Does yoga help athletic performance?
These days, it’s not uncommon to read about elite athletes who champion the addition of regular yoga practice into their training regimens. Blake griffin, dirk nowitzki, Tom Brady and Andy Murray are a few household names who have talked about how their yoga practices have helped them maintain or reach higher levels of performance during their careers.(Read more about top athletes practicing yoga here and here )
The kind of yoga that they and most of us are introduced to these days is called Asana — think postures that regularly headline #yoga and #fitness in Instagram! there are many varied styles of Asana practice, but most explore a surprising amount of raw physicality in terms of strength and flexibility (where else would you be expected to split your legs WHILE doing a push up?!).
There are definitely plenty of competitive, therapeutic, as well as restorative benefits when a person pursues asana practice regularly oftener extended period of time. when you make the sometimes mistake of asking a long term practitioners why they keep on practicing yoga, they tend to drown you with their various miraculous recovery anecdotes and personal epiphanies, BUT is there any western science to support their claims?
It’s early days, at this point, but western science seems inclined to support the idea that asana can have tremendous impact on one’s functional movement!
HERE ARE SOME THINGS WE KNOW…
Stretching can help you preserve your current level of flexibility.
Athlete: Cassie Umali | Sport/s: Rugby (part of the Lady Volcanos) Football, Ultimate Frisbee
The things we end up doing the most on a daily basis (sporting endeavours, hunched over desks, etc.) tend to either require the same repetitive motions and/or place our bodies in the same position over extended periods of time.
In the process of actively contracting the same groups of muscles over and over again in sports, or passively assuming certain physical shapes over the course of a work day, the resulting feeling is one of tightness and constriction, and over time the person’s capacity to move around will also start to diminish and degrade.
Stretching can give people a more versatile range of motion in their joints.
Athlete: Mat Crespo | Sport/s: Track and Field, Swimming (former UAAP competitive swimmer), Weightlifting, Ultimate Frisbee
Regular bouts of stretching encourage people to move in more and different directions and allow continually contracted muscles to release and allow the body to assume a more natural, responsive and balanced posture.
Greater range of motion means that people will be able to do daily tasks with more ease, like being able to reach up into cupboards to grab pantry items, it means being able to reach into the backseat of a car, it means being able to hook or zip yourself up when you get dressed or squat low to carry a toddler. It also means being able to go stronger, higher and faster for people who like playing sports!
As flexibility work builds strength and begins to increase range of motion across the body, one also tends to see an improvement in balancing capacity. This means that people will have more confidence to move around and get through their days even as we all march into older adulthood! Imagine the freedom of being able to continue traveling the world into your seventies without having to fear walking and moving around, or just knowing that you can continue living indepently as you grow old just by practicing yoga regularly!
Stretching may reduce your risk of physical injuries.
Athlete: Alvin Gomez | Sport: Triathlon
Flexibility work, when combined with strength training and cardiovascular conditioning, may reduce the risk of physical injuries by keeping your muscles supple and able to move around with power and grace in their natural range of motions! Although the initial studies are promising, some trainers and coaches tend to believe that having several stand alone flexibility training sessions a week (which is what asana is to most people!), is just not an efficient way to train competitively! I tend to agree! The kind of strength as well as range of motion that asana practice tends to cultivate is very different from the kind of explosiveness that most sports and other physical competitions demand, and I’m pretty sure that there are other, sports-specific physical training regimes that will build the kind of physical range, power and reflexes that will help you perform better in your chosen sport.
So, why should athletes include yoga as part of their training? Let’s explore that in PART 2.
Marc Macadaeg is co-founder, Faculty Head and senior yoga teacher at Urban Ashram Yoga. His unique style of teaching vinyasa has attracted many practicioners who are looking to deepen their asana practice and their understanding of yoga. He has been a pioneer of the signature FNR (Flexibility Not Required) Program of Urban Ashram Yoga.