Wondering how you can use yoga as an athlete? You’re in the right place. Today, you’ll learn how to use yoga to improve your performance and recovery.
Why is yoga good for athletes?
Whatever your game is – strength training, endurance sports, CrossFit, a little bit of everything – chances are you never quite move your body in all directions, all parts equally, or explore the full range of motion that your joints can experience.
Maybe you don’t need to be flexible for your sport of choice but you know your movements are limited, and you probably do some kind of stretching.
The truth is, yoga can improve your training, results, recovery, movement patterns, posture, and it can also help to prevent injuries.
And those are just the physical benefits! Yet yoga brings a great deal more to the table – it gives you greater body and mind awareness, helps you reduce stress, increase motivation, and improve mental health. Regular yoga practice even helps you breathe better and in a way that has incredible physical as well as psychological effects.
Sounds too good to be true? You’d better believe it because there’s a lot of science to back it up as you’ll see below.
Yoga balances out athletic training
Even a short yoga practice can effectively release tight areas, strengthen the weak ones that don’t get enough attention, and make you aware of any disbalances in your body. It’s more than just stretching.
Working out can limit your range of motion
When you work out, the way you move stimulates your body in a certain way. Running, cycling, or weight-lifting makes you repeat certain moves many times, training your body to be great at that particular movement pattern.
However, repetitive movements mean that some of your muscles and tendons are getting stronger yet also tighter, while others may be slightly forgotten, getting weaker and possibly shorter too.
If the tightness reaches a point where it starts limiting your range of motion, you have a problem. The limited mobility can affect your movement technique and increase your risk of injury.
Another effect of unbalanced training is that some of your stronger muscles start taking over the function of those weaker neighbouring muscles, and this may result in various unspecific aches and pains, and bad posture.
Yoga engages all muscles
Yoga is the best remedy for all the above – it engages all muscle groups in alternating patterns, so no muscle is left behind, it strengthens your deep stabilizer muscles, improving your stability and posture, and of course it increases your flexibility and range of motion in virtually all your joints.
Regular yoga practice also helps to release fascia – those sheets of connective tissue covering and connecting your muscles – which is often responsible for nagging pain and movement limitations.
Essentially, yoga is a complete care package for your body and mind that every athlete needs!
Many pro athletes have been complementing their training with yoga – for example LeBron James, Seattle Seahawks NFL team, Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, Tom Brady, Shaquille O’Neal, Andy Murray, New Zealand All-Blacky rugby team, and many more.
Yoga improves your posture and core strength
Every yoga practice is sequenced so that it alternates spine movements forward, back, sideways, and rotations, in order to mobilize the whole back. It stretches, strengthens, lengthens and realigns your body.
Many sports emphasize the anterior chain (muscles on the front of your body) and we also tend to focus on it more purely for esthetic reasons – building up our pecs, abs, biceps and quads while somewhat neglecting the posterior chain.
Yoga activates all the muscles of the posterior chain, too – mobilizing all the back, neck and shoulder muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Although these muscles hold us upright, they’re not automatically strong.
Yoga refines your balance and symmetry
Yoga helps to re-establish balance and symmetry in your body, which can be invaluable to your training because it makes you hold yourself better as a result – improving your posture on and off the mat.
Correct posture is the key to functional movement patterns, efficient strength training, and injury prevention.
Posture and core strength training go hand in hand, and are at the center of yoga for athletes. It’s because a strong core provides the stability necessary to move your body parts in an effective manner and with control.
Almost all yoga poses engage your core and strengthen it, including all the deep stabilizer muscles. This is a huge benefit because, as scientific research shows, core training helps to prevent injuries and improves your athletic performance.
Yoga upgrades your core work and alignment
If you have strong arms and legs, and amazing abs, you probably look good but your back may be achy and your shoulders so tense they are permanently lifted or hunched.
Working on your core strength means strengthening all the muscles around your torso, so you can support your body weight no matter what position you’re in.
It also means being able to move your upper or lower body with ease and in functional patterns – not just perform isolated movements.
