For the athletes who haven’t taken the plunge and started yoga yet, there are numerous benefits of yoga for athletes.
The repetition of movements in certain sports can result in an imbalance in the body. This, in turn, may lead to aches and pains and even injury. Yoga may be able to help bring balance and symmetry to the body and in the long run, may help with injury prevention.
Read on to help you decide whether to add yoga to your fitness training.
It will help you learn to breathe efficiently
One of the main points of focus in any yoga class is the breath. Indeed, yoga teaches us to breathe more effectively, with deep, equal, and long breaths. This way of breathing uses the whole lung capacity which is important for delivering oxygen to the blood.
In many modern yoga practices, the breath is linked to movement as you flow from one posture to the next. In this way, it is encouraging slow and rhythmic breathing, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This then turns on the parasympathetic receptors which result in our heart rate slowing down and our adrenal glands slowing the production of stress hormones.
When we are stressed we tend to breathe in a more rapid and shallow manner, something which may lead to more anxiety. And so it is important for athletes to work with the breath. Whether it is learning to calm down before a stressful event or staying calm during the performance.
It may increase core stability
Yoga is also referred to as a bodyweight exercise. What this means is that during our practice, we are supporting our body weight.
An example of this is a position that is used frequently in certain yoga types; the plank position. Our arms and core hold up the weight of our bodies. Repeated throughout the practice and over time this will help improve our core strength.
Core strength and stability may be important for athletes, for both performance and injury prevention, as a strong core protects the lower back and prevents injury. And so, in recent years, there has been an increase in the research on the relationship between core stability and athletic performance.
For example, a study was carried out examining the correlation between core strength and athletic performance. Thirty-five volunteer student-athletes performed a series of five exercises and the correlations between core stability and each of the exercises were examined.
After pointing out that core training has become the norm in many athletic training programs, the study did indeed find that there appears to be a link between core stability and athletic performance.
You may have increased flexibility and range of motion
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. Therefore it is no surprise that a study carried out in the US found that flexibility is the main reason people start yoga. In fact, more than 78% of respondents said they were motivated to improve flexibility. It is true that the regular practice of yoga will indeed help practitioners get into postures
Increased flexibility is important for athletes, as according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA):
Achieving optimum flexibility helps eliminate awkward and inefficient movement by allowing joints to move freely through a full normal ROM, and it may also provide increased resistance to muscle injury. Improving flexibility is a fundamental element of any training program because ROM may enhance the ability to perform various movement skills, especially those that require a high level of flexibility (i.e., serving a tennis ball, picking up a bag of groceries off the floor)NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, Second Edition
Studies have found that regular yoga practice may increase the flexibility in athletes. Indeed in a study carried out in 2016 14 athletes took part in yoga classes twice a week for just over two months. The results of the study found that 2 months of yoga increased the athlete’s flexibility when compared to the warm-up stretching.
It may help increase relaxation
Yoga aims to connect the mind and body. And so at the end of the practice, when we take savasana, we ask the body and the mind to relax. Certain postures can have a deeply calming effect on the whole system, and so most yoga classes end with these types of postures, giving the body and mind a chance to calm down and be able to completely relax and let go.
This state of relaxation is important for athletes as their bodies need rest after extreme training. Relaxation is the conscious release of unnecessary tension in the body. And this feeling of relaxation is something that can be important to athletes as it will allow their muscles to return to their balanced tone, especially after extreme training.
It can help improve balance and coordination
Yoga helps improve balance and coordination, both of which can help protect against falling, a major cause of injuries and bone fractures.
Most yoga practices involve transitioning through poses which may test our balance and coordination. By improving both, athletes can reduce the risk of falls. this, in turn, may lead to better performance overall.
You can use it for cross-training
Yoga aims to bring symmetry to the body and work on muscles that otherwise may have been never used. So think of how important a yoga practice can be to athletes, who may overwork certain muscles and underuse others. This overtime may lead to an imbalance in the body which in turn may lead to injuries.
And so a yoga practice aims to keep the body in balance whilst also promoting full-body strength.
There are many styles to choose from
There are a variety of yoga types to choose from, from the most gentle to the more dynamic. And so an athlete wanting to increase learn how to rest and relax may choose a gentle stretching practice like Yin yoga or Restorative yoga. On the other hand, an athlete wanting to get a full-body workout may choose a more dynamic practice, like Ashtanga yoga or Power yoga, both of which will increase strength and flexibility.
If you want to know more about the different types of yoga, you may like my article: Beginner’s Guide To The Popular Types Of Yoga And Their Benefits
It may help you increased power
Yoga aims to help the body achieve proper alignment. One benefit this can offer is that it can, in turn, improve performance. When our body is aligned, we can then transmit force more effectively and efficiently which then helps us to generate more power.
Depending on the chosen sport, this will help athletes punch, jump, run, or throw more effectively and precisely.
You may improve your endurance
As yoga has a strong focus on the breath, this focused and improved breathing helps to increase our respiratory capacity. This is of great importance to athletes.
