Most athletes spend a good part of their day sitting, especially if they're in school or working a desk job. That means the core and posterior chain are idle for long stretches, which can lead to weakening of the muscles and injuries on the field.
Here are a few yoga moves—courtesy of Lori Archer, a Yoga-for-Athletes instructor at TopSpeed Strength and Conditioning—to help you strengthen and lengthen your glute muscles and prevent injury to your lower back, groin, hamstring and knees. Archer has worked with athletes in pro basketball and baseball and college football.
Start doing yoga and you'll be in good company. LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Peterson and Evan Longoria are all practitioners.
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Chair Pose: Utkatasana
This pose strengthens the muscles throughout the low back, glutes and thighs, while stimulating activity in the stabilizers at the ankle and knee. It also stretches the chest and shoulder muscles.
- Stand firmly rooted to the mat with your feet hip-width apart.
- Firm your legs by lifting your kneecaps toward your femurs and engage your core by pulling your belly in and slightly up.
- Extend your ribs forward and away from your back.
- Keep your legs and core engaged.
- Sit back as if sitting in a chair with your chest lifted.
- Extend your arms forward with your palms facing each other. Keep the energy in your arms and hands active by reaching out. This is often referred to as a Yoga Squat.
- Keep your lower back neutral, chest open and knees over your ankles. If your alignment is correct, you should be able to see your toes in front of your knees. Your weight should be distributed behind you and in your heels.
- Hold for 30 seconds and perform 5 reps, keeping your breath strong and steady.
Crescent Lunge: Anjaneyasana
The Crescent Lunge stretches the legs, groin and hip flexors. Adding the forward extension strengthens the glute muscles and tones the hips and thighs. It also helps to expand the front torso, chest and shoulders, which increases blood flow and energy levels.
- Stand upright at the front of your mat and engage your legs and core like you did in Chair Pose.
- Plant your feet hip-width apart.
- Extend your right foot back.
- Staying on the ball of your foot, find your balance and distribute your weight evenly between your feet.
- Lunge forward onto your left knee, keeping your weight evenly distributed in your feet.
- Lift your arms while keeping your core engaged and feel the energy in your arms and hands.
- Hold for 30 seconds and extend your arms forward, "getting long in the torso."
- Reach out, pulling your shoulders toward or beyond your bent knee.
- After another 30 seconds, inhale deeply while raising your torso and moving your arms overhead.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds, then exhale as you move forward into extension.
- Perform 5 reps on each side. Take your time. The benefits come through controlling the slow movements, along with deep breathing.
Reclined Pigeon Pose: Kapotanasa
This is a key movement for relieving stiffness in the outer hips, lower back and glutes, which improves both active and passive range-of-motion in the lower body.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended.
- Warm up by placing the sole of your left foot on the inside of your right thigh and open your left hip by dropping your knee down toward the mat. Stay here, focus on your breathing, and hold your hip in this open position for 60 seconds.
- Place the outside of your left foot just above your right knee.
- Use your core to lift your right foot off the mat.
- Reach your arms forward to take hold of the back of your right hamstring or calf and pull it toward you.
- Keep your feet flexed while you hug your right knee toward your chest with your fingers interlaced behind your right thigh. You can also apply pressure with your left hand to the inside of your left thigh. The added leverage will open that hip even further.
- Keep your head on the floor with your chin slightly tucked.
- Relax here and breathe deeply, expanding your belly on an inhale and contracting your belly on an exhale. The first breaths may be somewhat uncomfortable, but continue to breathe and give in to the stretch.
- Try staying here for a minute per side, eventually working up to 3 minutes on each side.
Be patient. "Strengthening and lengthening the glutes takes time, but it is worth the effort to keep you safer, stronger and moving better," says Archer.
To broaden your yoga repertoire, try one of these 10 yoga poses designed for athletes.
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