Growing up an athlete, I always struggled with flexibility. Basketball, Soccer, Track, and even Gymnastics – my body always felt stiff and limited. For anyone who has ever played sports or exercised, lack of flexibility seems to be a pretty common theme. And while you don’t need to be bendy like a gymnast, there are many, many benefits to stretching, which I have personally found through yoga.

While there are many other ways to stretch on your own, Yoga has been a go-to not just for improving flexibility, but also for core strength, balance, increasing strength, alignment, body awareness, and focus!

Yoga for Athletes

It’s easy to write off stretching before or after a workout, but I am here to tell you… don’t! Before I began consistently stretching, I was always stiff, prone to injuries, and struggled to progress in my workouts. Below are just a few reasons that I became a huge advocate for stretching/yoga:

  • Compliments strength by creating more space and movement surrounding your joints
  • Improvement of endurance by holding yoga poses and using all muscles in your body to move through yoga sequences
  • Improves body awareness by focusing on alignment, muscles, and joints
  • Certain types of yoga (Yin, Deep Stretch) can be relaxing and meditative, and it releases stress
  • Everyone deals with stress differently by holding it in different areas of the body – yoga helps release tension & built up stress through the combination of movement and stretching
  • During the Industrial revolution, there were many more jobs that involved moving and standing, and there were no lower back issues. Now, many of us have lower back issues due to tight hips, psoas, quad muscles, all from sitting at a desk all day. The unique movements of yoga help increasea mobility in the body, leading to less pain & more freedom of movement
  • Stretching the muscles surrounding your joints gives them more flexibility and mobility

So when is the best time to stretch?

Sometimes muscles are so tight that just stretching won’t work. Like a Chinese finger trap – the muscles must be shortened, then stretched to release. So working out the muscle first, then stretching right after is key to releasing tight muscles.

My favorite time to stretch is through Vinyasa yoga, where the technique of Dynamic Stretching is used, or immediately after a long run or workout when my muscles are warmed up and have a lot of blood flowing to them. As long as you are getting  stretch in, it doesn’t matter when – just find what works best for YOU!

So if you are completely new to stretching/yoga, where the heck do you begin?

 

Just 5 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week. I swear by this – I committed to 5 minutes of stretching a day, and noticed results within just 1 month of being consistent. I picked a few poses, then held them while watching TV or reading. Super easy, and it wasn’t something that added much time to my already-busy days. The more you stretch, the more your body gets used to it, and it starts to feel GOOD (I promise!). Trust me, forward folds used to be my least favorite thing to do in the world!

After a month of consistent stretching/yoga, I noticed my workouts were changing – I was running faster, had less pain/tightness in my hips, and my legs didn’t feel like bricks when I went on runs! My body started to feel like it moved with more ease, and my lower back pain started to decrease.

**Please note that consistency is key. When you stretch, you are creating a new set-length for your muscles. If you only stretch once a week, your muscles will not stay at that new length. Think of it like working out – if you don’t work out, you’ll lose muscle, endurance, etc. Same with stretching – keep up with it, and you’ll notice results over time. 

So what poses can be done if you just stretch for 5 minutes a day?

 

Below are a handful of yoga stretches that can be done every day, or every other day. I’ve included poses for every area of the body, depending on what you are looking to focus on. Pick a few for each day, and watch the magic of your body opening up after just 1 month!

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana: Down Dog
Stretches:
Hamstrings, Calves, Upper back, Shoulders, Pecs
Strengthens: Shoulders, arms, and engages the core while pushing the hips up
Misc:
Lengthens the spine, releasing compression from poor posture or running
Time: Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat 2-3 times

Paschimottanasana: Standing Forward Fold
Stretches: Hamstrings, Calves, Lower back
Strengthens: Mental strengthener 😉
Misc:
Contract your quads in order to relax your hamstrings
Time: Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times

Toes Pose
Stretches: Shins, arches of feet
Strengthens: N/A
Misc:
Modify if the first option is too intense
Time: Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2 times each side

Option 1:

Option 2 (Modification):

Malasana/Garland Pose
Stretches: Ankles, achilles heels, groin, back, and opens up the hips
Strengthens: N/A
Misc:
Use elbows to push knees out for a more intense stretch on the inner thighs
Time: Hold for 1 minute

Option 1:

Option 2 (Modification):

Supta Gomukhasana/ Reclined Cow-Face Pose
Stretches:
Glutes/Outer hips, Piriformis
Strengthens: arms, if you are pulling legs towards you
Misc:
Pull feet towards you for a more intense stretch
Time: Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on other side

To enter: lay on back – cross one leg over the other, bending both. Reach hands to grab outer edges of feet, ankles, shins, or knees. 

Anjaneyasana/Low Lunge
Stretches:
Psoas, Quads/Hip flexors, Groin, Hip joint
Strengthens: Quads and glutes
Misc:
Roll to outer edge of front foot to stretch inner thigh & open hip joint. Slightly squeeze glute to allow your quad muscle to relax.
Time: Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on other side

Low Lunge w/Quad Stretch
Stretches:
Psoas, Quads/Hip flexors, Groin, Hip joint
Strengthens: Quads and glutes
Misc:
Modify – place towel under knee if experiencing pressure/pain
Time: Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on other side

Parsva Balasana/Thread the Needle
Stretches:
Shoulders, Chest, Arms, Upper back, Neck
Strengthens: N/A
Misc:
Modify – place towel under knees if experiencing pressure/pain
Time: Hold for 30 seconds – 1 minute. Repeat on other side

Janu Sirsasana/Head-to-knee Forward Bend
Stretches: Shoulders, Spine, Upper back, Hamstrings, Groin
Strengthens: Back
Misc:
Modify – wrap a towel or strap around your foot if you cannot reach
Time: Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on other side

Reclined Twisted Figure-4
Stretches: Glutes/Outer hips, Piriformis, IT band, TFL, Spine
Strengthens: N/A
Misc:
Pull knee closer towards you for a deeper stretch
Time: Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on other side

To enter: lay on back withbent knees. Place your nakle on the opposite knee, creating a “4” with your legs. Drop your legs to the side so that your foot is flat on the ground.

And that’s it! No need to do every single stretch in one sitting – just choose a few and call it a night 🙂 If you are new to yoga and are interested in taking a class, I recommend going to a yin or deep stretch yoga class – both are slower-paced, perfect for beginners, and offer many variations + props. **If you are in the South Florida area, pop-in to my Deep Stretch class on Wednesday’s at 6:30 pm!

Any other good stretches that you have done to compliment your workout as an athlete? Leave a comment below!

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