Why Should Athletes Use Yoga For Recovery?

Recovery is very important to all athletes, if you are not prioritising recovery then you are reducing the opportunity of performing at your peak level. I found training and playing sports regularly puts a lot of stress on my body. I needed to help my body recover from that stress so I can continue to perform at a high level.

Yoga for recovery is growing more popular because it is a powerful deterrent against over training soreness and injury. Yoga styles like Vinyasa address body imbalances and lack of flexibility and mobility that cause injury. Adding restorative yoga to your routine can significantly reduce soreness.

You should make yoga for recovery a major component of your active recovery program. Yoga is an extremely effective tool for recovery in the following ways:

  • Increase blood flow to muscles for maximum recovery
  • Improves flexibility, mobility and overall joint health
  • Promotes muscle activation which increases your mobility, strength and performance
  • Breathing exercises and meditation sharpens your focus and stay present
  • Help to identify imbalances and instabilities in the body preventing overuse injuries
  • Encourages relaxation so you can recover fully from the stresses of training

Start with stretching

A good place to start with yoga for recovery is stretching. It is a significant part of yoga and is something that many athletes neglect. Stretching is important for all athletes to do, not just gymnasts and runners! You should be doing it on a regular basis, preferably daily. 

Yoga for recovery

Regular stretching maintains the flexibility and length in your muscles which is easily lost due to our now sedentary lifestyles. When you are active regular stretching will help to alleviate muscle soreness and speed up recovery. It will help repair muscles by increasing blood flow and range of motion.

The right Yoga for Recovery

Yoga has been given the assignment of ‘mind-body work out,’ which can be taken as easy or not very challenging. Truth is that for most people, yoga is very tough and challenging. In fact the most common style of yoga “Vinyasa” was originally done by young males in India. 

Participating in this type of yoga you will gain many of the same physical benefits you would get from doing functional training like circuit or cross-fit training. The key to active recovery is keeping the intensity low, you shouldn’t be pushing more than 30 percent of your maximum effort.

So when you are using yoga for recovery what style of yoga should you be doing? Yin or a restorative style of yoga are the best types. Here you will be doing slower movements and poses where you will be on holding stretches and going deeper into them. 

You will focus on breathing correctly as this is very important in helping your body relax and open further. It can take a few minutes for your body to respond to a stretch or pose. Focusing on your breath will help you deal with any uncomfortable feelings.

Yoga for recovery

Benefits of Yoga for Recovery

Yoga works comprehensively to reinforce your body as a complete unit. This is because yoga poses improve your balance, concentration, mobility and strength. They also help to reduce soreness and pain in your body and increase flexibility through stretching.

By doing passive stretching in yoga, you can notably increase the amount of energy stored in your muscles.

Improvements in athletic performance requires a lot of repetitive exercises to train the brain and body to operate in a particular way. Whether it’s endurance training like cycling or running, skilled sports like golf and tennis or strength training they all take a toll on your body.

The repetitive motion required for improvements causes imbalances in the body. They limit the range of motion and over time the limitations will lead to injury. Identifying these imbalances can be difficult and are usually only realised after an injury.

Adding yoga for recovery to your training will provide you with practical information about how your training is affecting your body. Focus on the following:

Identifying and amending muscular imbalances

Yoga for recovery stretches involves your body moving in different ways than it is familiar with. You will also be doing the stretches on both the left and right sides of your body. Quickly you will identify where your imbalances are and how significant they are.

Yoga for recovery

Once you understand your imbalances you can change your exercise and training to even out them. This is because those imbalances would have impeded your performance and increased the likelihood of injury.

Improving your movement

When executing yoga for recovery stretches, you will concentrate on moving more slowly and mindfully. Moving in this way makes it easier to correct improper movement patterns. It also offers the opportunity to engage inactive muscles and learn to activate them more effectively. 

As you continue to do the stretches on a regular basis you will see improvements in your balance, flexibility, mobility and strength. Finally you will considerably lower the risk of injury when you do your other workouts or playing sports.

Feel good about your Rest Day

If you feel guilty when you take a rest day, restorative or yin yoga will help you feel less guilty. By focusing on your breath and the sensations in your body, your recovery is active but not hectic. To benefit from the session you don’t need to ‘go deeper’ or ‘find your edge’.

Instead it is an opportunity to listen to your body and acquire information to help it recover. You will be pleasantly surprised how much restorative yoga will speed up your recovery from training, playing sports and even injury.

Yoga for recovery

Consequently restorative yoga will lower the chance of injury and also permits you to strive further in your other athletic performances.

Yoga for Recovery in practice

The ease for you to include yoga for recovery into your training plan will depend on your current yoga knowledge and experience. If you are new to the practice, you should consult with a yoga instructor to further discuss the concepts in this post.

Yoga related injuries are not uncommon with them nearly doubling from 2001 to 2014. The most injured areas of the body are elbows, hamstrings, knees, lower back, shoulders and wrists. So before you start using yoga for recovery, ensure you are medically fit to practice and evaluate your body’s limitations.

If you do have experience with yoga, using it for recovery should be a fairly straightforward adjustment to make. You can start by dialing down a more active session and modifying poses. Holding traditional poses for longer may initially be uncomfortable so modifying them to a less intense version is highly recommended.

Develop a Plan

It is also very important to take stock of your other training, workouts and sporting activities. Yoga for recovery can be beneficial to all athletes regardless of the activities they are doing. But developing a plan focused on your specific needs and goals will deliver the best results. 

If you are a keen runner or cyclist you more than likely have tight and weak hamstrings. The poses and stretches in your plan should focus on the adductor magnus. Activating and stretching this powerful muscle will target the glutes and hamstrings. The result will be reduced tightness and avert hamstring injuries.

For a tennis player the target area will be maintaining flexibility and mobility in the shoulders. Stretches that help you avoid injury to the muscles of your rotator cuff would be a key focus. If swimming is your main sport, target the muscles in the upper body that provide your strokes, mobility, power and strength.

Here are some more guidelines that I use to get the most out of my yoga for recovery workouts:

  • Practice at the end of the day and never before another workout.
  • Regularly practice is the key to progress so try to commit to at least one hour of practice a week.
  • Focus on your breathing, it will help you deal with any discomfort. If you feel pain you should back off and possibly take a break.
  • Don’t be afraid to use support, blocks, cushions and straps are crucial elements of yoga for recovery.
  • Change takes time so be patient. Don’t be afraid to incrementally increase the time you hold stretches for. Longer holds will increase your flexibility and mobility

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