Lebron James. Hope Solo. Ray Lewis. Kevin Garnett. Blake Griffin. Tom Brady. Chandra Crawford. What do they all have in common? They're professional athletes! Well yes, but other than that......they all do YOGA. Why? Keep reading and we'll tell you. For the record, I tried it this past weekend. It was humbling and I absolutely loved it.
There is absolutely no doubt that yoga improves flexibility. More flexibility in your muscles and joints leads to a greater range of motion which can help reduce your chances of injury. A greater range of motion can also help an athlete perform more effectively. A hurdler in track and field can be more efficient through better elasticity. A swimmer can improve their stroke by being able to push more water with their hands and legs through increased flexibility. An Olympic lifter can perform a squat properly with full range of motion.
2. Core Strength
Strength in the trunk of your body is essential for athletes. Lebron James actually credits yoga with helping to eliminate his back pain on the court. Some yoga poses that help build core strength include Crocodile, Plank, Warrior, and Chatarunga. You'll learn a whole new vocabulary from going to a yoga class. Just about every pose in yoga requires you to work your ab strength and stability, and it does it from every angle. Studies on professional athletes have concluded that core strength has a significant effect on an athlete's ability to develop and transfer forces to the limbs.
Balance is crucial for many sports but football absolutely requires it. Running backs, receivers, linebackers, and linemen all need good balance in order to block or avoid being tackled. More balance means more body control and that definitely translates well into any sport. For endurance athletes, balance helps you run harder, bike longer, and swim stronger. Your body reacts to minor divots in the road easily if you have strong balance. On another note, balance is key in athletes who lift as well. You must keep your body balanced when lifting. It's crucial in maintaining control of the weight in order to prevent injury. When your body is erect with major muscles and bone structure supporting the body weight, the smaller muscles are hardly ever involved in the bulk of the physical work.
Yoga forces you to focus on your breathing. While you're trying to get these challenging poses down well enough not to fall, your instructor will continuously coach you through how to breathe properly. Proper breathing technique is harder than you think and is a key element in athletic performance. Why? Because your muscles need oxygen to perform well. You'd be surprised how many athletes forget to breathe or breathe improperly during a full sprint. Because yoga places such an emphasis on proper breathing, it helps maintain lower resting heart rate. Better blood flow can reduce stress and help athletes get a better night's sleep. Come on now. What athlete wouldn't want that? Proper breathing technique helps in any sport but good distance running requires it.
More than half the battle for most athletes occurs in the mind, not the body. Much of yoga involved meditation and concentration at the end of the workout through specific poses. This level of meditative cool down is excellent for improving focus. Once you master your mind, your body will follow. Think of how many distractions there are in your athletic life. You're running or cycling and there are cars flying by within inches at times. You're in your Crossfit box doing your WOD and you can see people on each side of you doing the same deadlifts. You're about 3 minutes into your triathlon event and you can feel the seaweed and jellyfish skimming your body while also getting whacked in the face by the competitors practically swimming on top of you.
You get the point. Get over yourself and be humbled. The benefits of yoga are obvious. And if you're truly passionate about improving your performance in whatever sport you compete in, you'll give it a shot. Just remember, everyone in that yoga class was once a beginner.