Core work generally helps to improve your posture but Yoga also teaches you to always check your alignment – you’ll learn to relax those tense shoulders, not to stick your chin forward, or butt out. And that, in turn, makes your whole body move the way it should, following its natural biomechanics.
Yoga increases your mobility, reducing the risk of injuries
Mobility is not the same as flexibility – mobility means the ability to move, actively, through a large range of motion (for example in your hip or shoulder joint) or being able to move your own weight with control and ease.
How to know if your mobility needs work
If standing up from squatting is a problem, or if you crawl out of bed in the morning, your mobility probably needs some work. Flexibility is the ability of your muscles to stretch – so whether or not you can touch your toes when you bend over.
To move better, increase your range of motion and make your body work as best it can, you need to work on both mobility and flexibility. One cannot truly exist without the other (unless you’re one of the exceptionally bendy people with hypermobile joints or a contortionist).
When your muscles and tendons are shortened, they may be pulling your body out of alignment – for example strong and tight quads may be tilting your pelvis, contributing to back pain. Another example would be tight hamstrings limiting your stride length, corrupting your running technique.
Working on these issues means improving flexibility and range of motion in the troubled areas, while strengthening opposite muscles which enables you to increase your mobility.
How yoga improves your mobility
Yoga provides both dynamic and static stretching, and also strengthening, so it helps to release muscle, tendon and fascia tightness, restores muscles to their optimal length, and increases your range of motion.
You may not be able to put your leg behind your back but that’s not what Yoga is about! It can simply remove some of your body’s limitations – and who wouldn’t want that?
The way you move during a yoga practice also helps to lubricate your joints, improving their mobility and reducing any imbalances. You may not realize that one of your hips is tighter than the other or that one of your wrists is more mobile – until you start doing yoga.
Once you discover these things, you can start working on them and that, in turn, can improve your athletic performance and recovery.
According to a recent study, just 10 weeks of yoga twice a week can significantly increase your flexibility, stability and bring better training results.
All the above improves the way you move, which, in turn, reduces the risk of injuries caused by repetitive stress, limited movement or muscle and joint disbalances.
Yoga is an excellent athletic recovery tool
During your training, your muscles suffer minor damage which has to be repaired quickly. A well-designed yoga practice doesn’t cause any further damage but brings more blood into those muscles – meaning more oxygen and nutrients – so they can start healing faster.
This also has another great effect – it can relieve some stiffness and soreness! Research shows that people complementing their training with yoga suffer less muscle soreness than others.
The result? You recover better and faster and are well-prepared for the next workout! Read more about how to use yoga for recovery in this blog post.
Yoga also helps with another aspect of athletic recovery – sleep – but that’s a part of the next benefit bundle…
Yoga is a natural sleep aid
It’s quite simple – regular yoga practice makes you sleep better. That’s obviously great for keeping your mind sharp but it also helps your muscle recovery. A great deal of recovery happens overnight, so better quality sleep means better recovery!
If you do yoga twice or three times a week, it can greatly improve the quality of your sleep – meaning you’ll be able to fall asleep faster, wake up less during the night and sleep until your alarm clock wakes you up!
This, in turn, will give you mental clarity, more energy during the day, and also a stronger immune system. What’s not to like?
Mental health benefits of yoga
Breathwork and mindfulness are essential parts of yoga practice – and as science reveals, both help you not just feel better, but also reduce your stress hormone levels, increase your motivation, and reduce negative thinking!
Athletic training is a source of stress in your body and if you’re also stressed in your daily life, your body has a lot to deal with. Yoga actively reduces stress levels, which makes your body repair more effectively and your mind less frazzled.
One of the basic elements of yoga practice is deeper and slower breathing, while you’re moving through the poses or in seated breathing exercises.
This delivers more oxygen into your brain but it’s also sending feedback to your autonomic nervous system, telling it to relax, lower blood pressure and release tension.
It won’t send you to sleep, don’t worry – the increased oxygen supply to the brain will make you more alert but less stressed at the same time.
“Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration.”Dr. Natalie Nevins
Yoga trains you to be more mindful, which essentially means being fully present and engaged in the moment – aware of sensations in your body, your emotions as well as paying attention to your surroundings. It may sound simple but it’s harder than it seems and requires practice.
