More and more athletes are turning to Yoga and Pilates as a way to recover and prevent injuries. With the NFL season just around the corner, we reached out to Yoga for Athletes instructor Lizzett Chiappy Eskert who is the lead yoga instructor for multiple University of Miami sports team including: Football, Women and Men’s Track & Field, Women’s Tennis, and Women’s Soccer, to see how Yoga can improve performance for athletes.
Here are nine Yoga poses Lizzett recommends her athletes practice.
1. Downward Facing Dog
How: Hands/arms shoulder width apart, hands press down into ground, feet/legs hip distance apart, shift weight back towards legs and draw heels down towards the ground, crown of head dropped towards ground, eye gaze to back center edge of mat, press chest towards thighs.
What’s stretched: the spine and back muscles, shoulders, hamstrings, calves and achilles tendon.
Why Important: Help relieve back pain which usually begins with tight hamstrings which is also stretched here. It also helps improve the strength and mobility of the shoulders.
2. Forward Fold/Ragdoll
How: Feet hip distance apart (about two fists) drop crown of head to the ground, slight bend in knees, grab opposite elbows with hands, weight shifted forward so that hips stack over ankles.
What’s stretched: hamstrings, calves, hips, lower back,
Why Important: Opens up and releases the entire back side of the body, for more fluidity and ease of movement.
3. Lizard Lunge
How: from downward facing dog, step your left foot to the outside of your left hand, keep your right leg straight and active, if you want to go deeper, lower both forearms onto the floor. If you need to modify, drop back knee to the ground. Repeat to the other side.
What’s stretched: Opens the hips, hip flexors, and groins of the straight leg, and stretches the hamstring of the bent leg.
Why Important: To increase functionality and mobility of the hips. Limber hips can ease tightness in the lower back.
4. Galaxy Pose
How: from Lizard Lunge, drop back knee down to the ground, walk your front foot out towards the side that it’s on, take hand closest to front leg and place on inner thigh/adductors of front leg and press open as you press both hips forward, can stay there or reach back and grab foot of back leg.
What’s stretched: For back leg, Hips and Hip Flexors are released, if holding foot with hand, quadricep is stretched, for front leg, groin is stretched. If holding foot, shoulder opener for arm reaching back.
Why Important: Works on rotation of the spine while releasing hips. Increases mobility and flexibility in the hips and spine.
5. Low Lunge
How: From downward facing dog, step right forward in between your hands, drop your back knee down ,engage core and lift chest up as reach arms over head towards to sky, press both hips forward and open up chest, simultaneously lean back.
What’s stretched: hips, hip flexors, groins, shoulders, biceps.
Why Important: Increase mobility and flexibility in hips, opens up pectoral muscles and the front side of the body. In addition, can help improve balance.
How: Lay face down on your stomach, place both hands underneath shoulder heads with fingers pointing forward, engage core and press up into back extension, bring a slight bend in elbows and drop shoulders down into spine away from ears, leave legs on the ground, release glutes
What’s stretched: the chest muscles, shoulders, and abdomen
Why Important: Helps strengthen the spine and improve posture. It also opens up the lunges for better breathe consumption, and also opens the front side of the body.
7. Reclining Pigeon/Figure 4 Stretch
How: Lay face up on your back, bend both knees with both feet flat on ground, cross your right ankle over your left thigh,place both hands behind your left thing and pull in towards your chest, if you want to go deeper, use right hand to press right knee away as pull left thigh in.
What’s stretched: The hips and the IT Band. Opens lower back as well.
Why Important: The IT band is connected to the knee and the hip, when tight it can affect the function and mobility of the pelvis, lower back, and knee.
8. Toes Pose with Shoulder Opener
How: Kneel and sit back towards heels, Tuck toes under so that your toe ball mounds are pressing into the ground, if this bothers knees, roll up a towel and place horizontal behind knee creases, interlace hands behind back and squeeze shoulder blades together and work to straighten arms, if this is too much can grab a towel in between hands behind back, walk hands in towards each other as much as possible.
What’s stretched: the bottom of the feet and toes, front of shoulders and chest
Why Important: Helps prevent plantar fasciitis, which is a common injury amongst football players. It also helps to strengthen ankles.
9. Supine twist
How: lay face up on your back, hug left knee in towards chest, with right hand take
left knee across body over to the right, stretch left arm out to the side in line with the left shoulder, press both shoulders down into the ground, and look towards the left arm. Can begin to straighten bent leg and use towel around foot to get a hamstring stretch. Repeat to other side.
What’s stretched: Stretches back muscles and glutes.
Why Important: It lengthens and realigns the spine, and helps hydrate the spinal disks.