Yoga is becoming ever more popular among athletes and for a good reason. It is the best complementary practice for sportspeople! Learn all about the benefits of yoga workouts for athletes and where to start.

high lunge

Is yoga good for athletes?

Yoga is great for athletes! Here’s why:

1. Yoga facilitates post-training recovery 

During each training, your muscles suffer micro damage and repairing it is a part of the recovery process. Yoga practice helps to bring more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, enabling faster healing. 

Research shows that when you complement your training with yoga, you’ll experience less muscle soreness and stiffness. That means you recover better, faster and are fitter for your next training! Find out how to best use yoga for recovery here.

2. Yoga helps to prevent injuries

Yoga improves your balance, mobility, core strength, and posture. All those are vital aspects of injury prevention!

Your training may lead to repetitive stress on some bones, tendons and muscles, and yoga helps to balance it out. By engaging all your muscles, both strengthening and lengthening them, yoga optimizes the way you move. A recent study found that just two yoga practices a week greatly improve athletes’ balance and flexibility.

3. Yoga improves your balance

And that, in turn, improves how you move, keeping you safer and preventing sprains. Yoga trains your deep stabilizer muscles and those are the ones you need for steady movements.

In fact, yoga is one of the best tools for balance training according to several studies. It’s not just because of the stabilizer muscle training but also because it increases your body awareness. Being aware of how you move makes you move with greater precision – a win-win!

side stretch

4. Yoga increases your functional strength 

That means being able to move your body weight with control and move with greater ease. Yoga trains whole muscle groups, not just isolated muscles, and that can help shift your athletic training to the next level.

5. Yoga improves your posture and increases core strength

Virtually all yoga poses emphasize the correct body alignment. By doing that yoga effortlessly improves your posture. And a good posture means more efficient body movement and a lower risk of injury!

 At the same time, every yoga practice engages and strengthens your core – that also helps to achieve a better posture but it has many other benefits! A strong core provides the stability necessary for movement control. As science confirms, core strength training can improve your athletic performance.

6. Yoga improves your mobility 

Of course yoga makes you more bendy but that’s not the main point! Yoga increases your joints’ range of motion and releases tight muscles. By doing that, it optimizes how you move, removing limitations that may be affecting your training and movement dynamics.

Your training may be overloading some muscles and under-loading others. That can also have a negative impact on your mobility. Yoga engages all your muscles in alternating patterns, so it helps to smooth out imbalances, literally mobilizing your whole body.

7.     Yoga gets you in a better headspace 

Yoga practice includes mindfulness training and working with your breath. Both these things help to improve your brain function, focus, motivation and mood, and they reduce your stress hormone levels. This may seem too good to be true but there’s science to prove it!

These effects are useful in athletic training as well as in your daily life. Yoga helps to reduce negative thinking and makes you deal with challenging situations better. It even helps to prevent athlete burnout and keep your training on the right track.

The list could go on but by now, you’re probably getting the idea why yoga is such a good companion to many athletes. Many professional athletes use it to improve their performance, including LeBron James, Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, Seattle Seahawks NFL team, or Andy Murray.

seated mindfulness practice

Can yoga improve your speed?

It may seem unlikely but apart from making you stronger, yoga can also make you faster! It has three distinctive reasons. The first is learning to work with your breath.

An inherent part of each yoga practice is a breathing exercise and also breathing in sync with the movements throughout. This can improve how you breathe during your training, too, increasing the amount of oxygen available to your muscles. More oxygen means more energy and less fatigue – and that can make you faster!

The second reason is that yoga trains your functional strength, making you move better and smoother. More efficient movements can also speed you up because your body is not hindered by unnecessary limitations. 

And the third reason is tied to the psychological effects of yoga. It puts you in a more positive mindset and makes you more focused. That in itself improves your performance and speed because it shushes your inner saboteur.

lizard pose

What yoga is best for athletes?