Yoga is one of the best mindfulness-cultivating tools!
Once you start being more mindful, you’ll reap many benefits in your daily life and training alike. It helps you deal with challenging situations better, have greater emotion control, be more resilient to stress, more focused on the task at hand and feel more positive.
It can also help improve your athletic performance and a wealth of data shows that mindfulness practice helps to prevent athletic burnout – a common issue in hard-working athletes.
Can yoga make you stronger and give you more stamina?
Many athletes are not sure if yoga is right for them, imagining a slender yoga teacher tying herself into a pretzel, and not seeing how that could be useful for them. Truth is, the right kind of yoga practice, designed with athletes in mind, is amazing for strength-building!
Yoga for athletes can make you stronger
Yoga practice trains your muscles in functional patterns – that means engaging muscles in a way that makes your body move in all sorts of ways carrying your own body weight. It’s not just about performing a pose, it’s about transitions, progression from a simpler to a more difficult version of each pose, stabilizing your body in various balances, and lifting the whole weight of your body with control.
This way, yoga builds your functional strength and trains muscle groups, rather than just isolated muscles.
You can measure your progress in several ways – you move from an easy to the full expression of a challenging pose, you are able to not just perform but also repeat a difficult sequence several times, or you can hold your body in a pose for longer. And it feels amazing to achieve all that!
Yoga as a stamina booster
Yoga strength training neatly supports your other training. It enables you to dip lower, jump higher, swing further, step wider, and reach higher. But that’s not all – yoga bolsters your stamina like nothing else!
It makes you move with greater ease and more efficiently, which makes you less tired.
All the breathwork can increase your lung capacity, bringing more oxygen to those hard-working muscles, boosting your endurance. And let’s not forget about the effect of mindfulness on your stamina – it makes you more focused and less negative, which are the two key ingredients for achieving your athletic goals.
When is it best to do yoga and how often?
You can do yoga at any time, and every day, but depending on your training there are several optimal strategies:
Yoga as a pre-workout warm-up
As a warm-up, yoga helps to prepare your body and mind for training. It realigns your body, shifts your mental focus, increases blood flow to your muscles and joints making them ready for a workout, and provides dynamic stretching.
The latter increases your active range of motion, which is much better than passive stretching or generic warm-up exercises. Pre-workout yoga doesn’t need to be long but it should start slow and finish with a dynamic flow, so you’re ready to spring into action.
In the Skill Yoga app, you’ll find a dedicated pre-workout series!
Yoga for post-workout recovery
Yoga post-training is an excellent recovery tool. A smart post-workout yoga practice makes your muscles repair faster and be less sore. It can also relieve some stiffness in the areas that may feel a little stuck after your training, particularly if it involves repetitive motion.
This, in turn, reduces your risk of injury. There’s no downside!
A neat 20-minute post-workout yoga session is all you need for your body to bounce back from training quicker, be better prepared for the next workout, and be able to improve your performance thanks to all the above!
Yoga on non-training days
If you can make time for a separate yoga practice on non-training days, that’s awesome. It allows for a more wholesome experience, working on your mobility, strength and mindfulness at the same time.
These yoga practices should be well-constructed to bring you maximum benefits – Skill Yoga offers several programs to choose from.
If your schedule allows, the absolutely ideal scenario would be to do a quick pre-workout Yoga warm-up, then wind down with yoga after your training, and complement your training with two or three yoga practices on non-training days.
How often should I do yoga to see results?
Most yoga teachers say we should practice three to five times a week to see steady progress. However, having a regular practice is more important than trying to fit as much yoga as possible into your week, and ending up stressed about it. If you can comfortably do two or three yoga sessions a week, that’s perfect!
The key is finding what’s sustainable for you in the long term and sticking with it. It’s much better than doing yoga every day one week, and then only once the week after.
If you can and want to practice every single day, by all means, go ahead. Just remember that one day a week should be reserved for rest and recovery. On that day, you might want to focus more on mindfulness and breathwork, and tone down the physical side of things.
If you don’t have regular practice at the moment and would like to start, be consistent but don’t rush your body. By forcing it into more advanced stuff and doing too much too fast, you could injure yourself, and hinder, rather than help your progress.