If you have ever attended an Ashtanga class, you may have noticed it is similar to an endurance sport. Constant movement and yet evenly paced breath. throughout the practice.
Being able to control the breath like this improves circulation which in turn teaches us to conserve energy, learn to move more efficiently, and thus learn to pace ourselves for a long and demanding practice.
You may experience enhanced recovery
Athletes need time to rest between workouts in order to allow for muscles to recover. The deep and controlled breathing of a yoga practice helps bring oxygen to the muscles. Additionally, this type of breathing helps bring nutrients to the muscles for energy, to help with muscle recovery. And this, in turn, will help prepare the muscle for the next workout.
A consistent yoga practice can be of great importance to athletes, as it may help them improve their circulation and lymphatic flow. These together can help speed up the time it takes for the body to recover from intense workouts.
You may improve your focus
Yoga helps enhance our ability to focus, something which can be invaluable to athletes. In a yoga class, we may be taught to have a single focus point in each posture. This focus point helps us block out external distractions and deepen our practice by directing our attention inward. A steady gaze on a still point helps us become fully present in the moment.
An improved ability to focus may be important to endurance athletes like runners or cyclists as they need to keep their eyes and mind focused.
You may experience improved body awareness
Yoga teaches us to stay present in the moment. And this is something which is of great importance to athletes. Being aware of our body, how we feel, how we are breathing, how we are moving, may help us move more efficiently. Efficient movement is important to athletes and it can help them determine the necessary level of effort required to carry out a particular move.
This is important for athletes as it can help them learn to not overuse or underuse energy, as well as prevent injury.
You may have an increase in positive thinking
A healthy body is a happy body.
And so learning to respect our body and be present with it and with our constant, steady breath may help athletes learn to take care of their bodies, especially in times of injury.
It will help with stress relief
It is an undeniable fact that athletes go through periods of intense stress, both physical an psychological. Most sports demand a lot form our bodies and so a yoga practice may be extremely beneficial to help athletes deal with this stress.
A study carried found that even after a single yoga class, the participant’s levels of fatigue, anger, hostility, depression, and anxiety dropped significantly. Additionally, they found that patients who continued to participate in yoga experienced continued to benefit from the practice.
Given the extreme stress that athletes can go through, think of how beneficial a constant yoga practice would be for them.
If you would like to know more about how yoga can help to reduce stress, you may find my article interesting: 12 Reasons Yoga Is Calming & How It Reduces Stress (Science-Based)
It may improve sleep
A good night’s sleep is invaluable to everyone, but especially to athletes just before a big tournament or race.
Sleep can be improved when we learn to relax. And this is something a yoga practice tries to teach us. By learning to relax we are then able to teach our body and mind to relax. In turn, our muscles learn to relax and with that and with time, we may be able to improve our sleep.
You may have increased energy
Depending on the yoga class, we may get an added boost of energy. A dynamic yoga practice like Ashtanga yoga can help stimulate the nervous system, especially when we practice intense backbends. This, in turn, can give us a boost of energy, leaving us feeling ready to deal with whatever comes next in the day.
You may have more mental resilience
Learning to focus throughout the yoga practice helps us to learn to stay focused even off the mat. This is an invaluable skill for athletes, especially when competing in stressful situations.
And so learning to stay focused and calm can be a game-changer for athletes as it may help them build mental clarity which may help them excel when faced with a challenge.
It will help you learn control
Yoga is all about learning control. This can range from controlling the breath to controlling the body from controlling the mind. All these help us stay present and focused and on a physical level they teach us to better connect our mind and body.
It will help strengthen underused muscles
Athletes need to keep in mind that the entire body is connected. By focusing on one part of the body and neglecting another, will in time lead to imbalances and injuries.
Yoga requires the movement of many major and minor muscle groups simultaneously. It also aims for correct muscular and skeletal alignment. And so a consistent yoga practice can help with misalignments as it aims for an increased overall sense of balance and strength for the whole body.
And so by strengthening the more neglected muscles, we are then able to provide more support to the major muscle groups. This, in turn, allows them to function at their optimal level which may help and enhance our athletic performance.
It teaches us to not be tied to the outcome
Contrary to athletic performance, yoga is not tied to the outcome. An advanced yoga practitioner can be someone who is able to sit crosslegged, with a single focus point, able to stay present in the moment. There is no endpoint in yoga, it is. a life long journey. And so this different way of exploring and experiencing the practice may be a valuable mind shift for athletes, whose career depends on the performance and the outcome.
It will help you learn to stay present
When the mind and body are connected, we may feel harmony and ease in our lives. Yoga encourages us to exist in the present moment and to live in a more mindful and conscious. Is that not a beautiful thing so anyone, not just athletes, to experience?
Yoga is an ideal choice for athletes wanting to improve their performance, stay present, and injury-free as possible.
Yoga poses can be used to increase athletes’ core strength, flexibility, and relaxation, as well as their sense of mental focus and mind and body awareness.
That said, most yoga practices can be tailored to our needs and body types so you’re likely to find a yoga practice that works for you and your sport.