This is an excerpt from Yoga for Athletes by Ryanne Cunningham.
Professional and amateur athletes alike worry about injuries that will interfere with their sport. For many athletes, a season-ending injury is their greatest concern. What causes most sports injuries? Leaving aside accidents, which can and do happen, most sports injuries come from these five main causes:
- Lack of a careful warm-up
- Quick motions and twisting motions that stress joints
- Imbalance that trains one part of the body over others
- Tightness of highly-trained muscles that lose flexibility
- Overuse of the muscles
Yoga practice can help prevent injuries from the first four causes. Yoga poses emphasize strengthening, stretching, and balance among all parts of the body. A yoga practice begins with a warm-up that prepares all the muscles and connective tissues for vigorous exercise. Then, yoga postures make sure that muscles surrounding vulnerable joints such as knees and ankles are strong enough to allow for the quick, explosive movements that mark athletic performance. As you work through this book, you will notice that even small, usually neglected muscles are noted.
Imbalanced training is a serious problem in many sports. Some sports, such as tennis, golf, and baseball pitching, use one side of the body more than the other. This imbalance adds stress on joints and can easily lead to injury on both the weaker and stronger sides. Some sports have particular stress on one body part. For example, cyclists often experience neck pain from leaning over the handlebars for extended periods. The neck compensates so that the rider can see forward. Sometimes the pressure of the body weight leaning forward on the arms can cause pain in the upper back and neck. A yoga practice can bring the parts of the body back into balance, reducing the probability of injures.
Finally and most importantly, yoga can restore and preserve the flexibility that is often sacrificed by strength-building exercises. Muscle tightness may lead to torn muscles and a season-ending injury. Yoga's emphasis on stretching muscles will lengthen them, reducing the potential for injury and allowing the connective tissue to be restored. A regular yoga and stretch routine keeps an athlete's muscles loose and flexible so that instead of a torn muscle during a game, an athlete may only slightly pull a muscle. Instead of a season-ending injury, an athlete can reduce the number of games missed thanks to flexibility. Each sport requires different stretches to complement the trained muscles. See part II to learn how to tailor your yoga practice to your sport.
All athletes want to perform to the best of their ability, and in doing so they often run the risk of overusing their muscles. Yoga training can bring balance and flexibility to strong muscles to reduce the potential of overuse injuries. Avoiding these injuries is key to improving athletic performance.
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