Stretch Yourself: Yoga Helps Soccer Players Stay Mobile And Agile

Yoga coach Gwen Lawrence is back to show us five poses designed to keep athletes in the game. This month, the focus is on -- what else? -- soccer.

Soccer players can use yoga to counterbalance their aerobic, acrobatic moves on the field. When a player is running and cutting on a dime, the knees are extremely vulnerable. Women can benefit from hip openers to aid in movement in all directions on the soccer field.

I've chosen the following poses -- including deep hamstring openers, long hip openers, groin / inner-thigh stretches and glute stretches -- for strength and stamina, and to help protect the knees. (As always, consult a doctor before you begin any new exercise program.)


Wheel Of Life

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

This pose is meant to open the spine to be able to deeply twist on the fly, ideally for a better rotation of the neck. With that owl-like field of vision, nobody will be able to steal the ball from you!

The movement:

1. Sit on your right glute.

2. Have your left knee up against the right foot.

3. Elongate the spine and twist to the right as far as you can.

4. Lower the chest to the ground if you can. Otherwise begin by resting on blocks or a bolster.

5. Keep the right hand flat under your right shoulder, as you would in a push-up.

6. Slide the left arm straight on the floor.

7. Inhale. Press into the right hand and square the chest to the floor more.

8. Exhale. Reach the left arm out more.

9. Hold three to five minutes on each side, breathing deeply as always.


Pigeon Pose

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

This is a staple pose for all athletes, as its benefits come up over and over in many sports. You can never go wrong choosing it. Open and flexible hips can help lessen the knee stress for athletes, so don't skip this one!

The movement:

1. Start on your hands and knees.

2. Slide your right knee forward, keeping it bent.

3. Slide your straightened left leg back as far as you can.

4. Point your right knee to 1 or 2 o'clock (In time, your right shin will get closer to parallel to the front of the mat.)

5. Drape your upper body down on the floor and find a way to rest your head on your hands or a block if it doesn't reach the floor.

6. Breathe and hold for three to five minutes on each side. You should feel the stretch primarily in the right leg and glute - never the knee.

7. Repeat on the other side.


Hip Flexor Stretch

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

This pose is great for opening the front of the hips very deeply. Once you release excess tension on the hip flexors you relieve low back pressure and potential pain.

The movement:

1. On your back, slide a block under your tailbone to avoid arching the back.

2. Draw your right knee into your chest and leave your left leg on the floor.

3. Inhale. Pull in the right knee.

4. Exhale. Stretch and reach the left leg for one minute.

5. Do a Half Happy Baby with the right leg while the left is extended for one minute. (If you can't reach your right foot, use a strap around the foot, as in the above picture.)

6. Hold one minute and then release.

7. Rest in center with both knees bent and both feet flat for a few breaths.

8. Repeat on the other side.


Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

Standing Forward Bend

I believe in opening the hamstrings with standing forward bends.

Not only does gravity help the upper body release for a deep leg stretch but, the feet on the floor helps keep all the muscles that make up the hamstring involved in the stretch.

I love to drape a sandbag across my athletes' forearms to deepen their stretch.

The movement:

1. Make sure your feet are hip-width apart and parallel.

2. Fold over from the hips and grab an elbow with the opposite hand.

3. Surrender the gravity and drape the upper body over. (Imagine you're a freshly-pressed pair of pants coming back from the dry cleaner.)

4. Hold for 2 minutes.


Frog

The kingpin stretch for opening your groin and inner thigh. This is a long, deep hold to allow the body to let go and stretch.

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

The movement:

1. On your hands and knees, slide the knees apart as far as you can.

2. From a side view, keep the hips in line with the knees. Put a block under your chest or belly and rest.

3. Hold for three to five minutes.

Gwen Lawrence owns Power Yoga for Sports and works with athletes in professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey and soccer as well as Olympians and collegiate champions. Follow her on twitter @gwenlawrence and www.gwenlawrence.com.

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