12 Powerful Yoga Poses for Every Athlete
Last Updated: Feb 17, 2016
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A 240-pound linebacker in a yoga class may garner a few quizzical stares, but he and his coach know the secret: The type of strength and flexibility gained by a regular yoga practice helps him perform better on the football field. In addition, practicing yoga can aid recovery by helping to reduce muscle soreness during times of intense training, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in November 2004. Whether you’re a tennis pro, golf guru, soccer star, track champion or a slalom skier, up your game by incorporating the following poses into your training regimen.
Yoga-Eka pada Rajakapotasana/Pigeon pose
Fitness instructor Sue Hollingshead rates Pigeon pose as one of the best for runners because it lengthens the hip flexors, psoas muscles, gluteals, piriformis, lower-back and groin muscles, all of which can become tight with repeatedly pounding the pavement. HOW TO DO IT: Begin on your hands and knees. Draw your right knee toward your right hand. Rotate your right hip outward as you bring your right foot to your left hand and extend your left leg back. Lower your right shin and hip to the floor. Gradually extend your left leg back to find more length in the pose. Keep your hips even and put a block under your right hip for support if it doesn’t come all the way to the floor. Never force yourself to stretch further than your hips will allow, but let gravity pull your body weight down into the pose. Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds then switch sides.
Related: How to Loosen Hamstrings With Yoga
“Every single athlete in the world can benefit from this posture,” says yoga therapist Daniel Hickman. Triangle pose helps lengthen the side body, which Hickman says is especially beneficial for athletes whose sports involve repetitive one-sided motions or core rotations, such as baseball, tennis, ultimate Frisbee and golf. HOW TO DO IT: From standing, take a big step back with just your right foot -- about four feet, depending on your height. Turn your back/right foot 90 degrees out and keep your front/left foot pointing forward, aligning your front heel with the arch of your back foot. Raise your arms perpendicular to the floor, slide your torso forward and tilt your arms, resting your left hand on your left shin. Keep your quadriceps contracted and your spine elongated. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds and switch sides.
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Cyclists spend a lot of time in a hunched position, which can shorten the chest muscles. Sitting on a bike for hours a day also leads to tight hip flexors and abdominal muscles. Camel pose is a big stretch for the entire front of the body, helping to improve posture and counteract the effects of cycling on your upper body. HOW TO DO IT: Kneel with your knees hip-distance apart. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands on your lower back with the bases of your palms on your buttocks and your fingers pointing down. Press through your pelvis and begin to lean back, extending the spine. Keep your neck in a neutral position. Most people can get a deep stretch here. To take it deeper, reach your hands back to grasp the tops of your feet.
Related: Get Fit With the 30-Day Yoga Challenge
BROKEN TOE POSE
The soles of the feet take a beating in many sports, but most athletes devote very little time to stretching them. Although it sounds unappealing, regularly including Broken Toe pose in your practice can help lengthen the thick plantar muscles on the bottoms of your feet, combating plantar fasciitis, which occurs when those muscles become contracted and inflamed. HOW TO DO IT: Start kneeling on the floor with your shins parallel to each other. Tuck your toes under so that your heels are pointing up and sit back onto your heels. “Starting on the knees with both feet can be really excruciating for some people,” says yoga therapist Daniel Hickman. Instead, he recommends coming onto all fours and extending one leg at a time behind you, tucking the toes of your foot and pressing them all into the floor simultaneously.
Related: Get Fit on the Water With Paddleboard Yoga
THREAD THE NEEDLE
If you have tight hips and you can’t yet get into Pigeon pose, you can do Thread the Needle instead. Because it’s supine, or done lying on your back, it’s a relaxing way to unwind after a strenuous training session. HOW TO DO IT: To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor hip-distance apart. Lift your right foot and bring it across your left thigh just below your knee. Let your right knee fall out to the side so your right ankle is resting on your left thigh. Clasp your hands around the back of your left thigh and gently pull that leg toward your chest, keeping your back flat on the ground. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides.
Related: Yoga Postures to Help Bad Knees
Group Yoga Class in Studio
STANDING FORWARD BEND
Tight hamstrings are common among athletes in sports that require short, intense sprints and rapid acceleration, such as tennis, baseball and hockey. A simple forward bend can help gradually lengthen these muscles. Personal trainer and yoga teacher Pamella Inveen says that many athletes have trouble achieving the straight-legged version of this pose. Instead, she recommends bending your knees deeply. HOW TO DO IT: Start with your feet hip-width apart then pivot from the hips as you bend forward. Try to get your ribs to touch your thighs, but don’t force anything. Be careful not to round your back forward. Either rest your hands on the floor or put your hands on blocks or on your shins. Lift your hips toward the ceiling to try to straighten your legs without allowing your abdomen to come off your thighs. Make sure you keep a slight bend in your knees and do not lock them.
Related: What Are the Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga?
