might be helpful, and necessary, for you. Many athletes suffer from past injuries, and if you were to attempt to do a pose that could put too much pressure on a weaker area, you could get hurt. This is why modifications are so important. Props can also be very useful, such as blocks and straps, and can help you to be safe during your yoga practice.
Let’s look at pigeon pose for example. This pose is done by starting on the hands and knees and bringing one knee forwards while bringing the ankle of the same leg towards the opposite hand while flexing the foot. The back leg would then be extended behind the body. The problem is that this is a very deep pose and if it is done incorrectly, the hamstrings or knees could be hurt. It is important to know your level of flexibility. If you are used to more fast-paced practices, and you are a bit more inflexible, then modifying this pose is essential.
Modifications might include bringing a block beneath the hip of the back leg or bringing the front leg back in towards the body if the stretch is too deep. For those who still find this stretch too hard, a similar stretch can be done by sitting in a chair and crossing the ankle of one leg to the thigh of the other and bringing the knee of the top leg out to the side while keeping the foot flexed. This version of the pose still gives a great stretch but doesn’t put pressure on the knees and hips in the same way.
These are only some of the many modifications for this pose, and every yoga pose can be modified as well. With this in mind, if you come across a psoe that is too difficult for you, it is important to talk to your yoga instructor or to learn modifications of the pose you are trying to do. Never force yourself into a pose to avoid getting hurt!
For many athletes who haven’t experienced yoga in the past, the muscles might be tighter and less flexible, meaning modifications are very important to know about and to utilize.
The Best Body By Yoga Training for Athletes
Want to workout with us from home? We offer a training specifically for athletes called Yoga Edge. Click here to check it out!
Yoga Edge is great for…
Supplemental Yoga Workouts For Sports
Recover, Restore, and Rejuvenate!
Made For Runners, Cyclists, Swimmers, Weight Lifters,
Team Sports, And Anyone Who Workouts Out
Great For Golf and Tennis!
We have many other resources on our website aimed to help athletes and their yoga practices.
References: Hakked, Chirag & Balakrishnan, Ragavendrasamy & Krishnamurthy, Manjunath. (2017). Yogic breathing practices improve lung functions of competitive young swimmers. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine. 8. 10.1016/j.jaim.2016.12.005. Polsgrove, M. J., Eggleston, B. M., & Lockyer, R. J. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. International journal of yoga, 9(1), 27–34. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.171710