Yoga For Sports

Yoga For Sports

When yoga itself
is not enough

To understand the Yoga for Sports method, it’s important to see where an ordinary yoga class has limitations for the athlete’s agenda. Yoga will make you more flexible over time, but being very flexible is often a hindrance in sport. Just loosening everything up in the body can even lead to injury for athletes when they partake in their given sport. 

The demands of sport requires strength and stability in certain body parts. Running for example, requires a little tightness and ‘spring’ in the backline. If we consider that going to a yoga class regularly will inevitably improve flexibility in the backline, particularly the hamstrings, then you can see that it doesn’t fit the specific needs of a runner. 

It’s essential that the yoga teacher knows the physiology of the sport at hand. They should know what great form is and how to achieve competitive advantage. Discretion must be used, as there are many well-intentioned yoga teachers who will focus on releasing tight areas for athletes. However, the art of yoga for sports, is knowing the optimal amount of flexibility and stiffness, in what particular body part, for great athletic performance.

Yoga often aspires to, or works toward peak poses such as lotus, deep folds or the splits. For almost every sport, these should not be on the athlete’s agenda. Keeping in mind that athletes are competitive people who like to challenge themselves, seeing an option for these in class, will entice some to try it and may lead to injury. A good yoga for sports teacher will know what to take off the table from the outset, so this risk is all but eliminated. 

At best, an ordinary yoga class might make you feel good, but it’s unlikely to improve performance in your chosen sport. If improved performance is the goal, then yoga, mobility, breathwork and meditation exercises need to be carefully tailored toward it. This is where the yoga for sports methodology comes in. 

Yoga for Sports Methodology 

Step 1 – Know the Sport 

  • Study the biomechanics of the sport. What is happening to the body when performing the sport? What is the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID)?
  • Study what makes great form or technique in the sport
  • What gives competitive advantage in the sport, both physically and mentally?
  • What muscle imbalances and pain points are likely in this sport? What should be counteracted and to what degree? For example, a boxer will have a slightly rounded upper back and will want to keep their strength in this position. So whilst some counteraction may be helpful for daily life, going too far in the opposite direction may not be useful for the sport.
  • What injuries are likely in this sport and how can they be mitigated?
Run 5
Road Cycling Westport 4

Step 2 – Know the Athlete 

  • Assess the athlete’s lifestyle, their level in their sport, the hours dedicated to it and their goals. A road cyclist who cross-trains with mountain biking will not present the same as one who does only road, or with one who also spends a lot of time sitting at a desk. 
  • Assess their movement. How is the range of movement across the body? What is weak and what is strong? This can be assessed in a 1-1 class and by watching them perform their sport. Watching someone’s running technique can reveal a lot about what areas need strengthened or mobilised. 
  • Ask about previous injuries, current pain points and areas they want to work on. No two bodies present the same so we can’t assume that all cyclists or runners will have the same problem. It’s also important not to wholly rely on their response, as some athlete’s are very in tune with their bodies, others simply are not. If they have a physio or coach, working in conjunction with these professionals is also very effective.

Step 3 – Know the Yoga

  • Considering the answers of step 1 and 2, design a program that pulls the most suitable practises from yoga, mobility, breathwork and meditation to meet the athlete’s needs. 
  • Know how to adapt the program. Yoga practise in the off-season may not be the same as on-season. If the athlete has a race or speed session the next day, long holds and static stretching will definitely be off the menu! Post race however, this may hold some value.
  • Know what exercises or poses will bring stability to weaker parts and mobility to stiffer parts and to what degree this is needed.
  • Consider meditation and breathwork. Visualisation can be used to help an athlete meet their goals. Breath-work can be used to increase Co2 tolerance, tap into the parasympathetic nervous system if recovery is the focus, or even simulate high altitude training. 
Yoga For Sport 5

Benefits of Yoga for Sports

Yoga has an immeasurable list of benefits, but let’s explore what it can do for an athlete in 3 core areas; body, breath and mind.  

Summary 

There are many benefits of yoga that are low hanging fruit for an athlete. The breathing function can be improved, athlete’s can learn the skill of meditation to better manage race day emotions, or relax deeply to maximise recovery. With careful consideration of the sport at hand, performance can also be improved through the physical application of yoga and mobility.

On a personal note, I truly believe this is the next big thing in sport. I think the future for sports teams will inevitably involve yoga, mobility, breathwork and meditation. The same way that a massage therapist is part of the team, so too will a yoga professional. In a world where competition is ever increasing and the smallest of margins means the difference in a win or a loss, there is no doubt that this area will soon be the norm as a means to achieve competitive advantage. 

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