The Top 5 Yoga Poses for Athletes

by Nora Tobin for SHAPE.com

The best yoga poses for athletesThe best yoga poses for athletesWhen it comes to sports, many of us have the same mentality: We are invincible! But eventually all athletes learn that tight muscles and injuries are a common part of an active lifestyle. I have a tendency to overdo it when training for beach volleyball, so I turn to a therapeutic yoga practice to help keep my body healthy and injury-free.

Yoga builds muscle, improves flexibility, and prevents injury, which is why so many professional athletes do it. Plus, it helps calm the mind in the midst of a hectic life. Shortly after starting your practice, some of the benefits you might notice include:

  • Increased flexibility and range of motion
  • Improved balance and strength
  • Relief of stress and anxiety


This yoga sequence is specifically designed to target common areas of muscle tightness in athletes. Whether you're a beginning runner, strength-training buff, or tennis fanatic, these poses can help raise your game faster.

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Triangle poseTriangle pose1. Triangle Pose:
Targets:
Tight hips

Benefits: Stretches the hips, groins, chest, and shoulders;strengthens knees, thighs, and ankles; helps relieve stress and improve digestion.

How to do it: Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart (about 4 feet apart). Turn your right foot out 90 degrees so your toes are pointing to the top of the mat. The center of your right knee cap should be aligned with the center of your right ankle. Pivot your left foot slightly inwards. Your back toes should be at a 45-degree angle. Raise your arms to the side to shoulder-height, so they're parallel to the floor.

Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, reach through your right hand in the same direction as your right foot is pointed, shift your left hip back, and fold over at your right hip. Keep your left leg engaged and press the outer heal firmly to the floor. Rest your right hand on your outer shin or ankle and stretch your left arm toward the ceiling. Keep your head in a neutral position. Hold for 5 slow breaths.

To release, inhale and press firmly through your left heel as you lift your torso. Lower your arms. Turn to the left, reversing the position of your feet, and repeat for the same length of time on the opposite side.


Downward DogDownward Dog2. Downward Dog:
Targets:
Tight hamstrings

Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and shoulders; strengthens the arms and legs; helps relieve headaches, fatigue , and insomnia.

How to do it: Come onto your hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below hips. Spread your fingers wide and tuck your toes under. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, pressing your hips up toward the ceiling. Draw your heels down to the floor or keep a slight bend in your knees. Press your hands firmly into the mat and draw your shoulder blades down. Keep the head between the arms (don't let it hang). Take 5 deep breaths.


Cat Cow PoseCat Cow Pose3. Cat Cow Pose:
Targets:
Tight, sore back muscles

Benefits: Stretches the back, torso, and neck; gently massages the spine; relieves tension in the upper body.

How to do it: Come onto your hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Inhale to lengthen your spine. Without bending elbows or moving hips, roll your spine forward to arch your back. Lift your chin, chest, and hips to the ceiling, allowing your stomach to sink toward the floor. Once you've reached the fullest expression of your arch, round your spine toward the ceiling and release your head toward the floor. Repeat 10 times, taking deep breaths during the movement.


Chair poseChair pose4. Chair Pose:
Targets: Weak ankles

Benefits: Stretches shoulders and chest; strengthens calves, ankles, and thighs; reduces flat feet

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Inhale and raise your arms straight out from your shoulders, keeping your shoulders down and back. Exhale and lower into the pose by pushing your hips back and bending your knees as though you are sitting in a chair . Keep your abs drawn in tight. Hold this position for 5 deep breaths.


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Eagle poseEagle pose5. Eagle pose:
Targets: Tight shoulders

Benefits: Stretches the shoulders, upper back, and thighs; strengthens ankles and calves; improves concentration and balance

How to do it: Strand with your feet hip-width apart. Hug your left knee into your chest. Bend your right knee and cross your left leg around your right leg, hooking your left foot on either side of your right leg . Wrap your left arm under your right arm. Sit down as much as you can and lift up through the arms to stay on balance. Stay here for 5 long, deep breaths. Unwind and do the same thing on the other side.

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