- in Yoga
Yoga for sports can help EVERY athlete irrespective of their sport or discipline. Many athletes, professional and amateur are adding regular yoga workout to their training. They are seeing benefits in a number of areas such as balance, core and injury prevention. This is helping them to perform at a higher level, recover quicker and to play for longer. In this article we will introduce what yoga for sports is, what are the benefits and how yoga can improve physical and mental strength. It will also introduce the fundamentals of yoga for sport, how to prepare for yoga and do it safely. Finally it will detail yoga for sport training plans and workout structure.
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Being an Athlete
If you’re training for the pros or a weekend warrior, or if you have a sport you love you’re an athlete. Being an athlete is about more than competition. It is a commitment to a craft, focusing on both mental and physical energy on honing a skill. You are developing a healthy and strong body, and always striving to become better.
Athletes eat and train, rather than diet and exercise. A healthy routine helps you avoid the worst version of yourself. Being an athlete is a lifestyle. Try to be active every day. Eat for energy and make sure your day involves exercise. Make your health your number one priority. Commit to being fit and ready for action. Use food as fuel and not as a vice. Refrain from smoking and drinking that move you away from a healthy lifestyle. Work out regularly, strive for goals, purpose, focus and discipline. Use mind–body techniques like meditation and visualisation to achieve success.
Practising physical yoga and doing breathing exercises will improve performance in any sport. Mental techniques, meditation and guided imagery compliment the physical actions. Athletes who are not practising yoga are competing at a disadvantage. They are also missing an opportunity for peak performance and longevity. Exercise tightens up your body, often putting muscle groups In opposition. You need to find a balance as well as a way to release the strain and tension in your muscles.
Benefits of yoga for Athletes
Yoga stretches muscles for greater flexibility and strengthens the core and smaller muscles. This improves form and economy of movements, helping overall performance. Yoga also develops lung capacity allowing you to sustain steady breath during physical activities. Making yoga a significant part of your lifestyle not only benefits your sport game but will change your life for the better. Aim for 3 sessions per week but if you are able to, weave yoga into your life as a regular routine up to five times a week.
Athletes need mental concentration and focus. Committing daily to a very specific regimen is not easy. Yoga well create positive change in your mind. Learn meditation for greater focus, improved performance and less stress from competing. Visualisation helps create the winning results you desire and helps you communicate with yourself in a more positive way. Yoga will help eliminate the noise and you will learn to set SMART goals. You will focus on achieving your personal best ensuring your game will improve. No matter your age, flexibility level, or hobby, yoga will assist you. Like any other process the more you do the better you will get. Commit yourself and you will see and most importantly, feel results.
Yoga for Sports method
Yoga combines a wealth off practices that build a better body and a stronger mind. It uses physical movement, breath control and meditative focus. For athletes the Hatha yoga tradition combined with the Vinyasa style provide the perfect forms and techniques. Hatha is a Sanskrit word that translates to force or physical. Hatha invokes the balance of opposites. The technique of Vinyasa means “to place in a special way”. Linking the two forms and techniques creates strength, flexibility, endurance and balance.
Yoga for Sport workouts are designed to work all parts of the body equally. Most sports specific training tend to neglect efficient breathing or the focus on improving one's mental game. Yoga for sport will strengthen the parts of the body that did not receive attention. Many traditional exercise programs overwork certain muscle groups or build muscle bulk unevenly. Use Yoga to develop a wholesome and well rounded regimen. Yoga will expand your focus and physical practice to build more than just muscular strength.
Finding a Flow State
Flow State means that's your entire mind, body and spirit are connected in order to hone in on a single activity. This could be playing a volley in tennis or doing a burpee. When you are in a flow state, you feel strong and alert. You are in a effortless control and at the peak of your ability. This allows you to escape distractions, pressures and negative burdens.
Yoga and meditation balance that rights and left sides of your brain to help you gain full concentration and focus. The right brain is responsible for our creativity. The midbrain is responsible for the energy that powers us through the tasks of the day and for the creation of memories. The brainstem is responsible for physical stimulus responses, such as swinging a golf club or throwing a ball. When the four parts of your brain are in harmony you are able to progress or ‘flow’ easily through activities or sequences. A regular yoga practice will greatly enhance your ability to tap into a flow state.
