with Paul Fox BWY Dip

Yoga for Athletes and Sports People

Yoga is increasingly used by athletes and sports people both to develop peak performance and as part of an injury-prevention programme. There are countless examples of successful sports people using yoga as part of their fitness programme. Two currently enjoying a high degree of success are the tennis player, Andy Murray, and the current PFA Footballer of the Year, Ryan Giggs.

For yoga to work effectively the general needs of the particular sport must be recognised, as well as the individual needs of athletes within that sport. For example, all sports people will benefit from an overall increase in flexibility, but cricketers require excellent range of motion in the shoulders and spine (back extension important for bowling and spinal rotation vital for batting
power). Muscle bulk can limit range of motion for rugby players, while
both rugby and football players particularly benefit from hip releasing
and balancing postures. 

A carefully constructed yoga programme using correctly aligned
postures, breathing techniques and concentration exercises has the
potential to deliver:-

  • Greater balanced strength and core strength
  • Greather flexibility (range of motion in particular joints)
  • Superior balance and body control (awareness)
  • Increased energy
  • Mental focus, helping to find the zone of peak performance
  • Tools to de-stress, switch off and deal with pressure
  • A feeling of well being
  • Injury prevention

Yoga uses a mixture of dynamic active
exercises (such as sun salutes), dynamic
static exercises (holding poses with active
muscle work) and static passive stretches
(classic held yoga poses) to increase
general and core strength and flexibility. To
avoid injury, every athlete requires a
“flexibility reserve” so that their maximum
range of motion somewhat exceeds the
range required by their particular sport.
Where the flexibility reserve is minimal or in
deficit – leading to a heightened risk of injury – yoga can help to rapidly accelerate the process of increasing flexibility.

Yoga for Cyclists
Yoga for Runners
Yoga for Swimmers
Yoga for Golfers

Paul Fox has been a British Wheel of Yoga teacher for more than ten
years. He also holds a teaching qualification in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
and is a bodyworker in Swedish and Thai Yoga Massage. Paul trains
yoga teachers for the BWY and also runs CPD (Continuing Professional Development) days for BWY teachers on anatomy, physiology and
movement and on meeting the needs of athletes and sports people.
He has designed specific programmes for sports like cycling, running
and tennis. He has also helped another yoga teacher to develop a yoga programme for the youth teams of a leading Premiership football club.
He teaches weekly classes in Taunton ,and is a regular guest tutor at
workshops and yoga conferences around the country. He has written
about yoga and yoga and anatomy for Yoga Magazine and Spectrum,
the journal of the British Wheel of Yoga.

Paul’s excellent background in anatomy and physiology enables him to
develop yoga programmes that mobilise joints safely, and use stretches
that are scientifically proven to work (including the myostatic stretch
reflex and the golgi tendon organ – sometimes known as PNF stretching).

Yoga can be used effectively both mid-season, to maintain flexibility
and focus as part of a fitness programme, and pre-season, to provide
ongoing fitness and body work to improve and develop performance.

If you are an athlete or sports person - or a sporting organisation or
club - Paul will be happy to discuss with you the ways in which yoga
could be used to support your development, either individually or in
group classes. Additionally Paul would be happy to come to a meeting
and give a short 15 minute presentation on how yoga can help your
particular sporting activity.

Example Sports
Cyclists adopt a posture that rounds the back and shortens the front of the body. This can have a detrimental impact on posture and breathing. The front of the body can become shortened, and the back lengthened, but not necessarily strong. Neck may also be hyper-extended in riding position and then held forward of the in standing body, causing neck and shoulder muscles to become tight as they hold the head up rather than it being balanced on the top of the spine.
Often saddle position means that the pedalling movement does not
include a full range of motion for the legs, leading to strength, but also a shortening of quads and hamstrings. This pedal motion is also in one
plane of movement, up and down, using the hips as a hinge joint. In
addition most of the muscles crossing the hips are working and
shortened while cycling. Therefore hips will become stiff without
balancing exercise to maintain/increase ROM.

An asymmetrical activity, with rotation in one direction only. This unbalances overall posture. Requires lots of spinal rotation, resisted by the hips and strong legs. Requires released shoulders for full turn on back-swing. As golfers get older their swings become more in the arms and shoulders as the spine stiffens – so maintaining spinal flexibility is important. Good posture and a strong core will help rotation around a lengthened spine, rather than a rounded one. Golfers need good balance and good foot foundation to stay grounded amid the swing. Hands need to be stretched and worked to counterpose gripping of the club.

Runners develop short hamstrings as the legs
are never extended to their full range of motion
during the running step (different for sprinters
and hurdlers). Short hamstrings are associated
with lower back pain and poor posture,
especially in seated positions. However,
distance runners do not want to become too
flexible or they lose the kinaesthetic “bounce”
from energy stored in contracted muscles that
would otherwise dissipate in stretched muscles. There is significant
extra wear and tear on the joints, especially knees and hips, even with
good running shoes. Shoulders can become tight due to limited arm
movements which restrict ROM.