Research has shown that yoga can help decrease anxiety, depression, and pain, but the benefits don’t stop there. If you enjoy overhead activities like tennis, racquetball, baseball or softball, yoga can be a very beneficial adjunct to your fitness routine.
For throwing athletes, strength in the lower body and core is essential to generate power. In order to maximize that strength and power, athletes also need good mobility in their hips, thoracic spine (part of the spine where the ribs attach), and their shoulders. Certain yoga poses can help maintain joint mobility throughout the body as well as teach athletes how to use that power and strength through transitional motions.
Having mobility in the cocking phase (the part of the throwing/hitting motion when the arm is behind the body) allows athletes to better utilize the potential energy stored in their body. Postures which allow for mobility of the upper back include thread the needle (pictured below), supine twist, revolved triangle, and a revolved high lunge. These poses can also help build control, strength, and balance.
Without good flexibility, overhead athletes are at risk of putting extra pressure on the structures around the shoulder joint like the labrum and rotator cuff tendons. Many overhead athletes lack shoulder internal rotation (or the shoulder motion to tuck in a shirt or put on a bra for example) because they need so much external rotation for their throw (during the wind up/ cocking phase). Postures like eagle and Gomukhasana (pictured below) help maintain and improve internal rotation flexibility.
Exercises like plank (pictured below), side plank, and dolphin can help with shoulder stability by activating shoulder blade muscles and the rotator cuff. As an extra challenge, transitioning from downward facing dog to plank teaches your shoulder to control stability with movement.
If you’re interested in adding yoga to your fitness routine, seek out a certified yoga instructor in your area-preferably one with some experience working with overhead athletes. A qualified instructor will know which poses align best with your particular sport, how to incorporate them into an effective sequence, and help you achieve correct alignment and avoid injury as you’re learning how to move your body in a new way.
Cara Ann Senicola is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedics, a 200-hour Certified Yoga Teacher, and has a level 1 certification as a running coach through USA Track and Field. Her clinical interests include orthopedics and sports medicine, with a special interest in treating runners and triathletes. She was honored to be named the 2016 HSS Employee of the Year.