Even though yoga as a practice is always based on certain principles, there are many modern types of yoga. These types vary greatly and it may be confusing for newcomers to wrap their head around it. Here are the main types and what they mean:

  • Vinyasa yoga – a dynamic yoga practice where you transition from one pose to the next with each breath in a flowing sequence. Sometimes, you pause and hold a pose for several breaths. 
  • Hatha yoga – a slower-paced yoga practice, in which each pose is held for several breaths. It allows you to finetune your alignment, and get deeper in each pose.
  • Ashtanga yoga – a particular series of yoga poses, always repeated in the same manner. You have to learn how to perform each pose properly before you can follow the sequence as it moves quite fast. 
  • Iyengar yoga – named after its founder, B.K.S Iyengar, this type of yoga is all about precision. It’s not a flowing kind of yoga, you focus on one pose at a time, using props if needed to achieve the correct alignment.
  • Yin yoga – a very relaxing and restorative yoga practice. You usually stay close to the ground, avoiding standing poses, holding each pose between 30 seconds and two minutes. It’s excellent for releasing physical and mental tension. 
  • Yoga for athletes – and other audience-specific types of yoga – these kinds of yoga follow the traditional yoga principles but blend them with training science to provide a tailor-made practice for athletes. Yoga workouts for athletes are designed to release all the hard-working body areas, such as hips, hamstrings and shoulders, increase your mobility, strengthen your core, and boost your mental wellbeing.

Here’s an example of what yoga for athletes can offer in a mini-series of 5 workouts:

Most yoga studios offer a variety of yoga classes but if you want yoga specifically designed for athletes, your best bet is an online program or app. Doing yoga at home and following your own schedule has many advantages. Read more about setting up a successful home yoga practice.

The top 10 yoga poses for athletes

Each sport has its own requirements but there are certain poses that are beneficial for all athletes. Here’s the top 10 yoga poses to complement your athletic training:

Plank pose

plank pose

What does it do? Plank is an excellent core strength builder. It also helps you improve shoulder stability, and provides an opportunity to work with your breath under pressure.

How to do it:

  • Come into a push-up position 
  • Now adjust your alignment – press your hands into the floor, imagine pushing the floor away from you and towards your feet, lift your upper back from your shoulders, so you’re not sinking between your shoulder blades
  • Draw your belly button towards your spine and make sure your lower back isn’t dipping – it should be as straight as possible
  • Your heels are above your toes rather than running away to the back of the room
  • When you feel your core fully engaged, hold the pose for at least 10 slow, deep breaths – more if you can, or do three repetitions with short breaks in between

Low lunge

low lunge

What does it do? Low lunge is great for stretching hip flexors (the front top part of your thigh), which tend to be tight in most athletes as well as people with sedentary jobs. It increases hip mobility and knee stability, engages the core, upper back muscles and shoulders. Some also find it useful for mild hamstring release.

How to do it:

  • Start on all fours, and step your right foot forward, in between your hands, so that your right shin is at a right angle to the floor
  • Slide your left knee a little further back, and shift your pelvis forward – you should feel a stretching sensation over the front of your left hip
  • Breathe in and lift your arms up above your head but don’t let your shoulders ride up 
  • Breathe out, keeping your arms up, and try to sink a little deeper in the pose
  • Remain there, breathing slowly and deeply, keeping your pelvis facing forward – careful not to tilt it sideways
  • After 10 deep breaths, bring your hands back to the floor, and repeat on the other side

Revolved high lunge

revolved lunge

What does it do? This pose further stretches your hip flexors, and hamstrings, and adds a glute release too. The twisting motion tones the core, stretches several back muscles, can even relieve back pain, and stimulates your internal organs. 

How to do it:

  • Start in low lunge, with your right foot forward, and fingertips on the floor on either side of the right foot
  • Breathe in and lift your arms up above your head, keeping your pelvis level, and join your palms
  • Breathe out and lower your hands to your breast bone, then twist your chest to the right, and hook your left elbow on your right knee
  • Use the knee as a lever to twist your body more to the right, keeping your hands close to your breast bone
  • When you feel steady in the pose, lift your back knee off the floor
  • Stay there for 10 deep breaths, then return to all fours, and repeat on the other side

Pyramid pose

pyramid pose

What does it do? The pyramid pose is excellent for hamstring release but it also stretches your calves and lower back – which many athletes sorely need.

