No matter the sport or workout, all athletes need to take care of the muscles and joints that support their training! This yoga sequence is designed to stretch and strengthen the entire body. It is intended to be performed after warming up the muscles, so try this sequence after your next workout or competition.
Kneeling Toes Pose: Whether you enjoy running, lifting weights, or competitive sports, your feet do A LOT of work for you. This posture is great for stretching out the soles of the feet, increasing flexion in the toes and ankles and providing a gentle stretch of the achilles tendon.
How To: Come to a kneeling posture and tuck your toes under on the mat. The amount of stretch can be controlled by the amount of your body weight you rest on your heels. Try gently moving the hips forward and backward, side to side, to massage the toes and vary the stretch you’ll experience through the arches. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes, untucking the toes to come out of the pose.
Thread the Needle: This pose opens up the back body by stretching the latissimus and trapezius muscles, elongates the obliques, and increases range of motion in the shoulder complex. It also allows for relief for low back tension and is a wonderful stress relieving posture.
How To: Start in Table Top Position with hands directly underneath the shoulders and knees directly underneath the hips. Shift the hips back to rest them on the heels in Child’s Pose, leaving the arms reaching out toward the front of the mat. Lift the heart slightly, bringing the left arm underneath the right armpit, then bring the left shoulder back to rest on the mat. Leave the right arm reaching long toward the front of the mat. Breathe deeply into the long right side body and into the upper back. Hold for two to three breaths, then return the left arm to reach forward, and repeat on the other side.
Reclined Hero’s Pose: This posture is an excellent quadriceps stretch. The quads work really hard in most types of exercise, so show them some love! (If you have a history of knee injury, consider skipping this pose. It does require deep knee flexion.)
How To: Come to a kneeling posture. You can keep your feet underneath your sit bones, or wrap the feet around the gluteal muscles while keeping your knees together to bring the sit bones down to touch the mat. Lift tall through the crown of the head and slowly lower your torso back to rest on your forearms behind you. Stay here if you feel a comfortable stretch and have to really focus on keeping your knees together and touching the mat.
If you need a deeper stretch, you can lower your back all the way down to lay on the mat. If you experience any pain, or your knees have a hard time staying together or touching the mat, then you need to come back up to a forearm supported position. To come out of the posture, tuck your chin and slowly lift your torso back to a kneeling position.
Camel: This backbend is a wonderful chest and shoulder opening posture that also builds strength in the low back and hamstrings. This pose is particularly helpful for golfers, tennis, baseball and softball players whose arms, back and shoulders play a large role in their powerful swings.
>> Read more: Yoga Moves for Strong Arms
How To: Come to a kneeling posture, with the option to place a blanket or double up your yoga mat underneath the knees. Begin by placing the palms over the sacrum with fingertips pointing toward the floor. Bring the elbows to point straight back and lift the gaze toward the ceiling. This alone may be a beneficial stretch for you!
Stay here and breathe, or to move into a deeper stretch, bring the hands back, one at a time, to the soles of the feet. Keep your toes tucked at first, or bring the tops of the feet to rest on the mat to deepen the stretch. Keep the neck in line with the spine. You should be able to swallow and talk in this pose, so if the throat is too constricted, come up out of the back bend a bit. Breathe deeply into the belly for three to five breaths before slowly raising yourself back up using your abdominal muscles.
Down Dog Knee Tucks: Hip mobility is important for athletes of all ages, especially women. This dynamic movement between Three-Legged Downward Facing Dog and Knee-to-Nose Lunge strengthens the core and the hip complex, as well as the shoulders and glutes!
How To: Start in Downward Facing Dog. Inhale to lift the right leg toward the ceiling. On an exhale, shift your weight forward to high plank while rounding the upper back and bringing the knee to touch the nose (or as close as you can get it!). Really emphasize the rounded “cat”-like upper back here to contract the abdominals. Inhale to lengthen the leg back toward the ceiling. Repeat this movement, on your breath, eight to 10 times. Return to Downward Facing Dog then repeat on the other leg.
