Yoga For Sport: Football
Our Yoga for Sport series guides you through the advantages of adding Yoga to your fitness and training routine, especially if you play sport.
Football (soccer) is arguably one of the most physically demanding sports. Not only do footballers need to have tremendous strength & endurance, but they also need to have great anticipation skills, mental awareness, flexibility, agility, balance and co-ordination. Whether it is the sudden spurts of speed needed to chase down an errant pass, the agility to work the ball through the oppositions defenses or the mental awareness to know exactly where and when to make a pass, football is a true test of your bodies capabilities.
It is no co-incidence then that most of the world’s elite footballers integrate Yoga in their training. Not only does yoga help build strength, endurance and agility, but it keeps your mind alert and your muscles supple, preventing them from injuries.
The Asanas below are chosen specifically because they require no prior experience with Yoga, and will significantly improve your performance, irrespective of whether you’re a weekend warrior who squeezes in time for football once a week, a budding athlete looking to take your performance to the next level or a seasoned professional looking for that added advantage.
Practice these simple Asanas for 20 minutes a day to see a remarkable improvement in your performance on the field.
1. Cobra Pose i.e. Bhujangasana
- Strengthens the spine, shoulders & glutes, which will help increase the speed of your sprint
- Increases flexibility of the back and helps improve breathing, increasing your endurance and ensuring you don’t get fatigued as easily
- Stretches and opens the chest, shoulders abdomens, helping you maintain your form on the pitch
Getting into the Cobra Pose:
- Lie down with your stomach on your Yoga mat.
- Stretch your feet out with the soles facing the ceiling.
- Place your hands on your Yoga mat below your shoulders and tuck your elbows into your body.
- Press the top of your feet, your thighs and your pelvis into your Yoga mat.
- As you inhale begin to straighten your arms to lift your chest off your mat, lifting only to the height at which your thighs and feet are still pressed into the mat.
- Activate your shoulder blades and ensure your shoulders are as far away from your ears as possible. Do not let your body sink into your shoulders.
- You should feel a nice, evenly distributed bend in your entire back.
- Hold the pose for 10 to 20 breaths and exhale as you release to lower your chest back on your mat.
Sonia Frydrych performing the Cobra Pose on her Kosha Yoga Co Foliage Mat
2. Boat Pose i.e. Navasana
- Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors, and spine helping you with the sudden bursts of speed needed to break away from defenders or chase down erratic passes.
Getting into the Boat Pose:
- Sit on your Yoga mat with your knees bent in front of your chest and feet flat on the mat.
- Hold your thighs, with your hands placed just behind your knees and lift your feet so that your shins are parallel to the mat.
- Engage your core as your shins become parallel to the floor, to balance your on your sit bones.
- Be sure to engage your core and elongate your torso, ensuring that the spine remains straight. Try and keep your chest as open as possible.
- Once you've found your balance, let go of your palms and extend your arms out, maintaining balance.
- When you're comfortable here, straighten your legs, so that your torso and legs make a "V"
- Hold the pose for 10 to 20 breaths, remembering to breathe and then slowly release.
Anuja performing the boat Pose on her Kosha Yoga Co Infinity Mat
3. Warrior III Pose i.e. Virabhadrasana III
- Strengthens the ankles and legs, helping you with your dribbling skills and sudden changes in direction
- Strengthens the shoulders, abdomen and back muscles - keeping you strong through the course of the game
- Improves balance and posture, bettering your control on the ball and increasing agility
Getting into the Warrior III Pose:
- Keeping your feet hips-width apart, step your left foot to the back of your Yoga mat (about one legs-length) keeping your feet in one line.
- Adjust the distance between your feet so that you feel stable.
- Bend your right knee to make your right thigh parallel to the ground, keeping the right shin perpendicular and right knee stacked over the right ankle.
- Extend your arms, keeping them parallel to each other.
- Slowly straighten your right knee, keeping your arms outstretched and parallel.
- As your knee straightens, lift and extend your left leg, so that your left leg is parallel to the mat. Ensure that your arms are outstretched and parallel to the mat too.
- Focus on squaring your hips and keeping your torso as parallel to the mat as possible.
- Your left leg, torso and arms should form a straight line, while your body is balancing on your straightened right leg.
- Keep your neck neutral and relaxed.
- Breathe mindfully and hold for 10 to 20 breaths. Repeat on the other leg.
Prianca Sharma performing the Warrior III Pose on her Kosha Yoga Co. Mat
4. Half-Moon Pose i.e. Ardha Chandrasana
- Strengthens the abdomen, hamstrings, ankles, thighs, glutes, shoulders and spine, improving overall strength & endurance
- Stretches the groins, hamstrings and calves, shoulders, chest, and spine, keeping your major muscles supple & flexible
- Improves coordination, sense of balance and mental alertness, helping you improve your awareness on the pitch
Getting into the Half-Moon Pose:
The half-moon pose can be practiced as an extension of the Warrior III pose.
- To go to the Half-Moon pose from the Warrior III pose, drop your leading hand to the mat and extend the opposite hand upwards. So, if you're balancing the Warrior III pose on you left leg, drop your left hand towards the floor and extend your right arm towards the ceiling.
- As you drop your left arm to the mat, make a conscious effort to open out your chest as much as possible.
- Pay attention to keep your right hand engaged, straight and extended towards the ceiling.
- Ensure that your right leg is engaged, extended and parallel to your Yoga mat.
- Consciously try and twist the chest so that it remains parallel to the side-walls of your room. Eventually the extended arms should form a straight line
- Keep your neck neutral and hold the pose for 10 to 20 breaths before changing sides.
- Using a Yoga block can help greatly, ensuring that you do not compromise on form and find balance.
5. Sun Salutations i.e. Surya Namaskars
This sequence of poses is perhaps the ultimate way to increase your strength, endurance and flexibility. Surya namaskars are often practised in sets of five, but if you’re just starting off, break up your practice into smaller sets of 2 or 3 repetitions. Remember to synchronise your breath with each movement of the body.
- Strengthens and stretches almost every major muscle group of your body
- Increases mental awareness and alertness, helping you stay composed during pressure moments and keeping your reflexes sharp as you rally for the ball
- It is the best way to increase endurance. Practice 10 - 15 Surya namaskars daily and gradually work yourself up to do 108 unbroken surya namaskars. 90minutes on the pitch will then seem like a walk in the park.
Performing Sun Salutations:
While there are many variations to a Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) this article is a great initiation to the sequence.
The Asanas mentioned above are beginner variations. Once you feel comfortable and confident in these, you could progress to variations of these Asanas.
While practicing Yoga always remember to be kind to your body, listen to it and respect its limitations.
In Yoga, as in life, patience and perseverance are your pillars to success.
About the Author: This article is written by Kushal Kulkarni, a professional footballer and yoga practitioner. Kushal took up Yoga to help him recover from an injury he suffered playing his favourite sport and was addicted to the practice almost instantly. Regularly practising Yoga ensured that he returned to the football field in better shape than he's ever been. Find Kushal's favourite Yoga Mats here.