As you may have seen, there are many prolific athletes who practice yoga in addition to their training in order to recover and prepare for competitions. Whether it is Michael Phelps or Ray Lewis, every sportsman is using this practice to become more fit. A question then arises: how can yoga help athletes?
This is without counting the American sports stars who have incorporated yoga into their routine. Here we can quote Lebron James, winner of the NBA championships in 2009, “Yoga is not just a physical practice, it is also a mental practice and it is a technique that has helped me a lot”. According to Kirsty Davis of Yoga Training Guide, many athletes are practicing yoga because it can help maintain the longevity of their body while also helping to reduce stress.
1 – Improved Balance
Three points can be addressed more precisely:
- Muscle imbalances which contribute to possible loss of balance during postures
- The inner ear that regulates our balance
- The use of stabilizing muscles – which is greatly neglected by some training (we think of weightlifters)
With these 3 points, the concept of balance is approached from different angles, although they are all nested. These 3 points also refer to two kinds of equilibria:
- Dynamic balance: we remain in balance while being in motion
- Static balance: you keep in balance without moving
The practice of yoga presents a challenge for our balance, be it static balance, or dynamic balance. We are thinking in particular of the posture of the tree, the warrior 3 and so many others.
What do we mean by better distribution? Yoga works the abdominal muscles as well as the muscles of the posterior chain (in English it is referred to when speaking of core muscles ), muscles which are not always worked in utility. So we see a lot of workouts offering crunches rather than useful exercises such as the board and the transitions found in a Yoga Vinyasa sequence (dog head up, dog head down, controlled forward jump, etc. .). These muscles make it possible to better distribute the load during a reception, by taking part of the shock in
2 – Improve Your Deep Breathing
If there is one thing that we do not escape in the practice of yoga, it is breathing ( pranayama ), including Ujjayi breathing, deep breathing and through the nose, which we aim to keep with yourself, even in the most complicated postures (asana). The yogi manages the intensity of the effort with his breathing, which is central in the control of sensations.
The effects of good breathing are manifold. It has long been established that calm, deep breathing has the effect of reducing pre-competition stress, and more generally stress in everyday life. In addition, the flexibility work is more effective when the breath comes to dictate the movement. When the work is well done, it also improves concentration, because by focusing on your breathing, you do not think about the rest, the thoughts are quieter and less numerous.
There are several methods of pranayama:
Breathing during the whole practice, which we mentioned at the beginning of this article: ujjayi breathing and breathing when the body is at rest (often sitting cross-legged), as a tool for centering, anchoring and meditation
Several reasons explain this improvement in performance thanks to breathing. In their work on breathing cited above, Al Lee and Don Campbell postpone a study that they carried out on athletes, noting that the respiratory work before an effort and during the effort had made it possible to decrease the consumption of oxygen and especially , improve sports performance by 8% (average). This equates to 3 to 5 minutes saved over an hour’s run.
However, the causal link is rather vague because another factor could explain this improvement in performance: breathing also improves concentration, concentration which in turn can improve performance. The fact remains that this breathing is an ally for athletes and that it is good to practice some techniques!
3 – Improved Range of Motion
There are several yoga practices, but a complete practice will always incorporate slow movements, static stretches. In the jargon we speak of ROM (range of movement), and the latter is affected by 3 criteria:
- The length and elasticity of the muscles,
- The structure of our joints
- The nervous system
To work on this range of motion, yoga is an interesting tool. Who wants, after a long session, to give another 15 or even 30 minutes to stretching? Few athletes have the motivation … which is perfectly understandable. Yoga being a practice in its own right, it is possible to compensate for a big workout with a session the next day. The postures are varied and above all, quite unusual for neophytes, which has a real advantage in allowing the body to be challenged in a completely different field.
A complete practice allows you to work on static and dynamic stretches, which are both essential for a complete workout.
The advantages of greater range of motion are quite numerous. Primarily, this helps to slightly decrease the chance of injury due to the increased ability to move. Another important point: explosiveness. The more we are able to solicit a muscle in its amplitude, the more we will have momentum, in a way.
Let me make an important point here; we tend to confuse the different types of stretching, namely: dynamic stretching, active stretching, static stretching and passive stretching.
- Dynamic stretch: this is a stretch during which you move to get in and out of the position
- Active stretch: it is a stretch which solicits the muscles: the agonist muscle and the antagonist muscle both work or only one of the two works
- Static stretching: we do not move in position, the intensity is then determined by the duration for which we hold this posture
- Passive stretching: no muscle is working, gravity plays its role to help stretching
All these types of stretching can be found in the practice of yoga, especially in the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.
As you can see, yoga can be a very powerful tool if you are an athlete. Of course, like any practice, it requires a great deal of discipline to do it correctly if you want to reap the rewards from it.