Marginal Gains – can yoga for athletes make a difference this summer?
Like buses – they all seem to come at once.
Unsurprisingly with a number of international sporting events having been postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19, we are now faced with a busy summer of enjoying a wide range of sports from the Lions Tour to South Africa, World Test Championship, the Test Series between England and India, whilst not forgetting the Tokyo Olympics and of course the European Football Championships.
For many athletes getting back into the thick of international sport has meant a long wait, with time to focus on strength and conditioning, exercises specific to their sport and also ways to get that extra marginal gain over their competitors.
The difference between winning and losing can be hundredths of seconds – so unsurprisingly athletes look to improve their chances though marginal gains – a term coined by Dave Brailsford whilst working with the GB Olympic cycling team; where multiple small incremental changes to a way of training or performing can contribute to making the difference between being on the podium or not.
Can yoga help athletes?
Let’s look at the 7 different forms that marginal gains can take, and consider how a regular yoga practice may tie up with them.
Assume that most athletes will have the fitness and technical skills required to complete at the highest level, perhaps mixing things up a little may help. Professional golfers such as Both Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith planning to complete in the Ryder Cup, or the Olympics in Tokyo, this summer , have both added yoga to their training to improve core strength, flexibility and concentration. LeBron James noted that his regular yoga practice in the off season was certainly a factor contributing to his incredible stamina.
Track your progress to help stay motivated
Tracking progress can take many forms. By having a regular yoga practice Ryan Giggs experienced fewer injuries and therefore missed fewer games over his lengthy career. Global stars such as uncomprimising Roy Keane, Cristiano Ronldo and Gareth Bale are other footballers that have also practised regular yoga. (How much persuasion do you need that yoga stretching as a place in both team and individual sports).
When working specific athletes, we can track and montior the changes in range of movement or flexibility that can progress towards optimal alignment and improve the agility and posture of an athlete. Enhanced alignment can have the benefit of being able to move more efficiently for longer (also known as improved stamina maybe?).
Get plenty of sleep
Not being able to sleep can be stressful and tiring in itself. Managing stress and anxiety and helping manage your mental health just one of the benefits of taking regular yoga classes . Taking time to be still, to help clear the mind and to breath in Savasana can certainly help you sleep by adopting the yoga pose in bed – lying on your back, feet shoulder width apart and palms face up, level with your hips.
Make sure you are properly hydrated
Yoga helps teach us to be aware of our body and how it feels. As yoga teachers, we often emphasize the importance to our yoga students to have plenty of water after the class as they are likely to be surprisingly dehydrated. (Yoga isn’t a proper workout right…).
Dedicate enough time for recovery
With a variety fo yoga styles available such a restorative yoga and yin yoga, athletes can integrate various yoga stretches or longer yoga sequences into their recovery days. Gentle yoga sessions can be used to focvus on particular areas of body to help athletes such as cyclists, swimmers or runners recover faster. One thing to keep in mind is that yoga isn’t competitive, so athletes need to be reminded to listen to their body and not be distracted with what other people can or cannot do.
Train the brain
Maintaining a positive mindset by focusing on breathing can help maintain a sense of calmness and focus. Cricketing greats Sachin Tendulkar and Justin Langer attributed both better posture and improved concentration from regular yoga classes. At the end of every yoga class, the Savasana helps the students be still in both the mind and body. Throughout any class, be it in the studio or as an online yoga class, students are encourages to be present or ‘stay in the moment’ as they coordinate movement (yoga poses), with focus (drishti) and breathing (pranayama). Britain’s Andy Murray also puts some of his mental strength down to his yoga practice.
Fuel your body
Making the right decisions about what you are fuelling the body with is easier when you have a positive mindset, have been sleeping well and view your consumption as an integral part of a training programme with clear goals mind.
Yoga for Athletes
As we head towards one of the busiest sporting summers I can remember, I’m certainly excited to learn more about the athletes, across all compeitions and disciplines, and what has helped them achieve their sporting success.
Who knows, some may even attribute a small part of thier succes to the benefits of yoga – being from the physical benefits of improved balance, a stronger core or enhanced balance and flexiblity to the ability to stay calm in the heat of the moment and deliver the required outcome for success.
At YogaTonic UK, our vinyasa flow classes offer our students the opportujnity combine dynamic movement with building strength, balance and flexiblity (Did I mention the All Blacks often bring yoga sessions into their training?). We also work with sports clubs to integrate yoga stretching into a regular training programme.
Please contact us to find out more.
In the meantime, enjoy a great summer of sporting excitement!