As you gear up for the nail-biting lineup of football matches, the football players are busy training to stay focussed, build stamina and master their explosive moves.
Vigorous high-intensity exercises, repetitive movements that may strain muscles, like in running and kicking, or regular crunches without back-strengthening stretches can often lead to lower back pain, spine injuries, knee pain or muscle tear. You probably know that Yoga can make you a better athlete by improving your lung capacity and breath connection, by improving your core-strength and balance, by increasing your stamina and helping you maintain your suppleness at the same time.
Today, the mental and physical benefits of Yoga are being widely studied and acknowledged world-over. The fact that it was a way of living and a lifestyle in ancient India, has captured the imagination of people from different backgrounds. Unlike before, when Yoga had come across as a misfit in the world of sports, and strength and cardio training, today the athletes are embracing Yoga for its ability to heal and recover from injuries, improve mobility and longevity and also destress.
Football players are slowly turning to Yoga, mainly for its injury prevention aspect. However, there are many who feel the practice has also helped them gain speed, get in shape and overcome stress. If you haven’t started your yoga practice yet, perhaps the following examples will surely inspire you to take-up Yoga!
Did you know that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo practice Yoga on regular basis? Jens Lehmann has revealed that he had introduced Yoga to the Arsenal team and there are many players in the team who attend these classes regularly. In fact he says that Yoga is one of the reasons he continued to play professional football beyond the age of 40.
Here is what Giggs has to say about his practice, “Yoga strengthens your muscles, improves flexibility, but also keeps you fit and gets you out on the training pitch so you can train every day. If I do a yoga session the next day (after a game), I’m nowhere near as stiff and I’ll be back training at the right level a lot quicker.” Ryan Giggs, football coach and former player.
Shona Vertue introduced Yoga to David Beckham and helped him recover from injury and aches and pains. ‘Working with her made my aches and pains after playing disappear.” says Beckham who follows a workout in which Yoga moves are an integral part to improve mobility.
“A regular yoga practice can improve functional strength, balance, power, flexibility and focus, so it only stands to reason that several professional football players have made it a staple of their training regimen.” Courtney Conover , on why Soccer players should practice Yoga.
While there are several forms of Yoga and yoga trainers who have developed their own unique flow and yoga workout to enhance an athlete’s training regimen, we have listed seven effective poses below that can help football players loosen the tissues around hips, hamstrings, groin, glutes, quads and hip flexors, which usually become tight due to running and sprinting. These poses also work on the entire body and help build stamina and increase flexibility. You probably will recognise some of the poses as powerful moves of your favorite players on the field before they fire out of their stances or move to cover a speedy pass. So pull out your yoga mat and try out these yoga asanas to get into the football groove!
Downward Facing Dog
This asana works on the entire body, especially the shoulders, calves and hamstrings. It helps decompress the lower back by helping you evenly stretch the spine. You use your arms and legs to stretch the body, which helps build upper and lower body strength. It is also a great pose to calm the mind and can be used as the foundational pose to get in and out of other standing asanas.
You can get into this pose from a child’s pose or by coming on your hands and knees. Spread your fingers, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart and feet,hip-width apart. Lift your knees off the mat and lengthen your spine towards the ceiling, reaching through the tailbone. Root down through palms and heels. Become aware of the deep stretch on the back of the leg. Try not to squeeze the shoulder blades, instead draw them towards the spine and lower them, creating more space in upper back and releasing tension around the neck area. Tuck your head in and stay in the pose for 5 to 10 breaths. Rest in child’s pose.
A lot of players practice lunges to warm-up and stretch. It is a dynamic pose that strengthens and tones thighs, hips and butts and at the same time stretches the legs, hip-flexors and helps open the shoulders and chest. It helps improve balance and stamina.
From downward dog, bring your left foot forward and place it in between your palms. This pose is the runner’s lunge, which helps take the pressure off your lower back. Find your stability with your back leg stretched and balanced on the ball of your foot, and the front leg bent, with knee perpendicular to the heel and foot firmly placed on the mat. Raise your hips and stretch your hands up as you lengthen your spine and shoulders. Become aware of your core strength and see to that the front left knee remains at a 90 degree angle. You can look straight or up and stay in the pose for 5 to 10 breaths. Then bring your palms and place them on either side of the left foot. Repeat the pose with right leg in front and left leg stretched back.