The Skill Yoga app creates a customized program for you, giving you the best start tailored to your needs.
What type of yoga is best for athletes?
Ever asked yourself, “what is the number one yoga posture for athletes?”
There are so many great yoga poses that can complement your training, yet the following are the absolute must-haves. They target the notorious areas athletes need to work on – hamstrings, glutes, quads, inner thighs, hips, side body and the back.
Here, we take you through these yoga poses step by step.
- Stand upright, feet hip-width apart, your weight distributed evenly, arms by your sides
- Breathe in and lift your arms up, looking up
- Breathe out, spread your arms wide and bend forward, letting the arms dangle – bend from your hips rather than you waist, keep your knees slightly bent
- Breathe in the position and adjust your alignment – don’t lean forward or back, spread your toes wide, tilt your pelvis slightly as if you wanted to lift your tail, keep your spine long and neck relaxed
- Stay there for five deep breaths
- You should feel the backs of your legs lengthening, and a release in your lower back
- From the forward fold, bend your knees so you can place your hands on the mat, fingers spread wide, middle finger facing forward
- Step back, one leg at a time, so you’re in a push-up position
- Adjust your alignment – press your hands into the floor, as if you wanted to push the floor away and towards your feet, lifting from your shoulders, careful not to sink in between your shoulder blades
- Draw your belly button towards your spine and check that your lower back isn’t sinking – it should be as straight as possible
- Lift your feet so your heels are above your toes rather than running away to the back of the room
- You should feel your core firing up and engaging
- Stay there for at least 10 breaths – over time, add more
- From plank, slowly lower yourself down to the mat, so you’re lying on your belly, your hands are under your shoulders
- Untuck your toes and press your toenails into the floor
- Press your pubic bone into the floor
- On an inbreath, slowly lift your chest and head – looking just slightly ahead (don’t throw your head up)
- Use your hands and arms more for support, rather than letting them lift your weight, your back should be doing most of the work here
- Breathe out and lower your chest down
- Do another one and this time stay there for five deep breaths, then lower down
- You can relax your lower back by wiggling your pelvis side to side and when you’re done, tone up your body and lift up into a plank
- From plank, lift your pelvis up, creating a triangle shape with your body, your sacrum being the highest point – you may have to walk your feet a tiny bit closer to you, but make sure they are hip-width or slightly wider apart
- Your legs don’t have to be straight, keep them a little bent, but they should be parallel to each other, heels pressing towards the floor (not many people can actually put their heels down in this pose)
- Press into your hands, like you want to push the ground away from you, elbow pits are facing each other, head is hanging between your shoulders
- Actively push the sacrum upwards, sticking your butt up, and you can even bend your knees a little more to achieve this, pressing equally into your hands and feet
- You should feel a stretch along the back of your legs – hamstrings and calves; and also in your side-body and around shoulders
- Remain there for at least five deep breaths
- From Downward dog, step your right foot forward, and place it between your hands
- Keep your left leg behind and lower the left knee to the ground
- Now correct your alignment – the front knee should be above the ankle, and not falling in or out
- With your hands still on the floor, shift the weight of your pelvis forward
- Then with an inbreath, lift your arms up above your head but don’t let your shoulders ride up to your ears
- You should feel a delicious stretch in your left quads, front of the pelvis, and perhaps also the psoas deep in the belly, on the left
- Keep your pelvis level, hip bones facing the front, not tilting or opening to the side
- Remain there for at least five deep breaths, then bring your hands back to the floor
- From the above position, shift your weight back so your pelvis is above the left knee, right leg stretched out in front of you
- You may need to walk your hands a bit backwards, closer to your body, or your right foot slightly forward (depending on your body proportions)
- Lift the right toes off the floor, resting the weight of the leg on the right heel, keep a small bend in the right knee
- Pay attention to your back – it should be straight-ish, horizontal, not rounded
- You should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings and a pleasant sensation in your lower back
- Remain there for at least five deep breaths
- From the Half split, shift your weight forward again, so your right knee is above the ankle
- Walk your right foot to the right, so it’s just off the mat, toes still facing forward or slightly to the right
- As you’re moving the right foot out, move the right hand in, so both your hands are aligned directly under your shoulders
- Move in this position a little, exploring your right hip’s range of motion
- Remain there, or lower down onto your forearms
- You should feel all the muscles surrounding your right hip, and also the left quads
- Remain there for at least five deep breaths, then lift up onto your hands again
- From the above position, shuffle your right foot across towards the left hip
- Lower the right knee out to the right, and ‘sit’ into the position but keep your hips level, careful not to collapse to the right
- Your body is upright, being supported by your hands in front of you, left leg is outstretched directly behind you
- Slowly lower onto your forearms – this may be enough
- If you want to go deeper, stretch out your arms on the floor in front of you and lower your upper body down over your right shin and knee
- You should feel a strong stretching sensation across your right outer hip and glutes
- Remain there for ten deep breaths, then lift up into Downward dog and pedal your feet
Repeat the whole sequence with the left leg, starting with a low lunge.
