Over the past couple of decades, yoga has become known as a valuable tool that can be used to improve athletic performance. From casual exercise to professional sports, there is an excellent reason to incorporate yoga into your training.
Historically, the yogic discipline has placed much more emphasis on the meditative nature of the practice. Its transition to asana-based exercise is relatively recent.
As individuals began to recognize the benefits of yoga, the practice has become more fluid and more inclusive, making its way into the world of sports.
This has led to an increasing number of professional and amateur athletes incorporating yoga into their training in an effort to improve their performance.
Many athletes have found that practicing yoga can help them to prevent injuries, enhance their recovery, and increase their physical and mental stamina.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the reason why yoga has become an asset to so many athletes:
- 6 Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
- How Different Athletes Benefit from Yoga
- Famous Athletes Who Practice Yoga
- 5 Yoga Poses for Athletes
- Yoga for Athletes Tips and Contraindications
6 Benefits of Yoga For Athletes
It is no secret that yoga practice comes with an array of benefits, including the advantages specific to sports performance. Let’s take a look at them:
1. Cardio Endurance
Athletes that practice sports that require cardio endurance (such as running, cycling, or some forms of martial arts) can take their training to the next level with regular Vinyasa practice, or a similar fast-paced yoga style.
2. Opposition and Cross-Training
Yoga is a great way to create isolated effort for particular muscles.
This allows athletes to strengthen the muscle groups vital in their sports, as well as work on the opposition training.
This type of strength training is great for utilizing the same muscles in a new way, or a different direction. Overall, it can create a more solid base for the person’s main sport.
Yoga can help athletes improve their flexibility, which can lead to better range of motion, reduced risk of injury, and better performance.For instance, a 10-week study published in 2016 showed that yoga made a significant difference in flexibility gains among college athletes compared to the control group.
The same study found that regular yoga practice may improve the athletes’ sense of balance, which is confirmed by a systematic review of studies that focused on yoga for balance in healthy populations, published in 2014.
This is especially important to athletes in balance-heavy sports such as surfing and similar board sports, rock climbing, fencing, and equestrian sports.
5. Injury Prevention and Recovery
One of the most valuable benefits of yoga when it comes to athletic performance is the correlation between regular yoga and reduced risk of injury.
By strengthening the muscles and ligaments around the joints, as well as increasing tissue elasticity, many repetition or exertion injuries can be avoided.
Yoga can also be used as a recovery tool to help athletes recover from training and competition, as well as facilitate the healing process should an injury occur.
Of course, yoga is much more than just a physical discipline. Studies show that yoga practice can have a significant effect on the psychological health and performance of professional athletes.
Champions have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.– Muhammad Ali
How different athletes benefit from yoga
It is important to note that in order to really benefit from yoga, it is best to adapt the practice to the needs required by your chosen sport.
Thankfully, yoga is an incredibly complex and versatile discipline with plenty to offer.
Runners and Cyclists
If you wish to use yoga to improve your running or cycling performance, you should focus on the major muscle groups affected by the aforementioned activities.
Naturally, you would incorporate poses that work your lower body, including the glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors, and the IT band. It is also a good idea to work on your balance and ankle mobility.
Furthermore, running is heavily featured in many other sports, such as soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, field hockey, and more.
Basketball and Netball Players
Basketball and netball involve a lot of running and jumping, in addition to upper body movement and core strength. As well as physical fitness, basketball and netball require agility, strategy, coordination and temporal awareness.
The athletes who play these sports can take advantage of the strength, balance and mindfulness yoga has to offer.
Athletes who practice surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, or skateboarding can also greatly benefit from adding yoga to their training.
All of these sports have a common ground, focusing heavily on balance, coordination, lower body strength and core strength. All of the above can be improved and maintained through a regular yoga practice.
Whether you are an Olympic powerlifter, or you simply enjoy your time in the free weights section of the gym, yoga is a great tool that can increase your flexibility, add stability to your form, and ease recovery after workout sessions.
Many other athletes can benefit from yoga, including but not limited to:
- Tennis players
- Rock climbers
- Circus performers
- Martial arts fighters
- Hockey players
- Figure skaters
Famous yoga athletes
A testament to great benefits of yoga for sports performance are professional athletes who swear by it. The list of famous athletes includes:
- Basketball legends LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal
- Tennis champions Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray
- Competitive rock climbers Shauna Coxsey and Adam Ondra
- NFL players Tom Brady and Chad Wheeler
- Professional soccer players Hope Solo and Ryan Giggs
5 Yoga Poses for Athletes
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Dog is an excellent pose to help athletes stretch and strengthen the entire body, particularly the arms, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves.
As an inversion, it can also improve coordination and provide much-needed tension relief in the neck and shoulders, making it a great pose for athletes in many different sports.
2. Warrior Series (Virabhadrasana)
These poses, whether practiced in isolation or in a sequence, can help strengthen the legs and arms, and stretch and open hips – all whilst improving balance and stability.
It can be particularly beneficial for athletes in sports that require lateral movement, such as basketball or soccer. The Virabhadrasana series is also great for sports that require effort from the lower body.
3. Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana)
Athletes with a limited range of motion in the hips and lower back may opt for a Reclined Pigeon Pose variation, especially if they are recovering from a recent injury.
4. Tree Pose (Vkrsasana)
This standing balance strengthens the legs, builds ankle stability, improves one’s sense of balance, and can also help to work on focus and mental clarity.
Tree Pose can be a useful asana for athletes in sports that require precise movements, such as rock climbing, skateboarding, or figure skating.
5. Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani)
This gentle inversion is a great recovery pose for athletes.
The legs are elevated above the heart, which can help to improve circulation and reduce swelling and fatigue in the legs and feet.
Legs-Up-The-Wall pose can help to relieve tension in the hamstrings and lower back, which is a common area of discomfort for athletes.
Tips and Contraindications
- Start slow
If you’re new to yoga, it’s important to build up your practice gradually even if you are proficient in a different type of physical activity. Diving head-first into advanced practice can increase the risk of injury, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
- Listen to your body.
Pay attention to how your body feels during and after yoga practice. If something feels uncomfortable or painful, there is no shame in easing off or modifying the pose. It’s important to honor your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
- Practice sports-specific yoga.
It may not be an option for everybody, but if you have access to a class specifically designed to help you and other athletes within the same sport, you are going to benefit significantly more than from a general yoga session.
- Consult your doctor or physio.
If your goal is to help you recover from a sports injury, it is important to get clearance from the medical practitioner overseeing your treatment. They may also be able to advise you on how to modify your practice.
- Be patient.
Yoga takes time and patience to master. Think back to your very first run, basketball game, or the time you learned how to swim. It’s the same with yoga: don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.
Curious on how you could begin incorporating yoga into your training? Try this gentle yoga class for athletes to boost recovery with Breathe and Flow:
Or read our article on Broga