Yoga also offers a reprieve from the stress of sports related activities. Poses enhance strength, cardiovascular condition, balance and flexibility. Yoga, in its most simple form is breathing and feeling which you can focus on your mat. Doing the poses and connecting on your breathing will enhance your mind and body to achieve higher standards in your chosen sport.
Yoga for Physical and Mental strength
Body strength is the building block of success regardless of your sports or athletic activity. No amount of weight lifting with free weights will give you the strength that is achieved by holding up your own body weight in yoga. Practising various yoga poses builds strength and improved lean muscle mass. The muscles you need to strengthen or need to stretch or rest varies from sport to sport. You can adapt your yoga practice to serve your specific sports needs.
Almost everything you do in life activates your core, and almost everything in yoga works on your core strength. Yoga strengthens the stabilising muscles that are vital in protecting your joints and spine. These things are usually missed in other physical workouts. The core guides your balance, and your ability to balance through different movements can make or break your game. If your balance is on point, it gives you a solid base to work from and helps maximise movements and prevent falls and injuries. If you play tennis or golf, you know the value of range of motion. Yoga improves joint and muscular flexibility improving your body’s structure. Your joints and muscle flexibility will also foster greater range of motion. A swimmer with supple shoulder and hip joints is able to capture and pull more water than a swimmer with a more limited range of motion.
Yoga for recovery
Intense engagement in sports can put a huge strain on the body, and it is important to balance that with rest and recovery. Restorative yoga aids your body to recover from any particular strain, whether its an injury or some other physical ailment. Yoga helps put athletes back together after a tough game or workout. It allows the body to heal and will tell you where it is tight and where future injuries may be brewing. Yoga improves your control over the noise of mental chatter to create a centre of focus. When your mind learns to move easily and stop forcing movements, you will prevent injuries and increase your flexibility, both mentally and physically.
The fundamental of Yoga for Sport
There are seven areas that Yoga for Sport workouts focus on to establish safety and comfort in the practice.
Mindful breathing calls attention to your breath quality and how it affects your body and psyche. Yoga emphasises deep diaphragmatic and controlled breath. This improves your quality of breathing and oxygen efficiency. Oxygen fuels strength, movements and cardiovascular endurance. Maximising the oxygen you take in and converting it to energy will enable you to perform longer. Breath is also an innate tool to keep you calm and focused.
Understanding what your body feels could mean the difference between incurring and avoiding an injury. By being in touch with your breath you increase your body awareness. In yoga you want to feel something in every pose, feeling energetically engaged.
Listen to your body
You don't always need to push your body so when doing yoga be more selective. Choose more intense yoga practice to expand grow and progress into new abilities or accomplishments. Subsequently choose a gentler yoga to take care of your aching body. Listening to your body will reduce the chance of incurring an injury or aggravating an existing one.
Let go of competition
As an athlete you are trained to compete–plain and simple. However, on the yoga mat, you have the chance to set the competition aside and be stress free to focus on the poses. On the mat, athletes can embrace the moment and the yoga practice for themselves, focusing only on pose benefits and alignment.
Let go of judgement
Judgement can be quite intense for an athlete. There is an image to uphold or a level of performance to meet or exceed and you are always striving for this. You may even judge your peers which is negative energy. When you are on the mat and in the studio let go of judgement. Be creative and kind to yourself.
Let go of expectations
Letting go of expectations is about being open to possibility. Anticipate everything, expect nothing. Embrace the mat by being open and trusting your body to do exactly what it can. This will make yoga far more enjoyable and beneficial. Expectation usually keeps you attached to your desired outcome.
Stay present in the moment
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift–that's why it's called the present! The future is beyond your reach and it's a mystery what will happen. The present moment is the only moment you really have any control or influence over. On the mat you stay in the present moment by focusing on your breath. When you draw your attention to your breathing, you are drawn into the present moment.
Preparing for Yoga
The body is complex, so developing knowledge of how it functions will help you listen to it and strengthen It. We need to understand the importance of our core, balance and posture and the role they play in our daily lives.
