Competing in any sport at a competitive level can have quite an unbalancing effect on the body. Whether your passion is tennis, where the same arm is used to hit the ball over and over again, or soccer, where one foot kicks predominately, one side of the body is being placed under different types and levels of stress compared to the other side.
Stretching and limbering up the muscles with yoga can help increase flexibility to improve your movement around the pitch or court with greater ease and dexterity.
Dynamic stretches can be used as part of your warm up routine, and have been shown to decrease muscle tightness. Static stretching exercises (like the two described here) are best used when your body is completely warmed up – often at the end of a game or a training session.
Some points to remember while performing your stretch:
Stretch to just before the point of discomfort; the feeling of tightness should diminish as you hold the stretch. Soften and release into the tighter areas of the stretch, relaxing the muscle and skin around it. If tightness intensifies or you feel pain stop the stretch and gentle shake out the area. Breath out into every stretch, and avoid holding your breath or other parts of the body you are not stretching! Hold each stretch for five to ten breaths, increasing as you get more comfortable.
These two static stretches can be performed kneeling or standing, ideally after an exercise session when the body is fully warm.
Chest and shoulder stretch
Interlink your fingers behind your back and straighten arms. Raise hands as high as possible away from the back and bend forward from the waist and hold. Roll the shoulders back away from the ears and draw the shoulder blades down the back – this helps to open up the chest area. Keep the breast bone lifted. Focus on your breath, keep neck and eye area soft.
This is a great triceps stretch. Place one hand behind back with the elbow in air. Place other hand on the elbow and gently pull towards head, walk the hand further down the back, stretching into the fingers. Feel the armpit open up and breath into the area. This helps to send oxygen to lymph glands in the armpits. Hold and repeat with the other arm. Again focus on your breath, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
Next week Dynamic stretches
This article is not a recommendation for your own practice but serves as interesting reading for anyone thinking of going to a yoga class. As with any form of physical exercise, please consult your family doctor beforehand.
Lee Kennedy qualified with The BKS Iyengar Yoga Association UK, the YTTC and Ana Forrest of Forrest Yoga. She specialises in pregnancy-related yoga and also studied with Janet Balaskas, founder of the Active Birth Foundation, UK. Visit Yogadara.com or call 0863906343 for more information.