One of the (many) processes which happen as we age is that our muscles gradually begin to lose strength and size, and they become stiffer and weaker. Especially for someone such as myself who has battled through injuries since my Freshman year in college (~9 years ago), practicing yoga has been instrumental for reinvigorating my body.
Due to the stiffness in your muscles, your movement ability around your joints can be negatively affected and may result in you experiencing stiffness of your joints and tendons as well.
This loss of tissue elasticity usually leads to a tight and unfriendly feeling part of your body.
Another factor which can cause the muscles in your body to lose their natural flexibility and ability is when they are inactive, and the situation is not properly addressed.
Multiple times in the past nine years I have had a part of my body immobilized for months, and these points in time certainly add up! Even just one week of immobilization for any part of your body can cause stiffness and weakness, and these situations need to be properly dealt with for full recovery!
This could lead to permanent changes in your normal muscle flexibility, as well as your base posture.
Therefore, it is extremely important that you maintain muscular and joint flexibility as part of your fitness program; maybe even more important than developing strength or muscles mass itself!
Keep reading below to learn more about why athletes should practice yoga as much as possible!
Yoga, Athletes and Flexibility
What is exactly is the meaning of flexibility?
Flexibility is fundamentally the ability of your body parts and your joints to execute their full range of motion. Flexibility is essential for daily activities such as walking, lifting and bending.
When you are flexible, you allow room for your muscles to remain mobile and free, and the level of your flexibility decreases with age naturally.
It is crucial that flexibility exercises should be included in your daily workout program as reductions in flexibility will ultimately alter muscle shape, function, and longevity.
A flexible and loose body is substantially less prone to injuries because it can (more) easily withstand physical stress and violent movements.
There is no doubt that yoga and stretching are intertwined, as yoga creates the platform for you to stretch not just your muscles; but also, your joints. Just like a constant battery charger, yoga helps to prevent muscle soreness and enhances faster recovery between your training sessions.
Yoga is not just simple stretching as well; it is a much more efficient process. Yoga intravenously loosens your tight muscles which tend to trap waste products which accumulate in your muscle cells during your other various types of intense training.
One of the many disadvantages of the buildup of lactic acid is that it leads to muscular fatigue, something which can be efficiently released through consistently practicing yoga.
Yoga provides you with a multitude of positions that work on all parts of your body, including your muscles tendons, and your joints.
A good yoga practice develops all parts of your body, through a method which is backed by thousands of years of advanced training and research.
By using yoga to enhance your flexibility, it enables you to train the entire body at one time; leading to a sense of harmony and balance.
When opposing muscle groups train together, flexibility will be (more) easily attained because the opposing muscle groups work together rather than against or without each other.
This innately developed alignment allows for your body to have a much more complete build than ever before, one that is poised to become more loose and flexible. A well-explored yoga pose exercises all types of tendons and ligaments throughout your body.
See Also: Best Yoga Props
Additional Health Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
Several unique benefits which you can find in yoga include:
- Helps to Stabilize Breathing and Increase Lung Capacity
- Reduces Mental Stress, Anxiety, and More
- Increases Your Flexibility, Strength, and Daily Amount of Energy
- Improves Your Body Harmony and Balance
- Leads to the Improvement and Preservation of Proper Blood Circulation
- Enhances the Digestive System
- Reduces Physical Stress Through Improved Body Management
- Improves Self Confidence and Self Perception
- Enhances Your Ability to Concentrate and Focus
- Furthers the Connection Between Your Mind and Body
- Improves Your Overall Fitness Level and Abilities
How Do You Know if You Need to Begin Practicing Yoga for Flexibility?
Although I believe everyone needs yoga, some need it more than others.
One of the easiest ways to test your flexibility is to stand up and see if you can touch your toes. Yes, this is not comprehensive; but it will show you if you are close to being decently flexible or not.
Fitness professionals in every corner of the globe understand that yoga can improve almost every single athlete due to its ability to increase raw-flexibility.
I am referring to this as a stand-alone benefit of yoga as the benefits of yoga which are “not” flexibility also can dramatically increase the ability of an athlete or anyone looking to improve their physique.
The mental advantages of yoga are possible just as important (believe me)!
Read More: Yoga for Women
Benefits of Improved Flexibility for Athletes
Reduce Muscle Soreness and Improve Posture
Improved flexibility helps to reduce soreness in your muscles and improve your posture. Stretching with slow, gradual movements and being able to hold positions for around 30 seconds without experiencing pain helps to reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
Think of your muscles as a type of rubber band. If you stretch them quickly and sharply, they will just snap back in place.
However, if you slowly lengthen them over time, they will increase in length (ever-so-slightly). Flexibility is a process, don’t rush it.
Through stretching and increasing flexibility, you increase muscular balance and posture, which ultimately leads to a reduction in the effort it takes to maintain good posture and performance throughout the day.
My favorite way to imagine this is through thinking of your current squat position. I am sure you know in your body which muscles are tight and which move efficiently (if any).
Now imagine, if your body was more balanced, do you think your squat position would be improved?
I am sure!
This also means, your muscles will be built more “in-balance.” Take this thought and bring it to every single exercise you do. Improving flexibility throughout your whole body will lead to a much more aesthetic physique and muscles which grow easier!
Reduces the Risk of Injury and Improves Physical Performance
Flexibility training helps to reduce the risk of injury and improves physical performance.
