Yoga for Football Players – 10 Essential Yoga Poses for Before and After Play
by Andrea Martina Zaghi-Ganter & James Atherton
Benefits of Yoga for Football
Including yoga in a football team’s training routine will provide physical and mental benefits, improving the overall performance and mindset of the group.
Consistent yoga practice improves strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. It also increases body awareness and concentration, promoting faster recovery and enhancing the athlete’s mood.
Strength, endurance, and body awareness – Modern Yoga is often a full-body workout – anyone who has attended a power yoga or ashtanga vinyasa class can attest to that. Unlike lifting weights or following other forms of exercise, yoga is precisely cued. Some cues are very gross, like moving a limb in a specific direction; others require a lot of practice for the body and the mind to trigger, such as bringing attention to a particular muscle to activate it. Through a steady yoga practice, you will reach a deeper state of body awareness and detect subtler cues. Enhanced body awareness allows the football athlete to have more efficient workouts.
Practicing yoga also increases muscle endurance because poses are often held for a prolonged time and repeated several times during the same yoga session.
Balance & Focus – Even relatively simple balance poses like Tree pose demand full attention. The instant you lose focus, you fall over. To find and maintain balance, you naturally have to drop unessential thoughts to focus on the task at hand. That’s why these poses can instill a profound feeling of calmness even though they require intense and steady awareness.
It is the alignment of the body with gravity that makes balance physically possible. Strength gives the power to create and adjust the alignment. By continually shifting the alignment to maintain the equilibrium, we develop concentration and focus.
The ability to concentrate instantly, leaving out futile thoughts, is fundamental to the player under pressure. We cannot expect an athlete to stand on one leg to focus on the match. But with repetition and practice, the practitioner will realize the connection between balance and breath and how they can easily recall attention through their breathwork whenever needed.
Flexibility & Recovery – Because of the repetitive nature of the sport, football athletes are at an increased risk of sustaining a muscular injury. If the muscles can’t extend to their full length, they face a greater risk of muscle strain, joint pain, and injury. The routine motions of working through yoga poses help lengthen muscles and tendons, which helps athletes recover faster and develop more mobility and flexibility in the body, decreasing their risk of injuries.
Poses For Before/After Play:
Cow Pose & Cat Pose
Start on all fours (tabletop position) and switch between arching and curving the back. Inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest and sink the belly toward the floor, look up; exhale, round the spine and bring the chin to the chest. This smooth motion massages the spine and extends the low back.
Feet and hands are on the floor. Lift the hips so that the body looks like an upside-down V position. Let your head and neck relax, and spread your shoulder blades. Many people who suffer from tight hamstrings can’t have their backs straight and heels on the floor. Lowering the heels toward the mat stretches the calves and hamstrings; let the spine round if the legs are your target. Extending the spine benefits the back and opens the shoulders; keep the knees bent if your spine is the goal and you can stretch them both.
Come to all fours, sit back. Extend your arms forward and your hips back so that they are resting on your heels. Bring your forehead to the floor. You will feel a long, rejuvenating stretch down your back and through your hips. You can add a block or pillow underneath for additional support.
Triangle is an excellent pose for injury prevention by combining strength and stretch. It strengthens and stretches the legs, opens the chest to improve breathing, relieves back pain, and improves the sense of balance.
To get into triangle pose (link), stand with your feet about three feet apart. Align your right heel with the arch of the left foot. Square your hips forward and place your left hand near your right toes. A block to lay the bottom hand is often helpful here. Rotate to the left rib into a side twist to the right. Extend the upper arm towards the ceiling and bring the hand in line with the shoulder. If the stretch is too intense, raise the height of your block. Look straight ahead, or tuck the chin in, and look up towards your upper hand.
Seated Forward Fold
Sit on the floor, flash the skin of your sit-bones and extend the legs forward. Lean forward and hold on to the shins, ankles, or sides of the feet. If the hamstrings feel tight, place a strap around the soles of the feet or bend the knees slightly (like in the photo).
This pose is beneficial for stretching the spine and the back of the leg. Like in a downward-facing dog, some people have to choose what to focus on. If extending the hamstring is your goal, fold while maintaining the spine straight and the pelvic slightly tilted back. This action keeps the attachment of the hamstring in place (ischial tuberosity). If your goal is to create space in the spine, let it round.
Place a bolster or block under the lower back and raise your legs. If you have tight hamstrings, keep the legs slightly bent. Alternatively, you can perform this pose against the wall. Lay one hip close to the wall and swing the legs up as you come onto your back. Shimmy in until your lower back is comfortably resting on the prop. You should feel secure on your lift with the whole of your pelvis supported but not digging into the waist. Lie with the arms out to the side, palms up, or if your shoulders feel open enough, bring them over the head.
Lay down on the floor. Bend your knees, hip-width apart and heels close to the sitting bones with the feet parallel. Roll your shoulder blazes closer to create more space between the ears and shoulders. Inhale and lift the pelvis off the floor one vertebra at a time. Keep rolling the thighs in, flatten the belly and lift the breastbone towards the chin. Feeling contact in your heels, imagine you want to push them forward (without actually moving them). Try relaxing the buttocks and keeping your quads engaged. Clasp your fingers behind your back. An option is to rest the spine on two or more blocks. If you want to stretch your psoas, stretch the legs (like in the photo)
Locust is a great way to strengthen the back body. Lie on your stomach with your forehead on the floor. Slowly lift your head, legs, and arms up and away from the floor. Keep looking at the floor to avoid straining the neck. Hold the pose as long as you can, and then release. Alternatively, you can clasp your fingers behind the back to further open the chest.
As you are lying face down, just like locust pose, reach your hands back and hold the outside of your ankles. Lift the chest and thighs away from the floor. This backbend increases the elasticity of the spine, but be careful if you have a spine injury. Always listen to the sensations happening in the back, and if they become too intense, back off.
Supine Spinal Twist is a restorative yoga pose that encourages spinal mobility. This posture stretches the glutes, chest, and obliques. It helps tone the belly, massage internal organs, and can help relieve lower back pain.
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