Yoga is an excellent cross-training discipline that provides you with tools to enhance your athletic performance, enable you to train with greater efficiency, and prevent you from being sidelined with injuries. Although many athletes include warm-up and cool-down stretching in their workout routines, yoga helps in ways that go beyond basic stretching. Yoga poses require intense muscular engagement, mental focus, and breath work. It’s the combination of these skills that can have a tremendous impact on your level of fitness and your performance in any other physical activity.
These poses focus on strengthening and increasing the range of motion in joints, creating balanced muscles and flexibility.
An athlete’s physical needs are often different from people who are focused primarily on yoga. If you’ve built a lot of strength, but are inflexible, attempting some of the classic yoga poses too soon can do more harm than good. Most athletes need increased mobility with an emphasis on integration and balance, rather than increased strength. These poses focus on strengthening and increasing the range of motion in joints, creating balanced muscles and flexibility.
FORWARD FOLD ROCK & ROLL
Stretches: Calves, shins, hamstrings, arches
How To Do It: Start in a forward fold with your knees bent enough so that you can place your fingertips on the floor in front of you. Lift your heels so you are standing on the balls of your feet. Then roll onto your heels and lift your toes toward your forehead. As your low back and hamstrings loosen you can begin to straighten your legs more. Do as many as feels good.
Strengthens: Ankles, thighs, back
Stretches: Shoulders, chest, calves
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Lower your hips as though you are sitting in a chair, but keep your torso lifted and pressing back. Pull your low belly in and up so that there isn’t any compression in your low back. Shift your weight so far back into your heels that your toes are only lightly on the floor. Interlace your hands and press your palms forward. As you inhale, reach your palms up toward the ceiling. Bend your elbows and press your arms as far back behind your ears as possible. Hold for three to five breaths. Stand up and release your arms to your sides. Repeat.
LOW LUNGE VARIATION
Strengthens: Erector Spinae, Core
Stretches: Quadriceps, psoas, shoulders, rotation of the spine and flexion of the knee
How To Do It: From a Forward Fold, place your hands on the floor and step your right foot back into a lunge with your right knee on the floor. Walk your right knee back behind you so you can sink your hips down. Keep your right hand grounded and reach back to catch your right foot with your left hand. Hold the top of your foot with your fingers pointing down toward your knee. Rotate your left elbow to point toward the ceiling and press your right foot toward your right hip. Hold for five breaths. Release and step forward into forward fold. Repeat on the other side.
Strengthens: Shoulders, upper arms, abs
Stretches: Upper back, low back, chest, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches
How To Do It: Start on your hands and knees. Put your forearms on the floor in front of you. Palms press into the floor with fingers spread wide. Straighten your legs, release your heels toward the floor and lift your hips toward the ceiling. It’s not necessary to straighten your knees completely. The most important aspect is that you continue to lift your tailbone toward the ceiling. You can intensify the stretch on your shoulders by drawing your chest toward your thighs. Hold for five breaths and then release to your starting position. Repeat.
Stretches: Chest, releases back compression
Strengthens: Low back
How To Do It: Lie on your belly. Press the tops of your feet, your thighs and the front of your hips into the floor. Press your palms into the floor under your shoulders. As you exhale, pull your belly in to protect your low spine and press your hands down, straightening your arms to lift your chest. Keep your shoulders down and back, move your chest forward between your arms and only lift as far as you can while keeping your front hip points on the ground.
Stretches: Spine, outer hips, groin
How To Do It: Sit with your knees bent and your feet on the floor in front of you. Place your hands on the ground behind you with your fingers pointing toward your hips. Sit up tall on your sit bones. If you find yourself collapsing into your low back and rounding your back, sit on the edge of a blanket. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh creating a triangle between your legs. Your right knee stretches away from you. You can intensify/modify the stretch by walking your foot closer to your hips or farther away and by bringing your grounded foot closer to your hip or father away. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the other side.