Fit young man doing the cobra pose in fitness studio
Athletes in defense sports -- such as mixed martial arts, basketball and football -- will benefit from Cobra pose, which opens up the front of your body, says yoga therapist Daniel Hickman. “There’s a lot of contraction in the body…which can be overemphasized in practice, but also applied and reinforced in competition,” he says. This can lead to overly tight chest and abdominal muscles and postural imbalance. This pose is a great way to counteract that. HOW TO DO IT: To perform the pose, lie on your belly with the tops of your feet on the floor. Place your hands on the ground under your shoulders and hug your elbows to your sides. Press through your hands and straighten your arms almost all the way (keep a slight bend in your elbows), lifting your torso off the ground. Stop before your pubic bone lifts off the floor. Keep your tailbone slightly tucked under and your thighs firm.
Related: 10 Poses That a Yoga Beginner Should Know
Beautiful ponytailed woman stretching in a yoga pose
A go-to stretch for runners and any athlete whose sport requires running or sprinting, the Low Lunge targets all of the muscles in your legs, especially your hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors. HOW TO DO IT: To get into the pose, from standing, take a big step back with your right foot and bend your left knee to 90 degrees. Keep your left knee directly over your left foot. Drop your back knee to the ground and either leave your toes curled or place the top of your foot on the mat. To go deeper, inch your back knee back and lower your hips toward the ground. Keep your torso upright or place your fingertips on the ground on either side of your front foot. Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides.
Related: 5 Yoga Poses to Firm the Butt
Yoga Series - Cow Face Pose
COW FACE POSE
Racquet sport athletes will benefit from the shoulder-opening power of Cow Face pose. The gluteals, IT band and quadriceps also lengthen and stretch. HOW TO DO IT: Get started by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Then cross your right knee over your left knee so that your left foot is beside your right hip and your right foot is beside your left hip. Next, bring your right hand behind your lower back with your palm facing out. Bend your left elbow toward the ceiling and place your left palm in between your shoulder blades. Inch your right hand up your back and try to clasp your hands. To modify the pose, extend your left leg and bring your right ankle to the top of the left thigh. Close the gap between your hands using a strap. Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds before switching sides.
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Man doing push-ups in health club
Yoga isn’t just about stretching, and any athlete can benefit from moves that help build stability in the core -- the abdominals, hips and mid-back. Yoga teacher Pamella Inveen says that a strong core is especially important for golf, tennis and baseball athletes who need to use their core to power rotation through their mid and upper body. HOW TO DO IT: Start by getting into push-up position, with your hands directly under your shoulders. “The most important thing about plank pose is to engage your abs and tuck your tailbone,” says Inveen. Imagine your body in one long, strong line from the top of your head to your heels. Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds. You can also do Plank pose with your forearms on the ground.
Related: Yoga Exercises for Your Shoulders
WIDE-LEGGED FORWARD BEND
Sports that require a lot of lateral movement, such as tennis, soccer and basketball, can lead to tight groin and inner thigh muscles. Wide-Legged Forward Bend targets both areas and also encourages shoulder opening. HOW TO DO IT: Begin by facing the long edge of your mat and step your feet three to four-and-a-half feet apart -- taller people may require a wider stance. Put your hands on your hips, contract your quadriceps muscles and begin to hinge forward from your hips, keeping your spine straight. Press into the outer edges of your feet. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and groin, bring your palms to the ground with your fingers pointing forward. To go deeper, walk your hands back between your feet and bend your elbows so that your forearms are perpendicular and your upper arms are parallel to the ground.
Related: 11 Yoga Poses to Detoxify Your Body
Class lying on exercise mats in row at fitness studio
CONSTRUCTIVE REST POSITION
Athletes tend to be very focused on achieving a goal, whether hitting a homerun, making a tackle or setting a personal record. However, quality rest is just as important as training, and yoga therapist Daniel Hickman recommends that all athletes practice a constructive rest pose. HOW TO DO IT: Doing this pose is as simple as lying on your back with your knees bent, your feet hip-width apart and your knees angled in and resting against each other. Extend your arms out to the side at a comfortable distance from your torso. “This allows the whole line of the spine to relax, and gravity can do the work here,” says Hickman. “It’s more a posture of undoing.” Stay here for as long as you like -- even fall asleep, he says.
Related: 10 Yoga Moves to Remove Stress and Relax You at Bedtime
TIME FOR PRACTICE
Yoga poses are most effective if you do them regularly, but a full yoga practice can be difficult for many athletes to fit into their training schedules. Even if you only have 10 minutes a day, these poses will help improve your flexibility and performance and reduce your risk of injury. Yoga teacher Pamella Inveen stresses that it’s important for those new to yoga to take it slow and not push themselves into poses they’re not ready for. “Do what you can. It should feel like you’re getting a nice stretch,” she says. “Go about it comfortably.”
Related: 12 Amazing Paddleboard Yoga Poses (and How to Do Them)
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are you an athlete? Have you tried any of these poses? Do you practice other poses that you think are beneficial for a particular sport? Share your thoughts with the Livestrong community in the comments section.
Related: How to Get Started With Yoga
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