Yoga for athletes...
I walk on the court over the weekend to compete with my tennis team in USTA sectionals and realize that I am no longer young. In fact I am deemed “experienced” – a nice way to say that I have been around for a while. There is a wide age range competing – the young players just out of college to the seasoned, older athlete among them. What I find intriguing is that the older athlete is still out there competing and WINNING – not just in tennis but other sports as well. My thinking wanders to Roger Federer and Serena Williams who are now 30 (old for professional tennis standards) and still competing strong. Our only hope is that our bodies (well over 30) hold up after a weekend of challenging, competitive matches.
As many aging athletes realize, you can’t train your body the same way that you did when you were young; especially if you want to stay active and remain injury free. Tennis, running and other active sports can take a tremendous toll on one’s body over a period of time. Many athletes, both young and old, are discovering the many benefits of yoga and other mind-body practices to keep them in the game. Yoga can help prevent or heal injuries and improve performance.
Holly Konrady (triathlete since 1986, age group winner and ACSM certified health/fitness instructor) started teaching yoga after ACL reconstructive surgery. She felt it complimented the physical therapy and was more specific to what she needed for strength. As a triathlete, muscles become very strong linearly, creating imbalances. Yoga helps by stretching what is tight and strengthening what is weak. Many poses involve smaller muscles responsible for stabilizing the body. Holly now feels stronger, both as a triathlete and whilst performing daily activities because of core strength and smaller muscle integration – which also means better balance.
Holly Konrady’s flexibility has increased, which has helped her prevent injury. As a competitor, Holly feels the breath work in yoga decreases race anxiety and other competitive sports in many people – helping some to focus on the present moment. Performance and concentration are enhanced by letting go of outcomes & putting effort only into the moment. Core strength is involved in every pose which is critical for supporting the body in all sports. Athletes are usually looking for a compliment to their training, not necessarily another workout. Therefore during periods of harder training athletes will benefit from slower paced classes with deeper stretching.
Some key areas that should be stretched or released when you are involved in active sports are the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, back and shoulders. Poses that stretch these muscle groups and strengthen the usually weaker adductors (inner thighs) and rotators will create more balance in the body – which will reduce bothersome, common complaints of pain in the IT band, knees and lower back.
Many clubs and fitness facilities around the country are now offering yoga for athletes and sports participants. If time crunched, there are also many yoga for athletes dvds. I know when our not so young tennis team competes in USTA Nationals in Tucson, Arizona in September that we will all be training off the court for flexibility, balance and injury prevention.
Until next week,
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