Illustration provided by the Wall Street Journal, injury summaries taken from a related article via SimpleTherapy.com
By Lindsay Smith
With the Combine just behind us and contract negotiations ahead, now is the time to put last season’s injuries to rest and prep for April’s offseason workouts. As shown in the graphic above, playing football takes a toll on the body.
While some injuries can’t be avoided, targeted stretching and conditioning can help the body bend, not break. By infusing sport-specific poses with yoga anatomical awareness, and breath work, the body can work at its full range of motion, reducing risk of injury and reversing imbalances.
More athletes are seeking the benefits of yoga as a preventative measure than ever before. Injury statistics, like those shown above, have encouraged the Seattle Seahawks, NY Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles to incorporate yoga into their traditional strength and conditioning programs. These teams believe yoga can make a difference in improving a player’s performance, productivity and longevity by increasing functional strength, flexibility, mental focus, and balance.
Players may not have a lot of room for time-consuming additions to their regular conditioning program, but incorporating key stretches doesn’t have to take a lot of time and just a few minutes of focused stretching can pay huge dividends. For a player with limited time to stretch, here is our recommended sequence of poses that will target multiple areas at once.
1. Lying Down Opposite Arm Opposite Leg
This Power Yoga for Sports move quickly warms-up the hip sockets, shoulder sockets, core muscles and hamstrings. It is an incredible tool to sync movement with breath, which is a critical component for quick movements made on the field. Breathe out as you bring your toes toward your hand and breathe in as you release. Start with 2 minutes and work up to 4 or 5 minutes for endurance.
2. Low-Lunge with a Twist
Low-Lunge will increase flexibility and strength in the quadriceps and hip flexors, enabling a longer, more powerful stride. The twist increases rotation through the spine, reducing blind spots on the field. Linemen often begin at the line of scrimmage in a position similar to the low-lunge. This pose will help a receiver twist to catch the ball while still running forward, without losing momentum. Begin with a 45 second hold on each side, adding 15 second increments until you can hold comfortably for two to three minutes.
If the hamstrings or low back are tight or injured, use a block to modify to a less-intense version of the pose. If a more challenging step is needed, an added step is to reach back with the opposite arm and grab the back foot/ankle for a deeper quadriceps stretch. This helps open the front of the chest and shoulder. This additional step challenges your balance and increases awareness of the core muscles supporting the spinal twist.
3. Dolphin Supinate
Dolphin Supinate is a Yoga Tune Up® pose that focuses on reinforcing the rotation of the shoulder socket and strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. The hamstrings are also stretched and the core muscles are strengthened. This is a challenging pose that can also be used to improve breathing and mental focus. For quarterbacks, Dolphin Supinate can help build the strength, stability and flexibility required to gain more propulsion when throwing a ball. More power is built through the transition of an arm that can be pulled greatly back and then snapped forward with great speed, versus a tight shoulder where an arm can barely move backwards. Hold for 1 minute, adding 15 second increments until you can hold comfortably for two to three minutes.
4. Prasarita Lunges
Prasarita Lunges are another Yoga Tune Up® pose that targets the inner and outer hips and thighs, creating symmetry in imbalanced muscles. This pose moves the hips, knees and ankles in various angles, warming them up, stretching them out and strengthening them. Keeping weight in heels, knees over ankles and back straight begin to use the inner leg muscles to pull the body from side to side. Then, target the outer leg muscles to push the body to the right, then left. Prasarita lunges help players make side-to-side movements quickly and make pivot turns more safely. They build strength and stability around the knee and hip joints. If the low back or hamstrings are tight, place your hands onto blocks to keep the back straight. Start with 2 minutes and work up to 4 or 5 to build endurance.
5. Hero’s Pose (2 variations)
Bound Toes Tucked: Tucking the toes under and sitting back toward the heels opens the entire sole of the foot and lengthens the calf muscle. A pliable foot and calf muscle provides a quicker start off the scrimmage line down the field. Tie a yoga strap around your ankles before sitting onto your ankles to keep them together.
Toes pointed: Sitting back towards your heels while pointing your toes stretches the top line of the foot and front side of the shin. This helps stretch tender muscles, aiding in the prevention of shin splints. Together, these poses allow maximum push-off power and help with impact absorption when running or landing from a jump. Hold for 1 minute in each version, adding 15 second increments until you can hold comfortably for 2 to 3 minutes. If there is pain behind the knee, or if the sits bones don’t reach the heels, use a blanket or a bolster as shown.
Lastly, a few minutes of meditative visualization is recommended. Start slow. Maybe a minute a day is enough to begin. This allows athletes to work towards breaking through negative thought patterns and fear, and provides the foundation for building a mental image of how the athlete wants the game to materialize. What distinguishes a champion from a great player is the psychological game and mental toughness. The athlete with command over their thoughts, compared to their opponents, has an upper hand. It’s the ability to remain present and focused entirely at the task at hand. Many of us know it as being “in the zone.”
Lindsay Smith, E-RYT 500, is a certified Yoga Tune Up® instructor and co-founder of RAW Sports Yoga, specializing in teaching yoga to professional and Olympic athletes. Lindsay’s unique approach to yoga infuses sport-specific poses, anatomical awareness, and invigorating breath work. She has coached some of the best athletes in their fields from the high school, collegiate, professional, and Olympic levels. Working directly with coaching staff, Lindsay’s approach to yoga provides every athlete the opportunity to maximize their performance in their position, and longevity in their sport. Although athletes are Lindsay’s specialty she also works with individuals of all ages and abilities using her skills and unique point of view to customize an appropriate set of postures to surpass your goals.
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