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Yoga for Athletes

Want to take your game to the next level? Try these six yoga poses, customized to help with running, strength training, basketball, cycling, tennis, and swimming.

yoga poses for athletes


yoga for runnersImages by Kelly Loverud
Target Area: Hamstrings

Weak and tight hamstrings are common among runners, who often rely on their quads to power themselves forward. (The same is often true for cyclists.) This pose focuses on the adductor magnus, the most powerful adductor muscle, to alleviate tightness, prevent hamstring injuries, and make it easier to activate the glutes.

Pose: Standing Straddle Forward Fold 

When to perform: Postworkout or during recovery.

How to do it: 

  • Step your feet wide apart (about a leg’s length), with your feet parallel.
  • Walk your hands down your legs, and allow your torso to hang between your legs. You can bend your knees and rest your hands on the floor or a yoga block, if you choose.
  • Bend and stretch your legs a few times, and press down evenly through the bottoms of your feet to gently deepen the stretch. Then be still, and hold for five breaths.

Note: You can also perform this pose with feet turned inward about 30 degrees, internally rotating at the hips to deepen the stretch.

Strength Training

yoga poses for strength trainingImages by Kelly Loverud
Target Area: Legs

Due to thicker fascia in the lower body, not to mention bigger muscles and bones, the legs need more attention in preparation for and to recover from moves like squats and deadlifts. This pose will hit the quads, groin, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and IT band.

Pose: Lizard

When to perform: As part of your warm-up and cool-down, or any time on rest days.

How to do it: 

  • Start on your hands and knees, and step the right foot outside your hands. Tip the foot on its outside edge if possible.
  • Slide your left leg back behind you (if needed, place a blanket or towel under the left knee).
  • With your hands or forearms on the floor (use a block or pillow if reaching the floor is too intense), let your back round and your head hang naturally.
  • Relax your lower body, inhaling for eight seconds and exhaling for 10 seconds. Work up to holding for two to four minutes.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.


yoga poses for basketball athletesImages by Kelly Loverud
Target Area: Glutes and hips

Athletes who rely on fast-twitch muscle action (think short, explosive movements) worry about losing power by overstretching. But when connective tissue is tight and dry, those muscles suffer. When your fast-twitch muscles aren’t getting proper circulation, you lose some of your explosive potential. This post-workout move improves blood flow to these areas.

Pose: Pinwheel 

When to perform: Postworkout or during recovery.

How to do it: 

  • Sit on a mat and bend your knees, staggering one leg in front of the other in a pinwheel shape.
  • Keeping both feet flexed, sit up tall and turn your torso toward your front thigh, and then fold over it, propping yourself up on your forearms. Use a block or pillow for added support, if needed.
  • Hold for five to eight breaths, unwind from the pose, and then switch the direction of your legs.
  • Repeat on the other side.


yoga poses for cyclistsImages by Kelly Loverud
Target Area: Chest

Sitting, especially for long periods, can have deleterious consequences on posture — whether you’re hunched over in your office chair or in the saddle of your road or stationary bike. Over time, this position can cause tightness and foreshortening of the chest muscles, making it hard to engage the core and potentially causing back and neck pain. This move will help open up the chest and counteract tightness.

Pose: Chest Expansion 

When to perform: Postworkout or during recovery.

How to do it: 

  • Standing, clasp your hands behind your back, interlacing your  fingers.
  • Move your shoulder blades closer together by squeezing your elbows toward each other. Feel your chest opening.
  • Looking straight ahead, keep your face and neck relaxed, and hold for five to eight breaths.


yoga poses for tennis playersImages by Kelly Loverud
Target Area: Shoulders 

Serving a ball places tremendous force on the area where the four muscles of your rotator cuff connect your arm to your shoulder blade. The best way to avoid injury to this area is to learn to coordinate the movement of your shoulder blade and upper arm’s ball-and-socket joint. This stretch will also help.

Pose: Rotator-Cuff Stretch 

When to perform: Postworkout or during recovery.

How to do it: 

  • Hold a yoga strap, towel, or rolled-up T-shirt in one hand. Lift your arm straight up, palm facing behind you, and bend the elbow so that the strap hangs down your back.
  • Reach your other hand behind you to grab the strap from the bottom, with that elbow pointing toward the ground.
  • Pull down on the strap to deepen the stretch in the back of your top arm. Engage your core to avoid rounding your back.
  • Hold for up to eight breaths, and then switch sides.


yoga for swimmersImages by Kelly Loverud
Target Area: Chest and shoulders

Swim strokes primarily rely on strength, mobility, and power in the upper body. These muscles tend to be smaller than lower-body muscles and often need additional TLC to work well and feel good.

Pose: Shower

When to perform: Postworkout or during recovery.

How to do it:

  • Face a wall and put both hands on it about an arm’s distance above your shoulders, fingers pointing up.
  • Step away from the wall and lengthen your spine toward the floor. Engage your core and lift your ribs so you don’t collapse into your spine.
  • Keep your head in a neutral position by gazing at the point where the wall and floor meet, and hold for five to eight breaths.

This originally appeared in “Yoga for Athletes” in the May 2017 issue of Experience Life.

Kelle Walsh is a writer and editor based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Images by Kelly Loverud

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