When you have flexible joints, you require far less energy to move through a greater range of motion; which greatly lowers the overall risk of an injury and leads to an increase in physical performance. This is a fact which has been known to trainers for literally hundreds of years.
Strength, power, speed and muscle mass all fall behind movement quality when it comes to the hierarchy of building an athlete. Flexibility is only one part of overall movement quality, but it is a significant part of this!
Reduces Resistance in Muscle Tissue
Flexibility helps to reduce the resistance in muscle tissue while carrying out your daily activities, reducing pain throughout your body.
Flexibility helps to increase the overall circulation and the transportation of nutrients throughout your body, providing the basis for quicker recovery. This also leads to an increase in the range of motion, and thereby reduces the degeneration of your joints.
Reduce Chronic Lower Back Pain
Flexibility helps to reduce the chronic lower back pain which probably billions of people on this planet have due to the invention of the office chair, and it relaxes your muscles overall.
The more flexible your hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, and pelvic muscles are, the less stress you have at your lower back.
Helps You Enjoy Your Workouts More
By being flexible, you will be able to enjoy your exercises instead of just having to fight through pain to do them!
Additional Reading: Reasons to Try Yoga
How to Incorporate Yoga in Your Routine and Improve Your Flexibility
One of the best ways to improve your flexibility is to incorporate flexibility exercises into your regular exercise program, adding them consistently into your routine. This will improve the quality of your joints, muscles, and overall health.
As stated before, yoga is one of the best ways of complementing your exercise routine to enhance flexibility because it involves both physical and mental capabilities. It provides a balance of energy between your body and your brain; and also, increases your flexibility, improves your lung capacity and tones your muscles.
Personally, I have fallen in love with ending my night with a short 30-45-minute yoga session each day.
After multiple practices per day where physical contact isn’t just normal it is demanded, consistent yoga has become a lifesaver in terms of rejuvenating my body to continue pushing forward.
Literally all basic yoga poses help to increase flexibility in your body, enabling you to perform more complicated poses as time goes on. Apart from stretching and exercises which aid your flexibility, you also can consider your nutrition and diet as a factor in your overall flexibility.
Junk foods, fatty, and sugary foods can worsen the ability of your body to move freely.
Combining a healthy and balanced diet which is comprised of vegetables and fruits, with great natural supplements that will support joint health and enhance your mobility, will ultimately lead to a more mobile body that can serve you throughout every facet of life!
Important Points to Remember for Yoga and Flexibility Training for Athletes
There are certain key points that you should note while engaging in flexibility training:
Frequency of Training
In order to promote improvement and maintenance of overall flexibility, stretching should be included after every single workout if possible. I once had a strength coach who told me that if I do not have time to properly warm-up, and cool-down after my lifts; I don’t have time to lift at all.
I won’t go as far as saying that to you, but I think you understand the message.
Ideal Duration of Flexibility Training
The duration of flexibility training depends on the motivation and needs of the individual. In most cases, it should last at least for 5-10 minutes, to ensure that your workout program is well designed in providing a base for improvement over time.
If you are a competitive athlete, this can quickly move up to 20-45-minutes per day. Understand your body, and work towards your goals!
Intensity of Your Yoga Session or Flexibility Training
The major focus of flexibility training should be to bring the muscle to a state of slight intensity, but it should not go as far as to be painful.
A basic yoga cue is to inhale as you strengthen the muscle, and exhale as you dive deeper into the stretch.
Flexibility training is a task just as any other part of training; it should be treated this way.
Ideal Time of Day for Yoga or Flexibility Training
– One of the best times to perform your yoga or flexibility training is after a cardio-respiratory workout, as your body will undoubtedly be warm and ready to work on flexibility. Performing the task at this point will also help you recover and become ready for your next session!
Concluding Thoughts – My Opinion on Yoga and Athletes
A well-maintained muscle enhances the performance of athletes and individuals in their daily activities, it is a fact.
Improving your overall flexibility and range-of-motion leads to greater functional abilities including stooping and bending while carrying out daily activities, and your flexibility level is a huge determining factor in your ability to live with less pain throughout your body parts and joints.
Although yoga is one of the healthiest forms of activity you can do, you do need to be cautious. If you feel any issues in your wrist, you should definitely try one of the best wrist support for yoga products.
As a professional basketball player, my muscles, joints, tendons, bones, and pretty much whole body have taken a huge toll since arriving at college. The long practice hours add up, and the combination of traveling and playing consistently all year round is not something easy for anyone’s body to withstand.
Since around July this past summer I have begun to make a concerted effort towards focusing my training on improving range of motion, namely through yoga. My sophomore year in college I had a teacher in a class called sociology of religion (who was a little wacky to say the least), but he advised me even back then that if I started with yoga my career would last far longer.
I now understand how right he was! I am now feeling my body become younger with each yoga session, instead of just continuing to be worn out through basketball practices.
I promise, regardless of your levels as an athlete or desires in fitness; flexibility training will help you live a more comfortable life!
Despite the fact that yoga and other flexibility enhancing exercises are essential for your body, it is advisable that you consult your doctor in order to get approval before engaging in these exercises and practices.
Be safe and do not push your body past where you feel comfortable, but understand that improving your overall flexibility level will assist you in living a happier and healthier life!