4 Foundational Yoga Poses for Athletes

If you run, cycle, swim, CrossFit, or take part in any kind of sports, you’ve probably experienced tightness or achiness in your muscles. The muscles feel like they’re wound into a tight ball and no amount of foam rolling, massages, or muscle gel can seem to fix them.
Fortunately, there’s a solution for that tightness, and it’s yoga. Then again, I’m pretty convinced that yoga is the solution for most of the world’s problems. I kid but only sort of!
Yoga can help athletes:

  • Find greater range of motion
  • Increase balance and stability
  • Build muscle
  • Improve mental attitude and breath control in races, games, and competitions
  • Help keep the body injury free.

I’ve been an athlete since the age of five, taking part in everything from swimming, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, and rowing, and I currently teach private and group classes to athletes in the Phoenix area.
Here are a few of my favorite yoga poses to help target those tightly wound muscles of yours:

Adho Mukha Sukhasana (Downward Facing Easy Pose)

I’ve seen some articles suggest that athletes try challenging variations of forward folds to free up the hips, but in my experience, many athletes have knee injuries or need to protect their knees for game day, so poses that deeply compress the knees aren’t ideal. Downward Facing Easy Pose is the perfect alternative because it’s do-able for most athletes and gets into the hips and the entire back body!

  1. Sit upright and extend your legs.
  2. Cross your legs at the shins or ankles.
  3. Keep the knees wide and slowly walk your hands towards the front of your mat until the body starts to bow forward.
  4. Allow the chin to drop towards the neck.
  5. Rest easy without pulling or straining.
  6. If there are no sharp pains, stay here for several minutes.
  7. Repeat by crossing the opposite leg.

Modifications: If you have a recent knee injury or feel extra tight, avoid crossing your legs. Create a more open shape with your legs, like a diamond, instead. It’s also helpful for most athletes with tight hips to sit on a folded-over blanket to provide a few extra inches of lift, allowing the groins to open and pelvis to rotate. Rest your forehead on a blanket or block.

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose) Modified

  1. Find a wall. Stand parallel to the wall about a forearm length away. Place the hand closest to the wall on it to steady yourself.
  2. Stand with feet together and then step the inside foot back, placing it at a slightly turned-out angle. For this variation, step only as far back as the heels can stay planted. This will be 2.5 – 3.5 feet for most athletes.
  3. Press through the outer blades of both feet.
  4. Draw the tailbone down.
  5. Keep the inside hand on the wall while stretching the outside arm up and overhead.
  6. Reach the outside hand towards the wall, feeling a deep stretch in the psoas on the bent-knee leg.
  7. Stay steady here for two to five minutes.
  8. Repeat on the opposite side.

Modifications: Traditional Warrior I challenges most athletes because it uses stabilizing muscles in the feet that aren’t frequently used in sports. The wall can help with stabilization. Shorten the stance or time in the pose to find more comfort.

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big Toe Pose)

  1. Lie flat on your back.
  2. Take a deep breath and bend one knee into the chest.
  3. Take a strap or towel and loop it around the arch of that foot.
  4. Straighten the knee of this leg as much as possible, extending it high into the air and flexing the toes back towards the shins.
  5. Walk your hands up the strap or towel as needed, but keep the shoulder blades pressing into the floor.
  6. Play around with inverting (rolling the arch side of the foot in) and everting (rolling the outer blade of the foot out), which helps access those tight hamstrings and IT bands.
  7. Hold the pose as long as feels safe for your body, but aim for at least two minutes.
  8. Repeat with the other leg.

Modifications: Place a blanket under your neck if needed. If you feel pressure in your low back, stabilize your sacrum by bending the lower leg and rooting the foot into the mat. Don’t worry about straightening the extended leg.


Savasana (Corpse Pose)

For most athletes, it’s a challenge to sit still and quiet the mind. Part of being an athlete means there’s a natural go-getter in you that craves movement. Elite athletes know though that the mind has to find the “zone” in order to win. Savasana is the ultimate path to that zone.

  1. Find a comfortable location and lie flat on your back.
  2. Extend arms and legs as wide as needed.
  3. Adjust your head, drawing the chin closer to the neck to release the back of the neck.
  4. Flip the palms up to allow yourself to feel the experience.
  5. Close your eyes, softening the gaze behind the eyelids.
  6. Allow the breath to fall into a natural rhythm.
  7. Rest as long as the body and mind will allow.

Modifications: If you’re new to Savasana, you may feel a little uncomfortable at first. It’s okay to wiggle until you find a position where you can stay still. Place a blanket under the neck or under the back of the knees to provide extra cushion.
Athletes: try these four poses out and let us at YouAligned know what you think! Instagram us @YouAligned and #yogiapproved to show us your poses. Happy posing, athletes!

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Meredith DeCosta

Meredith DeCosta, PhD, RYT is an academic by day, yogi for life. She is a university teacher, researcher, and writer. When she's not at the university, she is practicing or teaching yoga, specializing in vinyasa flow and power classes. Meredith playfully blends a deep knowledge of asana with an infectious energy that encourages her students to feel lighter and brighter. Join her tribe of positivity.

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