Yoga Is a Great Cross-Training Option for Athletes

U.S.News & World Report—February 9, 2009

Golf. Running. Swimming. Basketball. Football. Cycling. It's hard to find a sport for which yoga hasn't been suggested as a performance or injury-prevention aid. While there's not yet a whole lot of scientific research to quantify or qualify the benefits of yoga for athletes, it's easy to find sport-specific yoga DVDs, books, and testimonials from star athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sasha Cohen. (More common is research examining how yoga can help the elderly or people with diseases or disabilities.) So absent a pile of studies to thumb through, U.S.News & World Report health reporter Katherine Hobson thought it might be instructive to talk to a handful of experts about how yoga might spill over into the rest of workout life. She spoke with HSS' Dr. Brian Halpern who offered the following yoga tip:

Can strengthen your core. "Core strength" is a buzz-phrase in pretty much every sport; the idea is that strengthening the muscles in your back, midsection, and butt will give you the stability to improve the power of your movements and reduce injuries. Yoga can do that, says Brian Halpern, a nonsurgical sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. (Core strength is part of a program designed to reduce injuries in female soccer players.)

Halpern loves yoga for its physical and mental benefits but warns that athletes (and others) need to be careful. That means not assuming that athletic ability in other sports means you can step into an advanced class the first time out, and not aggressively forcing yourself into difficult poses. He says you should be careful of certain poses if you have back or knee problems. (A good instructor will ask newbies about any physical limitations.) "I don't care what kind of yoga you start with, but start slowly," he says. "Don't start off with three or four classes a week as if you've been doing it for 20 years."

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