A vast majority of the adult population leads a rather sedentary lifestyle (sitting at desks, driving cars and relaxing on sofas). This has resulted in many of us having a weak core. More than the obvious abdominal muscles, your core encompasses all the muscles that are activated in your abdomen and torso. The core is the epicentre of your body and it supports all movements. Power and control from your core enables you to move more efficiently and protect yourself from injury. If you have a weak torso and core, yoga will give you the opportunity to develop this part of your body with slow intentional movements. It will build an awareness of your entire body and highlights weak areas.
Excellent balance is a fundamental need for playing sports well. An athletes ability to balance through different movements is major key to success. The ability to balance is equal to an awareness of centre of gravity, especially while you are moving. Without this you will fall over! The closer you are to the earth and the wider your base of support, the lower your centre of gravity is and the easier it is to balance. Moving your centre of gravity further away from the earth or narrow your base of support, takes more effort to stay balanced. Your strength and control from your core allows you to move better when your centre of gravity changes.
Yoga poses take you through varying levels of stability. Good footwork is very important in moving, balancing, and shifting your body during complex manoeuvres. Wearing shoes protect our feet but also disconnects us from the ground. Yoga gets you out of your shoes, back on your mat, and more connected to the ground. It's a place where you can strengthen your feet and refine your balancing skills.
Without posture, core and balance training can only go so far. To compliment your core training you must correct your posture and address any underlying issues. If your posture isn't aligned and strong you are in danger of injury. Many long-term injuries suffered such as back strain are often a result of moving with unhealthy posture. The body naturally avoids or protects itself from pain, whether physical or emotional. The compensation is to cringe or hunch over. Both are inefficient or faulty movement patterns, they interfere with healthy posture. In sports, repetitive movements without correction may reinforce poor posture.
Yoga reinforces what you already know about core strength, good posture, and efficient movement. It signals us to refocus and move more deliberately while maintaining healthy posture. Yoga poses with the correct execution and alignment, encourage the ideal posture through the engagement of the core. Position of the head is also important in healthy posture. In sports, where the head goes, the body follows.
Safe Yoga for Sport
Developing a routine that is well rounded from beginning to end is the key to safe yoga. Repetitive movements in sport can lead to imbalances in the body. Understanding the demands of a sport or activity helps you select poses to enhance performance or correct an imbalance. Most yoga injuries occur from pushing the body too far and not preparing and cooling down. It is up to you to understand, listen to and feel your body so you can grasp when you should stop and when you should continue.
Yoga workouts focus on a full body workout tailored for specific sports. Many of the poses in the workouts offer modifications to suit the needs of the various levels. Always take breaks when required and don't push yourself pass your limits. To enjoy a safe yoga practice you need to build a stable and strong centre. Incorporating the following seven ethics will ensure a healthy and safe practice
Establish a base and dynamic tension
For maximum stability, mobility and extension, build your poses from the ground up by establishing a firm foundation. If your hands are on the mat spread your fingers wide. If your feet are on the mat, distribute your weight evenly across your feet and press down to form a strong base. Employ your entire body by engaging and contracting your muscles to become stable in a pose.
Create core stability
The muscles of your mid section (abdominals, lower back, gluten, hip flexors) make up your core. Engage these muscles before moving into poses and while holding them, to create strength, stability and mobility. When you work from a stable core you can move with confidence into your poses and hold them with great ease. It's also protects the joints, tendons and ligaments.
Aligning the Spine
This spine is supported through core stabilisation and the head follows the movement of the spine. When moving into twists, side bends, forward bends or backward bends, always start by engaging your core and finding your neutral spine. This is engagement strengthens your muscles in proper alignment and helps prevent injury.
Soften and align knees
In most poses your knees stay in line with your ankles and point directly out over your toes. Keep a soft bend in the knees (microbend) to avoid locking out the joints. The microbend protects the joints by strengthening surrounding muscles and corrects any muscular imbalances in the legs.
