It’s not too late to hop on the bandwagon.
“Why should I do yoga?” you say, “I’m an athlete. I get plenty of strength training. I do my stretching, so I have enough flexibility. Why do I need yoga?” It’s the kind of case where they’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. So many people think yoga is for wimps, or it’s religious, or it’s not worth my time. Someone once said if you don’t have 30 minutes to give to yourself, you need 2 hours. The simplest answer is for why athletes need yoga is to improve your physical body, to improve your mental game, and for the longevity of your career. If you’re not ready to think long term, your career is going to be short, I promise you.
We’ll start with the physical benefits of yoga because all athletes know their body’s so well.
1 is to increase your core strength. You can do crunches for days, but it’s never going to strengthen your rhomboids. You can do rhomboid exercises, but that’s not going to create the intelligence to get your entire midsection working together. Yoga strings together a series of specific movements that teaches some of the core muscle groups to work together. I love watching super strong athletes come into my class and be in shock because they’re unable to hold their own body weight. Yoga helps you link these crucial groups for most any sport.
2 is yes, increase your flexibility. I know, most athletes stretch. But most of them don’t stretch nearly enough. Years ago, I remember racing against team Balance Bar in a 24 hour Adventure Race. It was during a mountain biking section of the course and we had just finished a 17 mile run. At the top of the hill we passed Team Balance Bar because one of their members was on the floor with severe leg cramps. Part nutrition yes, but also part flexibility. Never under estimate the power of a great range of motion.
3 is improved balance. We all hate to stand on one leg for minutes on end, but there is no doubt that the fire burning on the sides of your calf muscles and around your ankles are improving your balance. Most of us athletes think we need agility, and we do, but you’ll put yourself among the few athletes who use balance and isometrics together to create more core strength. As a runner, I need strong ankles. I get it from trail running and standing on one leg. You can too!
4 is that it supports joint health. Yoga is a low impact form of exercise. You will be doing movements that encourage a wider range of motion, at the same time you’ll be holding poses to increase strength. This combination will strengthen the joints, the proper muscles and tendons surrounding those joints. When impact happens, the stress goes right to the joint. The stronger they are, the more you’ll be able to absorb some of that impact. So whether you’re running, playing tennis, football, lacrosse, or any sport, you want your joints to be ready to support your actions.
Next we’ll move to the mental benefits of the yoga practice.
5 is increased focus and concentration. In yoga we slow down, we focus on our breathing, and we pay attention to our movements. This process allows our mind to calm down from all the information bombarding us on a daily basis. It may not seem like much, but the more time we spend calming down, the easier it gets to calm down.
6 is an increased ability to deal with stressful situations. The practice of yoga teaches us how to deal with difficult situations. We get into poses that are hard, but it’s in a safe environment where we can learn how to deal with that difficulty. We later become better at handling the challenge and that practice begins to seep into our lives. We learn to deal with stressful situations better because we’ve had the practice. It could be teammates, family issues, coaches, etc. The practice goes beyond the physical.
7 is a better connection to your breath. Why do you need to learn how to breath? The number one reason, as an athlete, is to help lower your stress. Knowing how to breathe helps you explode when you need to and calm down faster when you have to recover. Your breath is a tool that most athletes don’t use to enhance their performance. The more you learn about how it can help you, the better you’ll use it to increase your performance and decrease your stress.
And finally, the improvements to your longevity and overall career.
8 is injury prevention. There’s an old saying in mountain biking, you’ve either recently crashed or you’re about to. Mountain biking is a tough and dangerous sport. If you’re even the slightest bit of a daredevil you will crash. I have more scars on my body from mountain biking than any other sport. Thankfully, my yoga practice helps me recover quickly. I love stretching out my muscles to help speed up recovery. Whether it’s a crash or just general soreness from a race. I’m always back
9 is shorter recovery times. I’ve dealt with an achilles tendon issue for a while and while it still gives me a little trouble, I’m able to run without pain thanks to my yoga practice. The yoga allows stretches all the muscles and tendons around the achilles which gives it more space. Similarly, when your lower back is tight, you can stretch the hamstrings and give your back more space. These are just some of the benefits of the yoga practice.
10 is that yoga reduces stress. We all know that heart disease is the number one killer in our country and the world. One major contributing factor is stress. Yoga reduces your overall stress, thus directly contributing to a longer life and a longer career. So roll out that mat that’s collecting dust and begin what may not just save your life, but keep you healthier, happier and stronger for much longer than you think!
Most professional athletes that I know are looking for an edge over their competition. Yoga is that edge. I’ve seen it work for Olympians, Tour de France cyclists, professional ultra runners, and of course, all the pro leagues here in the states including NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and more! So if you’re looking for that extra secret sauce, I’ll see you on the mat!
Originally published at TeddyMcDonald.com