Often when you look at an elite athlete it looks like they were just born to be that fit. But in reality it’s been a long time since sports men and women have relied on their super human genes, or got in shape simply by playing and practicing their respective sport. The pressure on today’s athletes to stay at the top of their game has never been bigger, and their level of fitness plays a critical roll in how they perform week-in week-out. That is why nearly every professional athlete relies heavily on a constant year round “strength & conditioning” programme, that not only keeps them fit, but also gets them peaking at the right time and keeps them free from injury.
Some amazing techniques and exercises used by athletes in their bespoke programs have been developed within some of the world’s most advanced sports science facilities. But at the same time, many techniques and exercises have been created and developed by athletes and coaches working hard to find the specific requirements of their sport, and then adapting a program around those needs.
I make my living out of teaching yoga - but I’m also a huge tennis freak. And I constantly try to find ways that yoga can help me improve my game beyond the obvious benefits of flexibility and mobility - and believe me, I need the help.
The number one rule of any effective conditioning program is to develop exercises that mimic the movements encountered during your specific sport. And there lies the problem - there is simply little or no similarity between what we do in yoga and any sport. The fundamental difference is that yoga is classed as a form of exercise known as isometric, whereas most sports are fundamentally isotonic.
Something is isometric when the muscles used are static and don’t visibly change length. Think placing your hands against the wall and pushing – that’s isometric. On the other hand something becomes isotonic when the muscles are moving against resistance and as a result the muscles lengthen and shorten and the angle of the joint changes. Think of putting a weight in your hand and lifting it towards your shoulder by bending your elbow – that’s isotonic.
The problem then becomes that although yoga can target and strengthen muscles, it can only strengthen them at a single joint angle as the muscle length does not change during contraction. As a result, it doesn’t produce what is known as cross transference. This is where the muscle is strengthened throughout the whole range of movement. And since yoga is isometric and done primarily in static position, it can do very little to help improve overall strength or athletic performance.
I know - before everyone starts writing in screaming at me saying yoga’s much more than that – which we all know it is – I’m only looking at it from a sports conditioning perspective. In my own strength and conditioning programme I am constantly looking for ways to adapt yoga positions so they have an additional isometric element. I then use them as part of a larger programme that also includes the use of resistance bands, medicine balls, plyometrics and interval training, as well nutrition. Designing any strength and conditioning programme is like working out all the pieces of a puzzle and finding interesting and exciting ways of putting them together - it is certainly never boring. Hopefully you too can find inspiring ways to use yoga to improve performance in your own sport - tweet me and let me know how you get on!
1) Dynamic Warrior
· Start in the back left-hand corner of your mat
· Angle both feet out to the left side of the mat about 45 degrees
· Extend you arms and step the right leg out along the mat
· Keep the back foot anchored as you step
· Come back by bending the front knee and exploding back up into your original position
Repeat between 5 -15 times on each side. Can help with explosive power as well as strengthening the muscles that protect the knee.
2) Twisted Dog
· Start off in a downward facing dog.
· Open the hands to get as much support as possible.
· Shift your upper body weight in to the right hand and lift the left hand off the mat.
· If you can support your weight, twist your upper body to the right and bring the left hand beyond the outside of the right foot.
· Then return back to the original position.
Repeat between 5 to 15 times on each side. Strengthens upper body and rotational movements.
3) Spiderman lunges
· Start off in a plank with the hands shoulder distance apart.
· Bend the knees and step the left foot to the side of the left hand.
· Then step the foot back to the start position.
Repeat between 5 -15 times on each side. Strengthens core and helps with speed and agility.
4) Leg lifts
· Start off by lying on your back with knees bent and ankles touching.
· Lift and straighten the right leg and then lift the pelvis in line with the shoulders and hips.
· Then lower to start position.
Repeat between 5 -15 times on each side. Strengthens legs, core and lower back.
Howard Napper is a yoga teach, as well as the founder and creative director of agoy. Howard would welcome any feedback on twitter @Howard_Napper