Relax the shoulders back and down
When stressed, fatigued or tense your shoulders tend to rise towards your ears. This increases tension in your body and decreases core stability. When holding a pose your shoulders should be drawn naturally back and down to help reduce tension in your neck and shoulders.
Hinge at the hips
When moving in and out of forward bends, bend your knees and hinge at your hips. This action will allow you to maintain a neutral spine and prevent injuries to your lower back. Come out of forward bends the same way, finding a neutral spine and using the legs to return to a standing position. Use this movement in daily activities when lifting objects or bending over.
Shortening the lever
When hip hinging, flexing or extending your spine, keep your arms out to the side or alongside your body to reduce strain on the muscles of your lower back. Bend your elbows instead of using straight arms.
Using props to explore your yoga practice enables you to modify poses. If you are hesitant about doing poses due to stiffness or tightness, you should invest in props. They will allow you to completely release and relax in poses and help you build strength and balance in your body.
Yoga straps are useful for aligning your posture and easing into poses. They are especially helpful if you have tense muscles or recovering from injuries. They allow you to fully experience your poses while maintaining structural alignment of your body.
A yoga bolster is like a body pillow but firmer and either rectangular or circular in shape. It's main purpose is to create relaxation, help soften a posture, or aid in opening the body.
Yoga blocks help in poses where tightness or unsteadiness prevents you from reaching the floor. They stop you over-stretching or coming out of alignment. For beginners, yoga blocks can be used when the flexibility isn't quite there yet. You want to maintaining alignment and posture in all the poses.
Yoga for Sport Training plans
Add yoga and meditation/ visualisation to your regular training routines, in season and off season. You will see many benefits as it will build, restore and enhance your athletic abilities.
- Pre-season/ strength training
- In season/ recovery program
- Off season maintenance
You want to find a balance in becoming stronger and preventing injuries even though you are working hard. It is a great time to add yoga to build core strength and enhance flexibility. So try to follow the below plan to integrates yoga and meditation into your training
Daily recovery from in season practice and injury recovery are very similar. You may experience a set of tight muscles that need extra attention or you may feel the need to work around a sore spot. Yoga will offer relief to these types of common injuries. It can be difficult to include a full yoga regimen on top of your regular training during the season. But at least start off the week with your sport specific yoga sequence. Otherwise restorative yoga is the perfect supplement to help your body balance out the intensity of your in season schedule.
Many athletes take the off season to rest and refresh; others end up getting de-conditioned and gain weight. This will only hinder your ability to continue to grow your athletic endeavours. So it's crucial to stay in shape and use the flexibility of your time to explore. This is a great time to get a better handle on your yoga in every way.
Yoga for Sport workout structure
Yoga is a form of exercise that requires a combination of flexibility, strength, endurance and coordination. So it is the best to warm up at the beginning and save stretching for the end. Warm up involves using large full body moves to activate and engage the muscles for complex or flexibility oriented poses. Stretching is reserved for the end of the workout to relieve tension for ligaments and tendons that were overtaxed. Two essential properties of muscles that trigger muscle flexibility are elasticity and plasticity. The elastic properties of muscles allow them to return to their original state from a stretch. The plasticity properties of muscles allow them to adapt to the continued stresses you endure. If muscles were not pliable, you would not be able to strengthen or stretch them and they would just remain the same after each activity.
Muscles respond better when they are warm. Therefore the most appropriate place to introduce deep stretching is once the body temperature is warmer. The deepest flexibility stretches should occur near the end of your workout. Your body is at it’s warmest and elasticity and plasticity in your muscles are optimal.
Yoga for Sport works
Yoga for sports offers athletes a competitive advantage in a number of ways. It can be used to build the basics of one's physical fitness. The workouts are diverse and effective, targeting more areas than most traditional training. Regular use of the workouts will improve balance, core strength, endurance and flexibility. Athletes will become more body aware and develop more balanced movement patterns. They will learn correct breathing techniques and use meditation and visualisation to achieve success through mental concentration and focus. Yoga for sport also strengthens weaker neglected parts of the body. Restorative yoga is an important area in yoga for sports. It will aid the body in recovering from injuries or strains, ensuring athletes are ready to pursue their chosen sport in the best possible shape.