3 Yoga Twists to Keep You on the Field and Improve Your Game

Learn to rotate your mid-back properly and avoid low-back injuries with three twist exercises from STACK Expert Dana Santas.

Too often, athletes end up sitting on the bench because of low-back pain. There are many reasons for this condition, but one of the most common is the inability to rotate from the middle back. When the mid-back is locked up, the low back is generally the first part of the body to compensate.

Without mid-back mobility and core stability, the low back can't live up to the full rotational demands of any sport. This can lead to muscle pulls and disc herniations.

Mid-back mobility is especially important for athletes who rely on a great deal of rotation for their sport, either as the primary action (such as swinging a golf club or a baseball bat) or for movement when facing opponents (as in basketball, hockey and football).

The thoracic or "t-spine" in the mid-back is designed to be rotationally more mobile than the lumbar spine (low back). When I work with athletes, I focus on creating mobility in the t-spine and stability in the lumbar spine, along with supporting core strength, functional pelvic movement and hip mobility.

The following three yoga twists, when done properly, combine all of my best training elements for healthy athletic rotation, which originates in the mid-back and is supported by the core, pelvis and hips. When performing these moves, engage your core and twist from your mid-back. Never push your twists to the point of discomfort or pain. If you feel pain in your back or shoulder or can't take a breath during a twist, you are pushing too far. Back off!

Easy Seated Twist

Enhances t-spine mobility while promoting core strength and hip opening.

  • Start in a basic seated cross-legged position; if your hips are too tight to sit comfortably, sit on a folded mat or block.
  • Place your left hand on your right thigh and your right hand behind you (on the fingertips, not bearing a lot of weight).
  • Breathe in, engage your core and lengthen your spine.
  • When you exhale, twist to the right, opening your shoulders and chest as you attempt to look behind you.
  • Hold for 2-3 breaths.
  • Exhale to return to center.
  • Repeat on the other side.
Seated Twist

Standing Straddle Twist

Enhances t-spine mobility while improving pelvic/hip function and groin and hamstring flexibility.

  • Stand with your feet straddled and pointing forward.
  • Exhale as you hinge from your hips and bend down halfway.
  • Reach your hands to the floor, keeping your back flat (if  your low back rounds before your hand reaches the floor, put your hands on a block).
  • Inhale as you reach your right hand skyward, and work toward aligning your shoulders and wrists vertically.
  • Do not let your right hip pop up when you twist; your low back should remain flat (keeping your core engaged will help).
  • Hold for 2-3 breaths.
  • Exhale as you bring your arm down.
  • Repeat on the other side.
Standing Straddle Twist

Twisting Chair

Enhances t-spine mobility while supporting proper pelvic function, and core, quad and glute strengthening.

  • Stand with your feet together and your hands together at the center of your chest.
  • Exhale as you sit back into a chair pose with your knees touching.
  • Inhale and draw your navel toward your spine to engage your core.
  • Exhale as you twist to the right and bring your left elbow to your right thigh for leverage.
  • Keep your hips level and your hands pulling into the center of your chest.
  • Take 2-3 long, deep breaths.
  • Exhale to unwind.
  • Repeat on the other side.
Twisting Chair

Incorporating these twists into your regular conditioning routine several times per week is a form of insurance against low-back injury. And with your added rotational radius and power, you'll be playing at the top of your game.

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Photo: kristinmcgee.com

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