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13 Yoga Poses for Athletes and the Benefits They Provide

13 Yoga Poses for Athletes and the Benefits They Provide

Reading Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2024-05-14

Developing a regular yoga practice provides many health benefits that can be enjoyed by all practitioners. That said, there are several reasons for athletes specifically to engage in yoga. 

Recognizing these sports-specific benefits is critical whether you are an athlete yourself or a yoga instructor who works with athlete clients. Either way, here’s what you need to know, along with several yoga poses good for people engaged in sports and other physical activities.

Why Should Athletes Do Yoga?

Professional athletes and sports competitors often spend more than 40 hours per week training during their sports season. (1) While those who don’t compete professionally may spend less, it can still be difficult to convince them to add a yoga practice to their training program. Yet, there are several reasons to do so – many ways that yoga can help them be a better athlete.

Improved Flexibility

Flexibility is important for a full range of motion. Dancers require good flexibility to perform their movements. Flexibility is also critical for athletes involved in martial arts, gymnastics, and a variety of other sports.

Several factors can inhibit an athlete's flexibility, one of which is tight muscles. Certain yoga poses can help release tight hip flexors or a tightened hamstring. Others relieve tightness in the upper body or trunk. Loosen the muscle and you increase range of motion. Increase range of motion and athletes can better perform their sport.

Increased Strength

Another benefit yoga offers athletes is increased strength. Yoga poses can be used to build strength in the entire body. These poses can help athletes create the musculature needed to excel in their sport.

Yoga is especially beneficial for athletes who need strong core muscles. It provides this benefit on its own, but research has found that it is even more effective when combined with strength training. (2) That makes yoga a good complement to an athlete’s current resistance program.

Better Balance and Stability

By increasing flexibility and strength through yoga, athletes also enjoy better balance. They’re able to stay in certain positions for longer periods. They may also find it easier to get their body into the posture needed to perform their sport.

Many sports require players to have good balance. Skating, hockey, and basketball are a few. Horseback riding, golf, and rock climbing are some more. Yoga can help athletes in these sports develop better balance and stability.

Enhances Overall Athletic Performance

Improving an athlete’s flexibility, strength, and balance can improve their performance overall. For example, one study connected greater muscle strength with improved force-time characteristics. This, in turn, translates to better sports performance. (3)

By improving athletic performance, yoga can help make it easier for athletes to achieve their goals. Whether they’re competing against themselves or others, yoga can improve their outcomes.

Promotes Injury Prevention and Recovery

Yoga also plays a role in preventing injuries in athletes. As an example, research found that yoga can help prevent injuries in soccer players. It does this, in part, by reducing the player’s fatigue. (4) Fatigue is a major concern for an endurance athlete. When they must perform over long periods, it can increase their injury risk. Doing yoga helps reduce this risk, keeping them from being sidelined.

For athletes who are injured, yoga can help them recover. A 2023 review explains that it works by upregulating some functions while downregulating others. It also reduces inflammation and oxidative stress. This places the body in a good position to recover and heal. (5)

Yoga Offers Athletes Mental Benefits Too

Practicing yoga isn’t only good for the body; it’s also good for the mind. Athletes often require a high level of mental focus. Yoga creates the calmness their brain needs to fully concentrate on their sport. It also teaches them body awareness.

Another mental health reason for athletes to start a yoga practice is that it reduces stress. Athletes can face high stress levels. They often put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well. They also face pressure from coaches, teammates, and even fans. Athletes who use yoga for stress relief can enjoy a more relaxed state of mind.

Some of this relaxation comes from their breathing technique during a yoga session. Yoga also promotes relaxation internally by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This induces a relaxation response.

