Giancarlo Stanton’s power at the plate isn’t due only to his powerful guns. He also regularly practices yoga, which helps keep him flexible and injury-free.
You might not notice it—or if you do, you might not recognize it. But if you pay close attention to MLB players during their games, you’ll likely spot them sneaking in some yoga—or at least yoga-inspired stretches—on the field.
Most of their moves are not as flashy as Ichiro Suzuki’s dynamic stretching routine in the on-deck circle. More commonly, you’ll see outfielders like the Florida Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton bending over in a Forward Fold to stretch the back of his legs between pitches. Stanton’s yoga coach, Kent Katich, says that stretches like that are not just an idle way to pass the time, but are part of a plan for keeping the athlete’s body in top shape all season.
RELATED: Watch Stanton and Kent Katich perform a complete yoga workout
Katich says, “[Stanton] has had a few issues with his hamstrings, which is common, because in baseball you can go 30 or 45 minutes—in some cases even longer—doing nothing, and then all of the sudden you’re expected to sprint.”
Sitting or standing around for a long time then suddenly running at full speed is a recipe for injury. Katich and Stanton reduce the risk by working in stretches throughout the game. Katich says, “One of the things [Stanton] and I have spoken about is how he has to pick moments when he’s in the outfield or sitting on the bench during a long inning, where he does three or four minutes of simple stretching for his hamstrings and shoulders.”
Just by stretching periodically throughout the game, players like Stanton can keep their muscles from getting cold and rigid and their tissues ready to perform at a moment’s notice.
RELATED: See how Giancarlo Stanton stays ready to perform
In the field, the amount of stretching an athlete needs depends on his position. For example, because they are involved in every play and moving constantly, catchers need little or none. Outfielders like Stanton, with more idle time, need more. Another factor is the weather. Players must stretch more to stay warm on cold days. If your team is batting and having a big inning, everybody who’s not on base can get cold if they don’t move around and stay limber.
Yoga isn’t just something players like the 25-year-old Stanton work in periodically on game days. It can be very helpful for recovery—which is especially important during the long 162-game regular season.
Stanton, 25, has been practicing yoga since he was 18 years old.
A two-time All-Star who led the National League in home runs last season, Stanton credits yoga with keeping him healthy. He says, “Yoga has really helped me become more aware of my body, and what I can do to help it.”
RELATED: Kevin Love’s 5-Move Yoga Workout
Katich, who has been working with Stanton since the player left high school, recommends that baseball players try the following four moves during and after games to stay healthy and ready to perform all season.
In the Field
About stretching in the field, Katich says, “Simpler is better.” Forward Folds help keep the hamstrings and hips loose, require almost no setup time, and are easy to execute. Just make sure your timing is right. When an opposing batter lofts a ball in your direction, the last thing you want to be doing is looking between your ankles.
With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend over at the hips and attempt to touch the ground or your ankles. It’s OK to have a slight bend in your knees. Your legs do not need to be perfectly straight. Hold for about 20 seconds, then lift your torso and stand back up. According to Katich, Stanton also does a wide-legged variation, where he spreads his legs about three feet apart.
RELATED: The Yoga Warm-up for Basketball
In the Dugout
The only downside to your team batting around is that you can be sitting on the bench for a half an hour or more. The good news (besides your team scoring runs) is that baseball bats in the dugout are perfect tools for assisted stretches, some of which can be done without having to stand up.
This move helps keep your hips loose, and you don’t have to get off the bench to do it. Lift your right leg and place your right foot on top of your left thigh, then lean forward at the waist. You should feel a stretch from your right hip down into your butt. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch legs.
Side Bend with Bat
“The bat is a great prop for keeping the shoulders loose,” Katich says. Spread your arms, place your hands at opposite ends of the bat and lift it over your head. While maintaining your grip, lean to the left. You should feel a stretch across the right side of your torso. Lift the bat back to center, then lean to the right and perform the stretch on that side.
Low Lunge with Bat
Bend your right knee until your thigh is parallel and your shin is perpendicular to the ground. Extend your left leg behind you. Place your hands atop the bat and use it for support. “[The Lunge] targets your hip flexors, which are key for running,” Katich says. “The bat allows you to go a little deeper and also gives you some balance.”
After the Game
In the privacy of your home or hotel room, you can perform a few relaxing stretches to help your legs recover after the game.
Legs Up the Wall
“One of the best things you can do is put your legs up a wall, to help flush them out,” says Katich. The move is exceedingly simple to perform. Just sit near a wall (closer if you’re short, farther away if you’re tall), lift your legs and rest your heels against the wall. Katich recommends resting in this position for about three minutes. Then, keeping your heels against the wall, open your legs out wide as if you were doing the splits. Hold this wide-legged position for another three minutes.
This is another restorative pose, one that helps the hips, according to Katich. Lie on your back, raise your legs and spread your knees apart. Reach forward with your arms and hook the thumb and index finger of each hand around your big toes. Pull on your toes and drive your knees toward the floor. Keep the soles of your feet pointing toward the ceiling. Your shinbones should be perpendicular to the floor. Your entire lower back should press against the floor. If you feel it rising up, back off the stretch a bit until it flattens out. Hold for 30 to 40 seconds, breathing in to the sensation you feel in your lower back and hips.
From Happy Baby, put the soles of your feet together and interlace your fingers overtop your toes. Drop your heels to your butt and let your knees open. The pose looks and feels like a Seated Groin Stretch, except you perform it on your back. Katich: “It’s much better for your back and spine [than a Seated Groin Stretch], because you’re not rounding. And it requires you to get into the hips more effectively.” If your head starts lifting off the floor, Katich suggests placing a blanket or pillow beneath it. “It’s not supposed to be hard,” he says. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes.
RELATED: Download Giancarlo Stanton’s Yoga Workout Here