How to do it:

  • Stand at the front of your mat, feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips
  • Take a step back with your right foot – not too big, about the length of your leg
  • Turn your right toes out at about 45° angle, keep your pelvis facing forward, and distribute your weight is evenly between your feet
  • Breathe in, straightening your back, and breathe out, slowly bending forward, keeping your back straight
  • Keep a microbend in your front knee, and think ‘ribs to thigh’, rather than ‘head to knee’
  • When you fold as much as you can, put your fingertips on the floor, tenting them out to keep your back straight
  • Stay there for 10 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side

Triangle pose

triangle yoga pose

What does it do? This pose is a multitasker – it stretches your inner thighs, hamstrings, side body, and back, while strengthening your shoulder and upper back.

How to do it:

  • Stand at the front of your mat, feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips
  • Take a step back with your right foot – about the length of your leg – and turn your right toes out at a 90° angle, so your right foot is parallel with the short edge of the mat, pelvis is turned (opened) to the right
  • Breathe in and lift your arms in line with your shoulders. At the same time, push your left hip back, shifting your pelvis towards the back of the mat, under your body
  • Reach directly forward with your left hand, and then start tilting your body down over your left leg, landing your fingertips on your shin, ankle or the floor on the outside of your left leg
  • Keep your body strictly sideways, right arm stretched up, over the right shoulder, reaching towards the sky
  • Look up at your right hand and breathe deeply, trying to open your chest more with each breath
  • Remain in the pose for 10 deep breaths
  • With the last exhale, turn your head to look down, microbend the front knee and come up with your torso – return back to standing and repeat on the other side

Extended side angle

side angle pose

What does it do? It stretches inner thighs, stabilizes the knees and shoulders, trains your balance, opens and lengthens the side body, and strengthens the legs, too!

How to do it:

  • Stand upright at the front of your mat, facing forward
  • Keep the left foot in place, just bend the left knee, so you can take a big step back with your right leg. When you land, turn your right toes to the right, foot parallel with the short edge of the mat
  • Bend your left knee, so it’s right above the ankle, keeping your right leg straight, front and back heel aligned, your weight distributed evenly between both legs
  • Breathing in, lift your arms in line with your shoulders, parallel to the ground
  • Breathing out, lean forward, bend your left arm, and rest your left elbow on the left thigh, lifting your right arm over your head
  • Correct your alignment – your left knee is not falling in or out, your right arm is in line with the ear, your body and right leg
  • Stay in the position for 10 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side

Pigeon pose

pigeon pose

What does it do? It’s an excellent glute and hip stretcher, also providing release to the IT band – often overworked in athletes.

How to do it:

  • Start in low lunge with your right foot forward, and hands on the floor – shuffle your right foot across to the left, so it’s between your left knee and arm
  • Lower the right knee out to the right, resting it on the mat, and slide backwards with your left knee
  • Settle into the position but keep your hips level, careful not to collapse to the right – if there’s a big gap between your right hip and the floor, put a yoga block or folded towel under it for support
  • Your body is upright, supported by your hands in front of you, left leg is outstretched directly behind you – breathe in
  • Breathe out and slowly lower down onto your forearms – this may be enough
  • If you want to go deeper, fold over your right shin and knee, rest your forehead on the floor, and stretch your arms directly in front of you
  • Stay there for 10 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side

Cobra pose

cobra pose

What does it do? Cobra reverses your posture from hunching your shoulders while running, cycling, sitting at a desk, driving, or scrolling on a phone. It helps to reset your shoulders, opens up your upper chest, strengthens your back, and engages core muscles.

How to do it:

  • Lie down on your front, and place your hands under your shoulders, elbows next to your ribs
  • Press your toenails and pubic bone into the floor
  • Breathing in, slowly lift your chest and head – looking ahead of you (don’t throw your head up), your elbows stay next to your ribs, not flaring out
  • Don’t put too much weight on your hands, 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 and relax

Bound angle pose

bound angle

What does it do? This pose is simple, yet very useful for stretching your inner thighs, and groins, increasing hip mobility, stimulating the circulation in the knees, and relieving lower back pain.