13 Best Yoga Poses for Athletes

Each yoga pose offers different benefits. Here are 13 poses with benefits that make them good choices for athletes:

  1. Boat pose – good for improving core strength; also increases strength in the upper back and hip flexor muscles

  2. Bridge pose – improves strength in the glutes, back, and hamstrings; also stretches the neck and chest

  3. Camel pose – a good stretch for the body’s frontside, from the chest to the hips

  4. Chair pose – strengthens the back, hips, glutes, and legs; a good core strengthener too

  5. Cobra pose – this pose stretches the spine; opens the neck and shoulders

  6. Downward Facing Dog – stretches the lower back and lower legs; also increases arm and shoulder strength

  7. Locust pose – stretches and strengthens the core and back; also opens the chest

  8. Pigeon pose – this pose is good for opening tight hips and glutes

  9. Plank pose – increases core and back strength; also reinforces mental strength as you fight to remain in the pose

  10. Side Angle pose – increases strength in the hips and legs; also improves balance

  11. Triangle pose – strengthens and stretches muscles all over the body, from the legs and hips to the chest and shoulders

  12. Twisting lunge – stretches and builds strength in the legs, glutes, and hips; elongates the spine

  13. Warrior II pose – opens the shoulders and hips; increases strength in the core, legs, and arms 

How to Incorporate Yoga Workouts into a Training Program

Yoga plays a role in healthy living. But how do you add this practice to an athlete’s already full training program? 

One option is to sign up for a yoga class once or twice a week. While some people practice daily, you don’t have to. You can still gain benefits when practicing less. The key is to make it a regular habit.

Look for a local yoga studio or fitness center that offers classes. Try a few different styles of yoga to see which ones you like. If you like spending time in nature, you might even join an outside yoga class. 

You can also take classes online. This is a good option if you want to do yoga at home. Just be sure to do the same pose on both sides of the body. If you do a pose that involves putting your left foot forward, for instance, also do the pose with your right foot forward. This helps you develop flexibility and strength on each side of the body equally.

It’s also beneficial to work with a yoga instructor, at least at first. This professional can help you learn proper form and technique. This keeps your yoga practice safe.

Become a Yoga Instructor for Athletes

If you are currently a yoga instructor or want to become one, you may decide to specialize in working with athletes. Establish your expertise in this area by marketing to this demographic. Make yourself the “go-to” person for sports players, enabling you to grow your fitness business.

You can develop yoga sequences for athletes in individual sports. Maybe your client is a trail runner. Create a sequence that includes yoga poses good for runners. Perhaps their sport of choice is golf. The sequence you develop would include yoga poses good for golfers. Pick a sport and develop a yoga class around it.

To become a yoga instructor for athletes, the first step is to complete a teacher training course. This course helps you learn more about yoga history and philosophy. You also gain the knowledge needed to get students into form or to modify yoga poses based on a student’s needs or limitations.  

ISSA Yoga & Wellness Academy offers an online yoga teacher training course. This course is self-paced and comes with live weekly sessions, guided meditations, immersive video lectures, and more. Upon its completion, you’re eligible to become a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) with Yoga Alliance. Check it out and start advancing your career!

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  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Athletes and Sports Competitors, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/athletes-and-sports-competitors.htm (visited May 1, 2024).

  2. Kumaravelu, P & Govindasamy, Mr & Prasanna, Arun. (2020). EFFECT OF ISOLATED AND COMBINED CORE STRENGTH TRAINING AND YOGASANA PRACTICES ON SELECTED PSYCHOMOTOR VARIABLES. Xi'an Jianzhu Keji Daxue Xuebao/Journal of Xi'an University of Architecture & Technology. 12. 2965-2972. 

  3. Suchomel, T. J., Nimphius, S., & Stone, M. H. (2016). The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(10), 1419–1449. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0

  4. Arbo, Gregory D; Brems, Christiane1; Tasker, Tamara E. Mitigating the Antecedents of Sports-related Injury through Yoga. International Journal of Yoga 13(2):p 120-129, May–Aug 2020. DOI: 10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_93_19

  5. Halappa, N. G. (2023). Integration of yoga within exercise and sports science as a preventive and management strategy for musculoskeletal injuries/disorders and mental disorders – A review of the literature. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 34, 34–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2023.04.055

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