Why Athletes Who Practice Yoga May Have the Advantage This Olympics

More than 10,000 athletes will be competing at the Olympic Games in Rio this Summer and 4,000 in the Paralympics. The Olympic Games consists of 42 Sports with 306 events over 19 intense days. 136 women will be awarded medals, 161 men and nine mixed medals. But how many of the athletes that make the podium will have included yoga into their strength and conditioning training?


There are of course many factors involved in what makes an athlete an Olympian, but those athletes that have applied sports-specific yoga regularly into their training will have the advantage of drawing on resources that their opponents may not have.


Here are 5 examples of the less obvious ways in which sports-specific yoga gives athletes the advantage:









1. Breathing Power

How we breathe has a direct relationship to how we perform and yet performance breathing is generally overlooked within athletic training. Each sport has different respiratory requirements. When sports-specific breathing techniques are applied they help the athlete experience and release a whole new performance potential. 


Here are a few examples of how the power of breathing gives athletes the advantage, helping them to:


 - Generate more power and force

 - Perform more efficiently

 - Experience a greater sense of well-being

 - Manage performance nerves.










2. Less Strain. More Gain

In the pursuit of performance excellence, most athletes overtrain and push themselves too far. This is often the stage where injury can occur. One of the successful approaches we use is to apply a minimal sports-specific yoga sequence to correspond with the athlete’s periodized training.


By helping athletes move at a different pace and tempo to their regular training they are able to learn to work with their body rather than against it. With more control and integrated breathing, athletes experience moving with less effort. This helps them explore different movement patterns, which are designed to enhance the movements in their sport.


By working with less strain they gain greater capacity within the body’s systems, which transfers to greater performance gains in their sport.











3. Where Are You In Space?

The ability to feel the body move through space is a simple definition of proprioceptive awareness. For an athlete, developing this sensory awareness can make the difference between winning and losing.


Each sport has specific demands on the senses, whether it is through a rapid change in body orientation in sports such as diving, or in table tennis that requires fast hand-eye coordination.


The somatosensory system is connected to deeper neurons within the central nervous system and provides feedback from the skin, joints and muscles to inform the nervous system of the body parts being unified in movement.


Other essential factors for athletes to developing this system are in relation to spatial dimensions, which include size, shape and weight; surface compliance, meaning hard or soft; and motion, being either active, passive or related to velocity and direction.


There are other properties, but for now consider the sports that have these sensory properties within their sporting requirements and ask yourself, how do you train your senses?


Another important factor to developing proprioceptive awareness is for athletes to be aware of their team and where they are in relation to them on the pitch or on the track. Sports like 4 x 100 metres relay need to have a high level of proprioceptive awareness to perform effectively. 


Athletes that include sports-specific yoga into their training will benefit through learning how to reposition the body in unfamiliar ways, which retrains the neural pathways. Experiencing a different movement vocabulary that challenges their spatial sense helps them to develop greater sensory awareness giving them the performance advantage.












4. Hidden Depths

For an athlete, the most obvious advantage of practicing yoga is that it includes flexibility and mobility components. However, other advantages for athletes in practicing yoga that is sports-specific, is that they can incorporate muscle actions either within poses or the transitions between poses that include specific concentric, eccentric and isometric movements.


Through sport-specific muscle sequencing, the athlete learns to activate the deeper postural slow-twitch muscles closest to the skeleton and experience relief from the more dominant fast-twitch power muscles. Tension is released and more performance potential gained.












5. A Sleep Strategy

At this late stage in the run up to the Games athletes will have tapered the intensity of their training. An important addition and a big advantage to athletes is to include restorative training, which focuses on relaxation techniques.


As their opportunity to compete gets closer, the realization that the 4 years of intense training, challenges and sacrifices made can sometimes create anxiety rather than elation. This can cause athletes to lose sleep and a loss of sleep means a loss in performance potential.


The addition of a sports-specific relaxation technique, which includ