The Benefits of Yoga for Sport Performance
By: Tom Swales, PT, MPT, ATC, CSCS
President, Concept of Movement Ltd.
Yoga-style stretching can benefit any athlete, but it is most valuable for preventing
injuries in sports that require explosive activity, such as hockey, where a great deal of
force is suddenly exerted by the muscles.
Many of my young athletes, particularly the males, don’t see the benefits of doing yoga
for enhancing performance and only stick to the strength and power training at the
gym. What I explain to them is that not only does it teach flexibility, but it has a big
emphasis on stability, strength and proper breathing technique. At the same time it
lengthens muscle and connective tissue, which increases blood flow and helps with
recovery and injury prevention, all of which are important in sport.
I frequently use yoga stretches and poses to teach my athletes and clients transitioning
from one movement to the next instead of the traditional isolation stretching. In doing
this they are learning kinetic linking when moving through these transitions, which will
translate into faster more efficient movements on the ice. To stretch
individual muscles is not always effective to help improve mobility/flexibility in the
body. We don’t move in isolation, we move as a dynamic unit and restriction in the
system can impair movement, thus hinder performance.
Common Yoga Pose Edmonton Oilers Hockey Manny Malhotra - One of the NHL Strongest & Fastest
The 'Natarajasana' Team Yoga Session players has been known to use yoga regularly.
Yoga also helps athletes get back on track after an injury. Physical therapists now
routinely prescribe it for chronic back and muscular pain. Yoga allows you to change old
injurious posture habits and teaches breathing and meditative techniques. You can learn
to begin to feel each muscle, recognize the early sensations of pain and take action to
reduce the stress on your body.
By increasing mobility in the joints, which improves range of motion for overall
enhanced performance, an athlete will be able to reach farther and fall harder while
preventing and minimizing injuries because their muscles have a memory (like a rubber
band) from the deep stretching obtained in practicing yoga on a regular basis.
With yoga, an athlete will not only increase flexibility but also increase poise and
balance from holding and balancing poses. This type of balancing will enhance athletic
performance by enabling the athlete to prevent falls because of their heightened
awareness of their body’s center place. When balancing poses are mastered, an athlete
is then conditioned to unconsciously recover from any imbalances their body may
experience, staying centered in action, moment by moment during play. They are able
to use their body in ways they never thought possible while remaining centered and
Yoga also helps strengthen connective tissue, break down adhesions (tiny scar tissue)
from old injuries and over-training, that tighten as we age thus helping create better
mobility of the joints and an anti-aging posture.
Phil Jackson - Forced the LA Lakers into The 'Side Plank Pose'
using yoga for a balanced training approach. Give Yoga a try for hockey today.
They went on to win 3 NBA titles in a row.
My Story - Tom Swales
I first started doing yoga about a year ago when I was plagued by chronic Achilles
tendonitis/tendonopathy and looking for alternative ways to treat my injury. Both of
my Achilles would become stiff and inflamed, and would be extremely painful in the
morning or with running or sprinting activities. I used traditional physiotherapy
modalities, shock wave therapy, acupuncture and an eccentric exercise protocol for
Achilles tendonopathy. All would give temporary relief but would not fix the problem. I
then suffered a severe ankle sprain that prevented me from doing any running or
jumping activities for 6 weeks.
When I started running again my condition returned and I
was getting frustrated. I came across a book called 7 minutes of magic by Lee Holden,
which taught a short 7 minute yoga routine in the morning and one in the evening for
improving overall mobility and proper breathing that coincide with the body’s natural
rhythms. I always thought I had good flexibility but doing these yoga poses and
breathing techniques, I realized I had some major mobility issues in my back and hips.
After 2 weeks of consistent yoga I went back to running and found I had no pain in my
Achilles with activity and the morning stiffness and my calves and tendons slowly
subsided. It appeared that the problem wasn’t my Achilles tendons but a fascial
restriction from my lower back that was pulling into my ankles and creating pain an
inflammation in my lower legs.
This is a good example as to how we need to look at the
body as a system and not as individual pieces. The body is a dynamic unit of function
and we need to look after all systems and components to maintain balance and peak
Concept of Movement Ltd., is a physical therapy, strength and conditioning company
that is focused on orthopedic and sports related injuries, movement dysfunctions,
youths, sports organizations, active individuals and families. For more information
please visit www.conceptofmovement.com