Russell Simmons

Yoga for Athletes

In order to perform their best, athletes keep themselves in peak physical performance.  They take care of their bodies by eating right and following a fitness regimen. They spend hours practicing in order to hone their skills and keep a sharp competitive edge.  One valuable tool more athletes can benefit from is the practice of yoga.

The physical benefits of yoga include increased strength, flexibility, balance, agility, and endurance.  What athlete wouldn’t want to be stronger and more flexible? The practice of yoga may not be at the top of the list of priorities for most football players, wrestlers, or runners, but the impact yoga can have on sports performance shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed.  The regular practice of yoga as part of a healthy approach to diet and exercise can help athletes in every sport, from wrestling to swimming, to reach their full performance potential.

Most athletes can benefit from the increased flexibility that comes with practicing yoga.  It’s difficult to imagine a sport in which the athlete wouldn’t benefit from increased flexibility.  If you consider the intense physical strain of, for example, a wrestler, it’s easy to see how being more flexible gives the athlete an advantage.  Athletes who play sports such as baseball and golf, which require big swinging movements, also benefit from increased flexibility. If better performance isn’t enough of a benefit, athletes with increased flexibility are less likely to suffer a sports related injury.

Some simple yoga poses that increase flexibility are big toe pose, child’s pose, cow face pose, and downward dog pose.  You can also try the half frog pose, head to knee forward bend, extended triangle pose, and the one legged king pigeon pose.  

People who commit to the regular practice of yoga will notice their balance improve as well.  With an improved balance overall, athletes are less likely to experience falls that could lead to injury.  Better balance allows an athlete to go with the flow, roll with the punches, and bend rather than break.

To improve balance, include flowing from mountain pose to chair pose to tree pose in your yoga routine.  Flowing from one pose to the next is the most effective way to improve balance. The combination of balance poses and the movements that transition from one pose to the next strengthens balance skills.

Yoga also helps to strengthen your core.  Every movement your body makes is related to your core.  Since virtually every yoga pose works the core, this is an excellent way to increase core strength.  Athletes with strong cores have strong backs, meaning they are less likely to suffer back strain or other back related injuries.

In order to add core poses to your yoga routine, try the boat pose, crane pose, and the dolphin plank pose.  The dolphin pose and four limbed staff pose are also good choices to strengthen your core. If needed, gradually build the time you hold each post as your core becomes stronger.  

If you’re new to the practice of yoga but want to incorporate it into your workout routine in order to boost your athletic performance, consider joining a yoga studio or signing up for classes with an instructor who can guide you in the right direction for your particular sport.