Pigeon Pose: This version on Pigeon Pose is a phenomenal hip opening posture. It also allows for the release of tension in the low back and offers a nice shoulder and latissimus (upper back) stretch.
How To: Begin in Downward Facing Dog. Lift the right leg to Three-legged Dog, then sweep the right knee forward between the hands, setting the right knee down on the mat close to the right wrist. The closer you get your front knee to a 90-degree angle, the more intense the stretch in the hip will be. Start the the right foot close to, or even under, the pubic bone and work your right ankle forward as you are able. Keep supporting your bodyweight with your arms, ensuring that both sit bones are pointing down at the mat. Don’t shift over to the right side just to make contact with the mat.
If you need extra support, use a yoga block underneath the sit bones. This allows for release of the small stabilizing muscles in the hips and groin. Click here to learn what else you can do with your yoga block.
Keep the left leg extended behind you, top of the foot resting on the floor. Sit tall, reaching up through the crown of the head. You have the option to stay here, continuing to allow the hips to sink down toward the mat, or if you are making contact with the mat with both sit bones, begin to hinge forward over the front leg, walking the fingertips away from you, coming into a forward fold. Keep the arms extended out in front of you or bring the arms around to your sides. Let the head be heavy. Rest in this position for five to 10 breaths, slowly walking your torso back up, tuck the back toe and lift the right leg up toward the ceiling for Three-legged Dog. Lower the right leg to Downward Facing Dog and repeat on the other side.
Double Pigeon Pose: This is a deeper hip opening pose that also offers a gentle knee stretch and release in the lower back. It’s a beautiful option for athletes with tight iliotibial bands (IT Band), but may not be comfortable for athletes with past or current knee pain. Click here to find out what other exercises you should avoid with knee pain.
How To: In a seated position, bend the right knee and bring the leg to the mat in front of you. Bend the left knee and stack the left shin directly on top of the right shin. Keep the feet flexed strongly to protect the knees. Your right ankle should be directly under your left knee, and vice versa. Stay here, or begin to hinge forward at the hips, walking the fingertips away from your body, coming into a forward fold. Only go as far forward as you can without changing the alignment in your hips. Breathe deeply as you rest in this pose for three to five breaths. Exit the pose by bringing the torso back up. Switch the top and bottom leg, and repeat.
Supine Splits with Strap: Many athletes and workout enthusiasts have tight hamstrings from over-training or overuse of the quadriceps and glutes. Additionally, anyone who runs probably has tight iliotibial bands. This pose is excellent for stretching and finding release in all of these areas. You’ll want a yoga strap, or any other long piece of fabric (like a neck tie or belt).
>> Read more: Most Common Ailments of Runners
How To: Start on your back and extend long through the heels and crown of the head. Raise your right leg up toward the ceiling and hook your strap around the ball of the foot. Extend the arms straight up the strap toward the foot. Pull the extended leg toward the chest, as far as you can while keeping the legs straight and the bottom leg on the mat. Begin to open the hip by guiding the right leg over toward the right side of the your mat. Both hips and shoulders remain in contact with the mat. Keeping both legs straight, continue to pull the leg toward the right side body. Now guide the leg back to the center and continue on across the midline, crossing the right leg across to the left side of the mat. To really get into the IT band, try to keep both hips and shoulders on the mat. The leg probably won’t cross too far over to the left if you do this.
Finally allow the right shoulder and hip to come up off of the mat for a spinal twist, right toes come to touch the floor on the left side of the mat. Hold for 2 breaths. Using the core, bring the right leg back to straight up in the air, unhook the strap and lower the right leg to the mat. Repeat with the left leg.
>> Stretch it out: 9 Ways to Stretch Your Hip Flexors
By investing a small amount of time into this routine, you will allow your hard-working muscles and joints the opportunity to stretch and rejuvenate. Athletes of all kinds should find time for yoga in their routine one to two times per week. Well cared for joints and muscles mean less chance for injury and better performance on the field, at the gym and in your everyday activities.
>> WATCH: Sun Salutation A
Disclaimer: The content of the Skinny Mom blog and website, including text, graphics and images, are for informational purposes only. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have. Do not disregard professional medical advice. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone.