SOCCER YOGA: Why a steady yoga practice is key to a wholesome player
We’ve all heard of the significant improvement of athletic performance for athletes who get on their yoga mats. A steady yoga practice improves flexibility, prevents injury, strengthens and tones, enhances respiration and vitality and promotes a healthy body intelligence. It’s exciting to see coaches incorporate yoga into their training and to see athletes embrace its many ancient benefits.
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Soccer requires endurance, balance, tenacity and a lot of running which can have a negative impact on the body over time. Good news is, there’s yoga, and the more coaches realize its benefits for players, the more we will see the improvement of soccer players at all levels. Soccer players are said to be 80% one leg dominant and so, use one leg to kick and one leg to plant repetitively. This creates an overuse of hip flexor, quadricep and hamstring in one leg, resulting in an imbalance in alignment which often results in issues in the hips and spine. Sarah Ramsden, the yoga teacher for Manchester United and Manchester City, has spent the last 10 years teaching yoga for athletes. She says that, “Yoga helps reset muscle length so players stay mobile and supple; it keeps them moving efficiently; and it keeps their bodies able to fully express the talent they have on the pitch. When we talk about a player being ‘athletic’, we are looking at an extraordinary combination of strength, power and flexibility.”
Her client, Ryan Giggs, former player and now manager of the Wales national team and a co-owner of Salford City, often refers to yoga as his “ fountain of youth” and the reason he was able to play over 900 games with Manchester United.
“It tests parts of your body that you just don’t use in football [soccer].”
There’s a reason it’s called a yoga *practice* and that’s because this isn’t a one time thing. Just like anything great, it takes time and discipline to reap the benefits — although, you may find that a steady practice reveals positive results rather quickly.
How exactly will these positive results manifest?
Each body and player is different, but in our opinion, we’ve identified 5 core areas where yoga can be a key asset for soccer players: endurance, alignment, body intelligence, recovery + injury prevention, and mental wellbeing.
Endurance is the ability of a player to sustain athletic efforts over long periods of time. If you’ve watched a soccer game, you know that soccer players are some of the most endurant athletes out there. Soccer players must have the ability to operate at high levels of endurance during a 90 minute game and more often than not, with much smaller breaks than other athletes. Perhaps yoga isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think endurance but it’s one of the best ways to build tenacity without stressing the joints while practicing better breathing. Of course, endurance is better enhanced in a power yoga class rather than a slow restorative class. Overtime, a high powered yoga flow will contribute to great physical stamina for players.
When we are aware of the body’s proper alignment, we start to change the way we sit, the way we stand, and the way we work out. We begin to understand and adjust our weight distribution, grounding, proper knee traction and perhaps even tuning into core (tonic muscles: weak power source, long endurance) vs. phasic muscles (explosive action, plyometrics, large muscle groups, low duration). For soccer players, a focus on low back health, core muscle strength, and spinal stability are key. When the body is positioned correctly during workouts, players will see improvements in their speed, be in less pain, and recover faster. Practicing yoga in ideal alignment also helps enhance the function of all systems (nervous, digestive, immune, etc.), optimizes breathing mechanics and promotes fluid dynamics throughout the body. Alignment = better flow.
“Football demands explosive end-range movements combined with the repetitive strains of running and kicking. This means that players lose suppleness and become stiffer over time.” (Sarah Ramsden)
Let’s introduce the concept of “Body Intelligence” or the awareness of how our body functions, what it needs and how it moves through space. If a player is all over the place and unable to control their movements, they’re likely not playing at their best. The ability for a player to have control, whether it’s balance, speed, a strong mind or breathing, is a key benefit of yoga. Players need a solid understanding of what they have to work on and develop to gain more control of their performance. Yoga is the yoking of mind, body and spirit, and as this “language” develops and flows, players are able to better understand their individual physical capabilities. If you know your own body, you will perform at higher levels.
“If I do a yoga session the next day (after a game), I’m nowhere near as stiff and I’ll be back training at the right level a lot quicker.” (Ryan Giggs)
Recovery & Injury Prevention
The main way in which yoga helps in recovery and injury prevention is through increased flexibility and in turn, mobility. Yoga provides an ideal combination of strengthening and flexibility so that as the body becomes more supple, it doesn’t lose its strength -- think long lean healthy muscles. Players use leg muscles, hip flexors, glutes and core aggressively and are prone to injuries. Adopting a steady yoga practice can help avoid soccer prone injuries, promote healthy joints, increase mobility and reverse the downsides of movement and compression in areas targeted by running, sprinting and kicking. When the body is no longer stiff, things can flow. Additionally, during an average yoga class, the cardiovascular system is working enough to elevate cardiac output without placing excessive stress on the system. An average yoga class is an ideal workout for players looking to recover from a game but still put in the work.
“Get your head in the game” is often overheard and a real phrase to pay attention to. Yoga helps players with focus, mental clarity, intention and motivation. The ability to meditate on specific outcomes, purpose and to release negative thinking patterns throughout a yoga practice are key to the wellbeing of players. People often refer to yoga as a therapy, and that’s what it can become for athletes. When we unearth capabilities in our bodies, the mind reminds us that we are unlimited and becomes a great motivator for continued athletic success. A steady meditation practice has been known to reduce stress, control anxiety, enhance self-awareness and control pain. When operating at a high physical level, it’s important to adopt tools to keep mental wellbeing in shape.
Whether you’re sitting at your desk most of the day and only playing for fun or playing as a premier league professional footballer, young, old and in between, the benefits of yoga will make a huge difference in your game. As with anything, patience and persistence are key.
Incorporating this ancient tool into your life will only be of benefit.
At WCP Training Center + Bounce Yoga, we’re developing a focused practice, soccer yoga, to help our players steer clear of soccer related injuries, to strengthen their bodies and to become more flexible in order to maximize performance and longevity. Not all styles of yoga are created equal and so we’ve decided to create something uniquely tailored to soccer athletes. Contact us to book a session for you or your team.
About the author: Maëlis Mittig grew up in France and has had a passion for soccer (mostly as a France National Team fan, allez les bleus!) since a young age. Maëlis began her personal practice over 10 years ago, studied yoga technique and history in college and over the last few years, has decided to take her curiosity and passion to the next level by becoming a certified yoga instructor. She completed her first RYT® 200 training at Evolution Power Yoga in 2016 and followed it with becoming a Level 1 and 2 Reiki Practitioner under the teaching of Reiki Master Guillaume Gauthereau in NYC. Recently, she finished her second RYT® 200 Alignment Yoga training through The Yoga Sanctuary School in Lancaster, PA.
Maëlis is passionate and on a life-long quest to learn about how relational energy, philosophy, psychology, meditation, mindfulness and spirituality can be used for healing and growth. The ultimate goal — create space for self-empowerment to flourish in clients, and in turn, make the world a more joyful place.
Her personal yoga practice is quite diverse and includes trampoline yoga, hip-hop yoga, Bhakti yoga, traditional vinyasa and more.
Maëlis’ classes are designed to activate the body, mind and spirit and to create joy, spread universal love and have fun while doing it. She often bases her classes on chakra yoga techniques, relating her lessons to colors and subtle energetic movement.
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