Yoga and sport
It is no secret that yoga is a fantastic cross-training tool for a variety of sports. Athletes from a variety of sports are turning to yoga to complement their professional sport. Some of these include the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, LeBron James, Ryan Giggs, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. All these athletes practice yoga to complement their game, whether it be to ground them, improve concentration and focus, prevent injuries, strengthen muscles and/or improve mobility. This is no coincidence; yoga has a wide range of benefits including increased flexibility, strength, mobility, concentration and injury prevention.
Yoga and skiing
Skiing is no different and athletes can benefit from yoga in much the same way. Increasingly, yoga classes tailored specifically for snow sports enthusiasts are cropping up in various alpine towns as athletes begin to appreciate how yoga can improve their performance on the slopes.
But how does yoga actually achieve this? Why has there been such an influx of skiers using yoga as a cross-training tool?
Skiing is a very lower body- and core-intensive sport. If you’re a once-a-year skier then you use muscles that you either haven’t used, or not used in that way, all year. If you’re a seasoned skier then it is likely those muscles take a beating. Skiing can result in muscular imbalance, which leads to resulting injuries.
Despite the general belief that yoga is simply a bunch of stretches and ‘ohms’ (urgh!), yoga increases the strength of your muscles. The beauty of yoga is that it is what you make it and you can target certain muscle groups, should you wish to.
As a sport, skiing is very lower body- and core- intensive; it requires a lot of lower body movement whilst maintaining a quiet upper body, which asks a lot of your lower joints, particularly your knees. Yoga helps to strengthen and develop muscles surrounding the knees to help protect them and reduce the strain they endure during skiing (think of your poor knees in the bumps, people!).
As well as strengthening your legs, yoga is renowned for strengthening your deep core muscles (a six-pack does not necessarily mean you have a strong core… always nice to look at though!). A strong core helps to protect your lower back, support your spine and improve your balance. Beasting it down a double black bump run is little fun if your balance is totally out of whack – I know from experience. Furthermore, if your core and glutes are weak, your knees suffer and consequently your ankles can suffer as well… no fun. As such, it is important to keep your core strong if you are to ski. Yoga achieves this through various core strengthening poses (the list to come in another blog post).
Mobility & Flexibility
As pointed out above, skiing relies heavily on your lower body muscles, particularly those in your legs. As a result, they tend to become overdeveloped and overused. If one muscle is being strengthened, then more often than not another suffers. In the case of skiing, your quadriceps are heavily used (anyone seen a racer’s thighs!?) and this tends to result in tight quads and shortened hamstrings. Yoga lengthens your hamstrings and quads to prevent injury and alleviate the strain on the surrounding joints.
Mobile hip flexors are crucial in skiing – they increase your agility. Tight hip flexors limit your mobility and therefore your performance. However, we rarely use our hip flexors these days because we love our couches (sofas to those non-Britons), our cars and Scandal (obsessed!) too much. We were built to be hunters and gatherers and our hip flexors were designed to work as such. Being consistently tight in your hip flexors, much like your quads, can weaken your hamstrings. Yoga increases your hip mobility and therefore your range of motion, which in turn improves your performance on snow. Winning.
Concentration & Focus
Skiing as a sport is great: it is both a very social sport whilst also being very individual-orientated. However, it can also take a lot of concentration and focus, whether you are at refinement stage or just learning. Yoga helps to improve focus and concentration, which can only help to improve your performance on the snow.
Yoga helps to strengthen weaker areas to increase performance on the snow. If you’re not into practising yoga year round (it’s not for everyone) then certainly take it up in the run up to your holiday, or the start of the winter season. Prior to hitting the slopes in the morning, if you’re short on time, maybe pick a selection of three or four poses and set aside ten minutes. Do the same after skiing. It is still yoga – you don’t need all the incense, candles and ohm-ing to make it a yoga practice. Tailor it to your needs, wants and lifestyle. You’ll save yourself injuries and ensure you’re enjoying the snow for a lot longer.