Jermaine Jones, a soccer star for the New England Revolution and the United States National Team, has built his career on being physical. A defensive midfielder, the 6-foot, 180-pound Jones considers it his main duty to stifle opposing attackers before they reach his team's last line of defense. In every game, he does the dirty work of jostling for position with forwards, banging into midfielders to win headers and diving to poke the ball away from the feet of threatening attackers. As if that weren't demanding enough, the 34-year-old Jones never stops moving. During the 2014 World Cup, he covered an average distance of 7.5 miles per game.
With all of that running and pounding, Jones is drained by the time he steps off the field—which is why values recovery so much."If you want to have a long career, you have to be careful about how you treat your body," he says. And in recent years, he has taken up a special practice to accelerate his recovery and boost his on-field performance—yoga.
"When people told me I had to try yoga, I was like, 'Nah, man, that's easy.' But when you start it, you get a feeling like, 'This movement or that movement is really hard and I don't like it.' If you go through with it, and keep going, you'll see how much you can stretch a muscle. It's unbelievable," Jones says.
For soccer placers, yoga stretches and strengthens problem areas like the hips and hamstrings, which accelerates the recovery process. That's especially important for Jones. His legs are strong and muscular, which is great for power and performance, but they also make him more prone to getting tight—or developing imbalances—if he neglects to stretch properly.
"[Jermaine] will always talk about how he feels so good and so light after doing yoga," says yoga instructor Kent Katich, who's been training Jones in the practice for the past few years. "Yoga has a real powerful effect on your longevity and just being able to endure the grind."
Jones says that he used to get get especially tight after games and practices, and he credits yoga with helping him open up his lower body. He has a much better balance of strength and flexibility than he did years ago, and he believes that regular practice of routines like the one below have added years to his career.
Jermaine Jones's 5-Move Yoga Routine for Recovery
Jones and Katich recently documented some of their most effective yoga sequences in a series of online videos. This routine is a 5-move recovery sequence that's designed to help soccer players accelerate the recovery process after a strenuous game or practice.
Focus on releasing tension in your lower back
Begin lying on your back. Keeping your low back on the floor, bring your knees up toward your chest and wrap your hands under your knees. Let your head drop, relax your feet and let gravity do the work. Take five deep breaths and look at the ceiling. Hold for five deep breaths. "This gets the legs up and begins flushing them out a bit," Katich says.
Hamstring Stretch with Variations
Keep your back flat against the floor
Grab a strap. If you don't have one, a long towel should work fine. Wrap it under your right foot and lie back, pulling the bottom of your foot towards the ceiling. Flex that foot toward you and focus on getting a good hamstring stretch. Let your knee bend if necessary. Press the knee of your left leg toward the ground and point your left toes towards the ceiling. Hold for five deep breaths.
Next, slowly bring your right leg out to the right side. You may have to bend your knee a bit more, which is ok. Focus on keeping your left leg on the ground.
"The back has to remain flat. The opposite leg tends to externally rotate, but focus on pressing that opposite knee into the floor. It's great for the lower back," Katich says.
Finally, pull your right leg across your body. Flex your right toe towards your leg and keep your back flat on the mat. Hold for five deep breaths. "This is great for hitting the IT band and piriformis," Katich says.
Repeat this sequence on the other side.
Happy Baby and Half Happy Baby
Try to open your feet up and get them over top your knees
Focus on keeping your back flat against the floor
Raise your legs in front of you and grab the outside edges of your feet. Keep your elbows inside your knees. Try to work your feet over your knees. Imagine you're pressing your belly into the floor and focus on lengthening your spine. Hold for five deep breaths.
Out of Happy Baby, release your left hand and straighten your left leg. Continue to hold your right foot with your right arm, keeping your left leg pressed down into the mat. Take five deep breaths and then switch to the other side.
"Most people want to try to bring their butts up off the floor or they struggle with their balance and they want to start rolling to the side. It's a great indicator of your spine. It shows if you've got too much of a curvature in your spine," Katich says.
Thread the Needle
Flex your right foot toward your shin
After Happy Baby and One-Arm Happy Baby, straighten your legs in front of you. Bend your right knee and press your right ankle above your left knee. Grasp your hands together under your left knee (threading your right hand beneath your right leg) and pull it toward your chest. Flex the top of your right foot. Relax your head and let it drop. "This is getting into the hips and the piriformis muscle," Katich says. "This one's okay to stay in for between 30 and 60 seconds." Repeat the move on the opposite side.
Work your heels toward the mat as you pull your hips toward the ceiling
From Thread the Needle, roll over and lie flat on your stomach. Spread your fingers apart and press them into the mat as you lift your hips off the ground and move back onto your toes. Continue to pull your hips back and up toward the ceiling while keeping your hands firmly planted on the mat. Tuck your head in as you move. "This is a whole-body pose that works your hands, shoulders, calves, lower back, feet—everything, really," Katich says.
Want to see videos of these and other moves? Watch Jones and Katich demonstrate their yoga routine here.