Yoga Cross-Training for Athletes: Integrate Yoga Practice into your Daily Training
When you watch your favorite athlete excelling on the playing field or court, you may actually be seeing the results of regular yoga practice. Athletes at the top of popular sports like baseball, basketball, football, surfing, and tennis often use yoga as part of their cross training regimen. Cross training helps athletes maintain overall athleticism and fitness. It can also alleviate any negative effects of constantly using the same muscle groups over and over. For example, in baseball, a pitcher uses a certain set of muscles repetitively while on the pitcher’s mound. Yoga, however, helps ensure that the entire body is physically fit, flexible, strong, and agile, and this improves the performance of even the most specialized and gifted athlete.
Yoga and Breathing for the Athlete
Breathing is the most natural activity, yet improper breathing can hinder athletic performance. Many athletic competitions bring with them great pressure to perform and achieve, and people who feel that stress tend to breathe shallow, rapid breaths. However, this is not the best form of breathing. Yoga places special emphasis on breathing, with fuller, slower, more relaxed breathing. Not only does yogic breathing result in better oxygenation of the blood and improved circulation, it also encourages inner peace and relief from stress. An athlete under tremendous stress may not perform as well as an athlete who has learned to use breathing techniques to remain calm in a competitive environment. Yogic breathing is a valuable technique regardless of circumstance. By allowing the diaphragm to move properly and relaxing the abdominal muscles, a person instantly feels a calming sensation that is paradoxically energizing. By contrast, shallow, rapid breathing does not oxygenate the blood as well, and can lead to a feeling of tension and anxiety – two emotional states that are not conducive to good athletic performance. Yogic breathing can easily be incorporated into any sport, from football to swimming. Any top athlete will say that great performance is as much a product of the right mental attitude as physical prowess. Even the best athlete will not perform up to their personal best if they are in a state of duress. Breathing the way it is taught in yoga is one of the best ways to promote a healthy mental attitude in athletic competition.
Yoga for Core Strength and Flexibility
Yoga emphasizes the strength of the core muscle groups: the abdominal and back muscles as well as the pelvic muscles and gluteus muscles. A strong core results in better posture and confident body carriage in everyday life, whether behind a desk or on the playing field. There is no athletic performance that can’t be improved by having a strong body core, and this makes yoga the perfect choice as a cross training activity. Yoga, however, is not only about core strength. It is about flexibility too. Certain sports engage the same muscle groups repeatedly, strengthening some muscles while neglecting other muscles. Yoga is the perfect way to bring balance to all the body’s muscle groups. By improving whole-body flexibility, yoga prevents excessive muscle tightness and improves the range of motion of joints and muscles. Muscles that are both strong and flexible perform better. Improved flexibility is also a great method for reducing athletic injury. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are used to stretching are less likely to experience tears, which can sideline an athlete for long periods. When yoga is added to an athlete’s training rotation, their performance improves, and their likelihood of injury decreases.
Yoga for Recovery and Off-Season Training
Athletic injury happens even to athletes who are very careful and safety-oriented. Unfortunately, when an injury sidelines an athlete, their fitness level and skill can drop off quickly. Yoga, however, can be adapted so that it can be done even by people who have injuries. As the injured body part heals, the athlete can continue to work on strength and flexibility of the rest of the body without causing further injury. Once the injury heals, the athlete will not have to start over training from the beginning, because the rest of the body is still in good condition. A similar situation is training during a sport’s off-season. Perhaps the worst thing a seasonal athlete can do is stop training until the following season. Yoga makes for a terrific off-season exercise program. People usually think of yoga as mild and gentle, and it is, but there are forms of yoga that are quite demanding and that are excellent for improving or maintaining physical fitness. Power yoga, Ashtang yoga, Vinyasa yoga and Bikram yoga are demanding forms of yoga that are perfect for the person who wants an intense, comprehensive workout that minimizes injury risk. Yogic breathing, improved core strength, better whole-body flexibility, and reduction in injury risk are all great reasons why yoga makes the perfect activity to incorporate into a cross training regimen.