This standing pose energizes the entire body and works as a hip and chest opener. It develops a sense of groundedness and strengthens the legs. It stretches the inner thigh muscles, helps relieve backache, improves circulation and is therapeutic for flat feet and sciatica.
From downward dog, step your left foot forward in between your palms. Raise your hips and as you straighten the torso turn the back foot outward a a 90 degree angle, opening your hips towards the side of the mat. The front foot will continue to face the front of the mat and remain bent at a 90 degree angle. Spread your shoulders and broaden your chest as you extend your hands sideways, keeping them at shoulder level. Keep the fingers pointed outward, this helps maintain awareness and tone the arms. Look towards the hand in front and hold the pose for 5 t 10 breaths. Repeat the pose with right leg in front.
Revolved Side Angle Pose
This is a standing asana with a deep spinal twist that helps strengthen the legs and creates space in thoracic spine. It helps build stamina and flexibility and helps detoxify internal organs.
From downward dog, bring your left foot forward and place it next to the left palm (to the inside). Keep the left knee perpendicular to the heel and the left thigh parallel to the floor. Align the left heel with the right heel. Place the right knee down, squaring your hips to the front of the mat. Lengthen through the torso and twist to the left, bringing your right upper arm to the outside of the left knee. Keep both elbows bent and press the palms together in Namaskar mudra. Press gently to lift out of front hip and draw the belly button closer to the spine. Open the chest to the left side, stacking your right shoulder over the left. If you can balance, try and lift the right knee off the mat and deepen the twist with every breath. Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths and repeat the twist with right leg in front.
This simple yet highly effective back bend helps reduce tightness in upper body and reduces neck and back pain. It helps stretch the belly, which is important after any core-focused exercise. It helps prevent injuries in tight hip-flexors. It is a heart-opening backbend which helps alleviate stress, anxiety and calms the mind.
Lie down on your abdomen and place your insteps on the mat. Place your palms on the mat in-line with your chest (elbows bent). Engage your glutes and the outer upper thigh – press into the mat. Inhale and lift your chest off the mat. Straighten your hands as much as you can but keep your shoulders dropped away from the ears. It is important to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed. Take in deep breaths and release the posture after 5 to 10 breaths. You can pull back and relax in child’s pose.
One-legged Pigeon Pose
This is known as the king of hip-opening yoga poses. It gives a deep stretch to the thighs, groins, hip-flexors and abdominal muscles. It also helps relieve tension in the upper body when you extend and bend forward and relax your head on the mat.
From a downward dog, bring your right leg forward, bend the knee and place the right knee down in between the palms. As you do this, keep the back leg stretched and bring it down on the mat, with your hips facing the front of the mat. To deepen the stretch, you can keep the front knee bent at a 90 degree angle. However if you experience knee pain it is important to immediately adjust by moving your right heel closer to the pelvis. Place your hands down in line with your hips and lengthen through your spine. To further deepen the stretch, walk your hands forward and bring your upper body down. You can either get into a complete forward bend and let your head rest on the mat or rest on your elbows and come half way, lengthening your spine and bringing your awareness to the stretch and opening in hips. After 5 to 10 breaths, straighten the upper body, raise your hips and bring the right leg back to a downward dog. Repeat the same asana with your left leg in front.
This is one of the most relaxing stretch for aching legs as it relaxes them and reduces tiredness after an intense game or workout. It helps improve flexibility and opens up hips and thighs.
It is an easy to do asana that can be done anytime for a good stretch. Sit with your knees bent and the soles of your feet touching each other. Keep your spine straight. Grasp your feet (or big toe of each foot) with your hands and bring the heels as close as you can to the pelvis. To avoid curving of the spine, sit on a block or blanket. Begin to gently move your knees up and down to release tension in inner thighs, which allows the knees to touch the ground (or move closer to the ground). Do not exert pressure or force the knees down. Hold the posture for upto a minute and then raise and hold your knees close to the chest for a few breaths before straightening your legs.
How about getting a little creative with the asanas and use a football as a yoga prop? Yoga props are great tools to help you deepen the stretch, get the right alignment and stay in the asana for long. There are a variety of yoga props, from blocks to belts … however, a football can be a fun alternate that can make certain poses more challenging – like holding a football with both hands as you extend your hands up in a crescent lunge. Check out JURU Yoga’s blogs on yoga props for some creative ideas. https://www.juruyoga.com/category/yoga-props/ and if possible, share your photo doing any asana whilst balancing a football. Share your experience and stand a chance to win a JURU surprise!