4 ways you can improve your athletic performance through yoga
Calling all athletes and those of you that train like an athlete – if you haven’t tried Yoga yet, here is your cue.
In this article we are going to look at how you can Integrating Yoga into your weekly fitness regime and how this can improve every aspect of your performance – from the physiological – like improved respiratory and muscular function – to the psychological – including improved focus, less anxiety, and so on. Not convinced? Have a read of the benefits below.
The breath, or ‘pranayama’, is a key component in any yoga practice. Over time, through consciously deepening and retaining our breath, we improve the conditioning of the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles and our overall lung capacity. This enables us to increase our intake of oxygen and excretion of waste products, which increases our ability to sustain an activity for a long period of time. Improved intake of oxygen and excretion of waste products can support endurance capacity.
Alignment & Engagement
Think of a yoga class as a 60-minute conversation between your mind and body. Every yoga posture provides us with an opportunity to check in with our bodies, to discover where our imbalances and weaknesses lie, and to improve our alignment and muscle engagement. For instance, in ‘utkatasana’ or chair pose, we practice spinal extension, engagement of the lower back muscles, glutes and hamstrings, and an anterior pelvic tilt, all of which are directly transferrable to movements such as squats and deadlifts. Practicing these movements with our body weight alone helps us to cultivate better body intuition and awareness, so that we can perform with more accuracy and efficiency in the gym, targeting the muscles that we are wishing to recruit to maximise the benefit when training them.
Your level of flexibility is an indicator of muscle, tendon and ligament health. If you don’t stretch, you run the risk of developing soft tissue imbalances throughout the body, that will affect your performance as an athlete. For instance, if all you do is weight training, your soft tissue will not return to their normal, supple state unless you recruit the help of stretching exercises to help ease the tension accumulated as a result of putting them under pressure. Stretching will increase the range of motion in your joints and minimise excessive muscle tension, improving the overall efficiency of the body’s neuromuscular system.
When we are stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, causing our heart rate and blood pressure to go up and our breathing to accelerate. A gentler yoga practice can help you combat physical and mental stress as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms of the body responsible for homeostasis of our nervous system. Powering down from your fight or flight mode and switching off your stress response in favour of spending more time in a calm, relaxed state, can help bring your overall sense of wellbeing back into balance, which is essential if we want to perform optimally.
So, there you have it. Yoga can have a direct, positive impact on your athletic performance. Just one or two classes a week will help improve your endurance, alignment and flexibility, and leave you with a hefty dose of zen for good measure. The perfect antidote for anyone with a demanding fitness regime, in need of hitting the reset button between sessions.