Yoga For Athletes

Improve balance, flexibility and whole-body strength — no matter what your sport — with these yoga poses.

Rachel Crocker | June 30, 2014

You run. You lift. You swim, squat and swing. All of those repetitive motions can do a number on your bod, and without the proper cross-training program, you may find yourself stiff, sore and unable to work at your full potential.

Enter yoga. It’s the yin to your athletic program’s yang, helping to improve every aspect of your game. “With increased flexibility, range of motion and core strength, you will reduce your risk of injury from high-impact activities like running, lifting weights or playing sports,” explains Chelsea Knight, RYT-200, owner of Hard Core Yoga in Eugene, Oregon. “Learning how to breathe deeply can also enhance performance by helping to control heart rate and blood pressure, while providing a steady stream of oxygen to working muscles.”

Related: Yoga: The Secret Weapon for Health

But your mind will benefit just as much as your muscles. “When you practice yoga, you learn to slow down, be present and mindful, and become completely tuned in to what you are doing,” notes Knight. “Not only does that provide a feeling of calm and stress relief, but that heightened sense of awareness can help you understand your body and how it is performing in other activities.”

Knight handpicked each of these yoga moves to correspond with sport-specific areas of tension, but together, they make a rejuvenating practice for weekend warriors and hardcore athletes alike. Hold each pose as described for at least five deep, slow breaths, relaxing into the pose with every exhalation. Or for a more targeted practice, choose one or two poses based on which muscles you wish to relieve or strengthen.

If You Love CrossFit: Reclining Spinal Twist

Reclining Spinal Twist

CrossFit devotees do tons of compound motions that engage the whole body. This pose releases several of the largest muscle groups, including the back, shoulders, chest and hips, making it ideal for CrossFitters.

Lie on your back, cross your left ankle over the right, and bend your knees, bringing your shins parallel to the floor. Place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh, and extend your left arm on the floor at shoulder height. Slowly drop your knees to the right, bringing them as close to the floor as possible. Hold for five breaths, return to the center, then repeat to the left (ensure that you reverse the crossing of your legs).

If You Play Tennis: Standing Back Bend

Standing-Backbend.jpg

Tennis players twist, turn and swing across their bodies, stressing the muscles in the core and chest. This pose releases that overworked frontal area, including the abs, chest, shoulders and neck. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place your palms on your lower back, just above your glutes. Pinch your shoulder blades together and drop your shoulders away from your ears while leaning slightly rearward through your lumbar spine. Hold this position for five deep breaths.

If You Love High-Intensity Plyometrics: Three-Legged Dog/Single Pigeon

Three Legged Dog 
Plyometrics are very hip-intensive, so this sequence that stretches the hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors is ideal for recovery. From a downward dog position, lift your left leg. Press your chest back and under your body, bringing it towards x3 your right thigh while keeping your hips lifted, then drop your right heel to stretch your hamstrings and calf. Next, draw your left knee towards your chest, drop your hips towards the floor and slide your right leg behind you. Fold forward, resting your forehead on the floor or on your hands, if your range of motion allows. Maintain this position for five deep breaths, then repeat on your opposite side.

If You Are A Cyclist: Low Lunge/Half Split

Low Lunge Half Split 
Cyclists are the quadzillas of the sports world, and this exercise sequence stretches the whole frontal thigh area, including the hip flexors, then adds some hamstring flexibility to balance you out. Move into a low lunge position with your left foot in front, right knee on the floor, and fingertips touching the floor. (Make sure there is plenty of distance between the left heel and right knee.) Drop your hips, lift your chest to release the hip flexor and hold for five breaths. Next, press your hips back, dropping your glutes toward your right heel, and straighten your left leg, and straighten your right leg to come into a half split. Walk your hands back while maintaining length in your chest. Hold for five breaths, then switch leg positions and repeat.

If You Are A Runner: Standing Forward Fold/Squat Twist

Standing Forward Fold 
Runners pound the pavement for long durations, doing a number on their backs and legs. Swinging your arms can also burn out your shoulders, so do this pose post-run to release the hamstrings, lower back and glutes. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and clasp your hands together behind your lower back. Fold forward at the waist, allowing your hands to rise overhead. Shift slightly to draw your left shoulder toward your right shin, then repeat on your other side. Continue for five deep breaths. Next, release your hands, space your feet wide with your toes turned out, and drop your hips to come into a low squat position. Rotate through your waist to bring your right shoulder to the inside of your right knee, extending your right arm to touch the floor and reaching overhead with your left. Hold for five deep breaths, then repeat on your other side.

If You Are A Swimmer: Cat/Cow With Thread The Needle

Cat Cow 

Your shoulders and core are taxed to the max when swimming, so use this sequence to stretch your abs, back, shoulders and chest.

Get on all fours on the floor, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Arch your lower back and look upward as you inhale. Next, round the spine, spreading your shoulder blades wide, and tuck your chin under as you exhale. Repeat five times, then return to the starting position. Thread your right arm under your body toward the left side, bringing your shoulder down to the floor while relaxing the neck. Press your left palm into the floor to gently draw your shoulder back. Hold for five breaths, then repeat the threading motion on the other side.

About the Author

Rachel Crocker