Yoga for Athletes
Yoga is widely celebrated for its myriad of benefits ranging from stress reduction and mental focus to better mobility and pain relief. A consistent yoga practice has been shown to significantly improve strength, mobility, balance, outlook and athletic performance. All athletes can benefit greatly by including yoga in their training programme to pro long their careers. Take Ryan Giggs for example who cited yoga as a key factor in prolonging his footballing career. One of the longest serving Premier League footballers of all time, he knows a thing a two about optimising fitness. Ryan Giggs took up yoga after sustaining a hamstring injury in training and began attending classes twice a week.
He said “The day after a match, the adrenalin would still be in my body. But the following day, when I got out of bed, everything would hurt, so I would do yoga then. Yoga strengthens your muscles, improves flexibility, but also keeps you fit and gets you out on the training pitch so you can train every day. You need to be out there every day so you need your body to be robust and ready for anything. If I do a yoga session the day after a game, I’m nowhere near as stiff so I’ll be back training at the right level a lot quicker.”
“Yoga was first about injury prevention but later it became about recovery,”
Repetitively engaging in the same movements, as athletes do, can lead to the body adapting and becoming limited in its movement patterns. Incorporating yoga into your workout regime helps the body reestablish its full range of motion whilst increasing strength in the muscles and joints. Passive stretching, as practiced in yoga, lengthens and oxygenates over used, tired muscles, thus increasing the energy stored in the muscles and improving flexibility, balance and overall function.
In terms of injury prevention, yoga helps to keep you supple and flexible which protects your joints and reduces tightness in the hamstrings, groin, glutes, quads, hip flexors – all the primary movers in athletic pursuits, such as cycling, running and football. Tightness in these muscles very often leads to back pain due to compression in the lower spine region. Popular yoga poses such as low and high lunges, Downward Facing Dog and pigeon pose all help to release the muscles around the hips and prevent pain and injury. Yoga also helps highlight muscle imbalances in the body and correct them over time, again preventing injury. Finding a yoga teacher with a sound knowledge of anatomy and function of the body is crucial. Investing in some one to one sessions with a skilled teacher is an invaluable way to really hone a practice suited to your needs and athletic goals.
Practicing yoga for runners and yoga for cyclists really is a must, in fact, it is for anyone practicing any sports regularly. Ideally you should aim to incorporate some yoga stretches in to your training regime and aim to practice a full yoga session on your days off from heavy training sessions. If this isn’t possible, aim for at least 30- 60 minutes 2 -3 times per week. The key to longevity in sports, and in life, fluid, free and efficient movement. With patience and persistence, yoga will help you defy age old statistics and keep you on the track, pitch or in the saddle for some time to come. All you need is an excellent teacher to get you on your way and you will reap the rewards in no time.
Read more about yoga’s addictive benefits here