It’s no secret that yoga is an extremely popular form of exercise, and this has not been missed by athletes around the world. Many professional athletes, including football players have incorporated yoga and meditation into their training routine. Sport-oriented yoga can directly impact an athlete’s health and career longevity by helping with injury prevention, recovery, balance, strength, and mindfulness.
In this post we explore the numerous benefits that yoga can have for an athlete’s body and mind.
A well-rounded yoga routine includes core stabilization, muscle strengthening, balance work, and dynamic flexibility training. All of these vital elements can help improve athletes’ range of motion, performance, recovery time, and prevent injuries.
- Strength: Many yoga poses require you to hold up your own body weight, which hits almost every muscle in the body. This is exceptionally beneficial for athletes who do sports such as running, cycling or swimming where the same muscles are constantly being worked over and over again. Yoga allows alternative muscles to gain strength to help with muscular imbalance.
- Balance: Poses that focus on balance help improve overall balance in everything you do. Improving balance will teach athletes to be stronger on their feet which will help prevent injuries due to falls and also help with body awareness, which in effect helps improve performance. Everyone knows that a solid core is the foundation to any athletic success!
- Flexibility: Athletes tend to use the same muscles repetitively, which causes them to become tighter and strained. The tighter the muscles become, the more stress it puts on an athlete's’ joints, which forces weaker muscles to assist in the motion, creating an imbalance. This is why stretching is a crucial aspect to a post-workout routine. A yoga class provides plenty of opportunities for all of the muscles in the body to be stretched out, and loosened up.
- Recovery: Yoga is also a great post-workout routine after an intense training session to help the body recover. By improving blood circulation and the lymphatic flow, yoga allows the muscles to process metabolic byproducts faster, which speeds healing and re-growth time immensely after workouts.
- Injury Prevention: By helping to enhance all of the components above, yoga can dramatically reduce the risk of injury. It helps restore symmetry and balance within the body, ensuring every muscle is strengthened and stretched out. Reducing injury will obviously have great benefits to an athlete’s performance and increase the longevity of their playing time/career.
Yoga has clear positive impacts on the body, but it also has tremendous benefits to the mind.
Meditation is a core element of yoga, which can help relax athletes, increase their focus and put them in ‘the zone.’ Athletes who have integrated yoga into their training have reported an increased sense of clarity, calmness and mental balance. Yoga promotes relaxation with breathing techniques that reduce mental and physical tension.
Recent studies by Coventry University and Staffordshire University have shown that increased levels of stress and anxiety brought on by competitive situations actually have negative effects on performance in physically active people. For athletes to perform at their best they need to train their mind just as they would train their body.
Meditation and mindfulness helps train the prefrontal cortex and activates the insular cortex. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for creating a calm and focused state of mind, can help athletes perform at optimal levels. Mindfulness allows athletes to identify their thoughts and emotions without getting attached to them. It also activates the insular cortex, which gives athletes an increased sense of awareness to their body to improve communication between the body and mind.
Being an athlete comes with all kinds of pressures, which can cause a significant amount of stress and fatigue on the mind and body. Yoga can be the release valve that athletes need; somewhere to simply unwind. By practicing a bit of breathing and doing a little bit of yoga, athletes can reach a level of zen calmness that they don’t learn in their sport. So breathe in, breathe out and relax. Namaste.
Now over to YOU: Do you think yoga is worth adding to your training routine?
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