How to do it:

  • Sit with your knees bent in front of you, and simply let them fall out, joining the soles of your feet – wrap your fingers around your feet to keep them together
  • Straighten your back, and lower your knees as much as you can
  • If your knees are high up and your back is rounding when you hold your feet, modify the pose: keep your feet together but don’t hold them – place your hands on the floor behind your back instead. Keep your arms straight and push your hands into the floor to support your back
  • If you find this pose easy, you can also walk your hands forward and fold your body over your feet
  • Then, you have two options – either hold the pose and breathe deeply or bounce your knees up and down. Whatever you choose, do it for 10 deep breaths

Bridge pose

bridge pose

What does it do? The bridge pose strengthens your back, legs, glutes and ankles, while stretching your chest, shoulders, neck, and hip flexors. It can also stimulate digestion and help with anxiety. 

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, about hip-width apart
  • Place your arms on the mat next to your body, palms down – try to move your feet so close to your pelvis that you can brush your fingertips against your heels
  • Press your palms and feet into the floor, and with an inbreath lift your pelvis off the floor as high as you can, gradually peeling your spine off the mat
  • With an outbreath, slowly lower your pelvis back down, lowering your spine one vertebra at a time
  • Repeat five times, then stay up and take five to 10 deep breaths
  • If you can, interlace your hands under your back, arms straight, for the final hold
  • At the end, release your arms, lower back down, move your feet mat-width apart, and let your knees fall in to relax your lower back

The best online yoga programs for athletes

Doing yoga at home, in your own time is ideal for athletes. You may want to do yoga before or after your training, on your non-training days – you make your own rules.

As an athlete, it’s likely you may have some limitations – such as tight hamstrings, and hip flexors – but also some advantages – such as higher than average strength. To make the most of your time on the mat, you need yoga programs tailored specifically for athletes. Following a yoga program designed for athletes will challenge you in all the right ways, and you won’t end up frustrated or bored.

The yoga workouts below are all featured in the Skill Yoga app, available with a free trial. Each Skill Yoga program consists of a series of yoga practices with a specific target. All of them have been created with athletes in mind, and offer a blend of yoga with modern training science to provide maximum benefits.

And by the way, the Skill Yoga app also has a cutting-edge feature – the Movement Coach! Through your smartphone camera, it tracks your movement and gives you feedback on your alignment, so you know if you’re doing the pose right.

Pre-Workout Warm-Up Yoga

If you’d like to get into yoga but don’t have much time to set aside, try these short pre-workout yoga routines. They are designed to make your body and mind ready for training, and can help you improve your performance. Each of these yoga workouts is under 15 minutes, so ideal for busy athletes!

Go to the Pre-Workout Warm-Up program now.

Post-Workout Recovery Yoga

As mentioned above, yoga is great for athletic recovery. This series of post-training yoga practices helps you wind down from your workout in the best possible way. It offers dynamic as well as deep stretching, muscle balancing, and a few minutes of mindfulness practice.

Each of these yoga workouts is tailored to specific body areas, and has around 20 minutes. There’s also a 30-minute yoga practice for full-body recovery that will leave you feeling fantastic!

Go to the Post-Workout Recovery program now.

Mobility Foundations

This program is excellent for athletes who may have a limited range of motion in some joints, tightness in some muscles, or are looking to simply complement their training with yoga. These yoga workouts are designed to finetune your body and mind, to help you move and feel better.

All you need for each practice is around 30 minutes of time. The program is suitable for complete beginners as well as intermediate practitioners.

Go to the Mobility Foundations program now

Strength Foundations

If you’d like to increase your strength and stability, this yoga program is designed for you! It offers all the benefits of yoga but also helps you build strength, and makes you more agile. You may be surprised at what you can achieve with just a little bit of regular practice!

Each of the yoga workouts has just over 30 minutes, and targets specific body areas. There’s also one full-body practice that ties all the previous classes together. You don’t need to be strong to start this program – it’s designed to teach you to use your muscles effectively, and build strength gradually.

Go to the Strength Foundations program now.

Does it work?

After all this, you may be wondering if doing 15-30 minutes of yoga can really bring you all those benefits. It can, under one condition – you must have regular practice, at least twice, ideally three times a week. Then, you will definitely see noticeable improvements in your mobility, strength, athletic performance, recovery, and mental wellbeing!

This is what Skill Yoga app users have to say:

Best app if you want to start learning and doing Skill Yoga for the first time, the beginner videos are very accurate, informative and easily understandable for everyone.”

Naveen Reddy, Skill Yoga user

“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 year.”

David Boyd, 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
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