Tune Up Your Power Train
As many a yoga teacher knows, most athletes struggle with the same three areas: hips, hamstrings, and lower back.
Weight-bearing endeavors—like running, biking, or tennis—ask a lot of your hips and hamstrings in order to power your movement. And since both are closely connected to the lower back, it can end up sharing the burden.
This short post-workout stretching sequence hits all three areas—hips, hams, and lower back. Even if you’re thinking “I’ve got no time in my training schedule for anything else!,” no worries—a little yoga goes a long way.
These yoga poses are safe enough to do at home on your own. Try this sequence every other day for fast results. Note: If you’re not warmed up, don’t push yourself.
This pose lets gravity do the work of loosening your stiff calves and hamstrings, which in turn ease the strain on your lower back.
1. Sit up tall with your legs stretched out in front of you, feet touching. Take a deep breath.
2. On your exhale hinge forward from your hips, keeping your back flat, and reach for your toes. If you can’t touch your toes, grab your towel, roll it up and use it to reach around the arches of your feet. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Tip: Keep your feet in a neutral position (i.e., pointing straight up, not rolling in or out) to help with tight IT bands.
This is basically tree pose on the floor. And since by sitting you take any worry of toppling over out of the equation, you can focus on relaxing your leg muscles and extending your spine to open your hips outward. That counters the inward leg rotation required by most sports.
1. Sit up straight with your legs out in front of you and bend your left knee, letting it fall open toward the floor to bring the sole of your left foot to meet the inside of your right thigh.
2. Take a deep breath in and on your exhale hinge forward from your hips and try to grab your left foot. If you can’t reach your foot then use a towel.
3. As your hip opens up, your knee will fall toward the mat. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Tip: Yoga is all about body awareness, so notice if there is a difference between one side and the other. And if one or both knees are bent dangling up in the air, prop a pillow or folded blanket under it or move the foot from the inside of your left thigh down to your knee or calf.
Runners and cyclists, this one’s for you. This pose is an efficient way to open the cardio-contracted muscles and connective tissues of the hip joints because it manages to hit both the inner and outer hips at once.
1. Bring the soles of your feet together with knees wide apart. Sit up tall, take a deep breath in, and on your exhale hinge forward from your hips, keeping your back flat. Reach your nose toward your toes. (Don’t worry if your nose isn’t even in the vicinity of your toes at this point. It’s the thought that counts.)
2. If this pose feels easy, walk your hands out on the floor in front of you for a deeper stretch. If your knees are dangling up in the air, move your feet a little further from your body, use your elbows to push your knees down (gently!), or prop some pillows or blankets underneath them.
Tip: Make sure you’re not straining your neck and head. Instead, focus on relaxing your neck and allow your head to hang forward. This release helps you sink deeper into the pose.
Thread the needle
Hit your tight hips from another angle. Your hardest-working joints deserve the extra attention.
As demonstrated at left by Kimberly Fowler, yoga trainer to–among others–Olympians and professional athletes, here’s how to thread the needle:
1. From bound angle pose, bring your knees together then roll down onto your back. Hug your knees into your chest. Then bring your right ankle on top of your left thigh. Keep your left foot lifted off the floor.
2. Lace your hands through your legs to take hold of the front of your left shin and gently pull your left knee toward your chest as you push your right knee away from it. Try to hold this pose for at least 1 minute. Then switch sides.
Tip: If you cannot reach around your shin, just grab the back of your thigh. Be sure to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.
This pose will not only help you stand up straighter but also defend you against injury. It strengthens the lower back to help it endure the strain put on it by too-tight hip flexors and poor posture. And it also helps correct those problems by opening the entire front side of your body, including your stiff chest and shoulders.
1. Lying on your back, hug your knees into your chest and rock side to side. Let your feet fall to the floor with your knees bent.
2. Bring your feet hip-width apart and reach down with your fingertips to touch your heels. If you can’t, walk your feet in a little closer to your body.
3. Take a deep breath and on your exhale push into your feet to lift your hips toward the ceiling. Once you are up, if you can, bring your arms and shoulders underneath you and clasp your hands. Hold for 30 seconds and then release. Repeat twice more. Once you’ve finished the reps, hug your knees into your chest and rock side to side to release your lower back.
Tip: Focus on keeping your thighs parallel (i.e., knees not splaying out), reaching your chest toward your chin, and pressing your hips up.
To let your body process all the benefits of these yoga poses before you jump up and get moving again.
1. Lie flat on your back, arms extended out at your sides, palms facing up. Take one deep breath in through your nose and let it out through your mouth.
2. On your next exhale, let every muscle relax. Just sink down into the floor. Stay here for a minute or two if you can.
3. Then roll onto your right side and slowly sit up. Take a moment to notice how you feel.
Tip: For some goal-oriented overachievers, this can be the hardest pose of all because you’re forced to do nothing! If you want, you can use this time to visualize crossing the finish line with your personal record, hitting the best long drive off the first tee, or spiking a winner on the volleyball court.
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