Seated twist and bend
- After moving your spine forward and back, it’s time to twist and bend it sideways
- Sit cross-legged on the mat, back upright
- Breathe in and lift your arms up
- Breathe out, twist your torso to the right and lower your arms, so your right hand lands just behind you, supporting your back, while your left arm lands to the outside of the right knee
- Use the left hand as a lever, pushing against your right knee to twist deeper to the right
- Breathe in and straighten your back, breathe out and twist more – repeat five times
- Breathe in a lift your arms up, return to neutral, and with an outbreath twist to the left
- After you’ve done the left side, breathe in again, lifting your arms above your head
- Keep your left arm up and bend to the right, supporting your body weight with your right hand on the floor next to you – stay there for five breaths
- You should feel a great side-body release, perhaps going all the way up to your shoulder blade
- Return to neutral and repeat on the left side
So there you have it, the best yoga poses for athletes! If you’d like to do more, try this Skill Yoga 20-minute full-body mobility flow. You’ll feel as good as new after that.
How do you learn yoga as an athlete?
There are countless yoga classes or courses that would teach you yoga basics, yet not many are suitable for athletes. It’s because athletes have specific needs and their training poses certain challenges. A yoga for athletes app might be your best bet as you can easily choose what kind of yoga you want to do and when.
The Skill Yoga app combines yoga and mindfulness with the latest training science to provide a highly personalised experience. It essentially turns your smartphone into a digital yoga teacher!
The virtual Skill Coach processes information you provide and creates the perfect plan for you. As you follow instructional videos and rate them, Skill Coach learns and adjusts how you advance. It’s a sophisticated algorithm-based training plan that evolves with you. On top of that, the unique Health Coach Assessment enables you to track your progress.
Here’s a short introduction to our yoga for athletes program:
This approach brings great results as many users are happy to report:
“Great videos for the athletic guy who wants to keep good mobility and reduce injury when doing other workouts. The videos are easy to follow but tough, you will never feel like you’re waiting your time. Worth every penny, I’m almost through my second yeaDavid Boyd, Skill Yoga app user
“Within just four days my back pain is already gone and I have learned so much. The app is user friendly and it keeps you accountable to your goals and sessions. As well as you don’t have to go find a workout or think, it does it for you, all you have to do is press play.”Crystal Trevino, Skill Yoga app user
“It complements my running. Used this app for a few weeks now and I can totally see progress with my running. My legs are less stiff after a long run and my pace improved. I’m doing Yoga three to four times a week now and had prior zero Yoga experience. Amazing!”Mcsk8rl, Skill Yoga app user
Start your online yoga training today!
There you have it. Now you know what the benefits are of yoga for athletes.
Many of us want to move better, recover faster, improve our wellbeing, flexibility, functional strength and posture. Any one of these is a great goal on its own but yoga enables you to achieve them all!
Skill Yoga offers a yoga-based training program that will help you become stronger and more flexible, while learning how to tame your mind, and growing as an athlete. If you’re new to Yoga, start your journey with the Beginner program. If you’ve already done some yoga, let the Skill Coach help to tailor the program to your needs.