“Yoga is just stretching. I can do any class off YouTube at home anytime.”
Yes, it involves stretching. Yes, you can do it at home. Yes, YouTube can be a helpful tool.
Yoga for baseball and softball players is a practice to unite the body, breath, and mind to prep for peak performance when you hit the field. Each athlete’s body and position has areas that must be strengthened, stretched, and mobilized.
Keep in mind, yoga for baseball/softball is not always a one-size fits-all if you really want to benefit for performance.
Why is it worth it?
From my experience, I’ve learned that most baseball players I’ve worked with have tight backs/hips. Additionally, different athletes play different positions, and have different tight muscles.
For example, I’ve worked with pitchers who have insanely tight backs and hips and catchers with some of the tightest hamstrings I’ve seen – let’s be honest their hips were pretty tight too.
What does this mean? Yoga isn’t the same for all athletes.
To be at your peak performance for your position and reduce injury, taking the time to properly warm up your body through sun salutation flows, incorporating core activation and opening postures can help you perform and feel better overall.
So, what should you look for in a flow?
To properly warm up, improve muscle endurance and blood circulation, sun salutation flows set your body up for success.
Here, you utilize various muscle groups (shoulders, core, upper and lower back, lats, hips, etc.) to flow through a sequence that stretches and strengthens your foundation.
These flows also help the athlete focus on specific movements and find awareness of the body in different planes, while utilizing the core.
You’ll also start opening the hips deeper by doing postures like Warrior 2 (pictured below) and Extended Side Angle Pose. Have I mentioned that baseball and softball players have tight hips?
Try to do sun salutations at the beginning of your flow, so you’re more warm and flexible to do more hip opening postures later on.
Often, lower back pain can come from not incorporating your core correctly, putting extra pressure on your back.
In variations of vinyasa yoga (which is the practice I recommend for athletes), we incorporate pilates-style core strength movements that help improve your posture, hit your rectus abdominis muscles (“6-pack” muscles), transverse abdominals (deep core), and obliques. These muscles are all involved in throwing harder.
Core work also helps the athlete have improved balance as they pitch, stay quick on their feet, etc.
Aim for 3 minutes of engaged core exercises. For example, 1 minute of boat pose, 1 minute of oblique bicycle twists, and 1 minute of supine bird dogs.
Postures like eagle pose (pictured below) not only test your balance, core, leg strength, but also expand your upper back muscles, lats, and shoulders, which can release tension from your neck, while also relieving stress.
Another posture sequence to try and incorporate here are prayer twists and revolved crescent lunge. These will lengthen and mobilize your spine, open your chest, test your balance, and strengthen your glutes.
Rinse and repeat on each side.
Make sure you breathe so your muscles receive oxygen and you’re able to lean deeper into each pose.
As a baseball/softball athlete, you’ll need to make sure your spine stays mobile for peak performance.
Start with a cobra pose. Lay in a prone position, keeping the tops of your feet on the ground and your feet hip distance apart. Place your hands underneath your shoulders with your gaze looking slightly forward as your shoulders pull back and down.
As you lift, engage your erector spinae muscles (squeeze your shoulder blades together) and lift your chest and shoulders up about 6-10 inches. Keep the tops of your feet down and hold for about four slow breaths.
We’ve talked about hips here already but let’s keep talking about them.
To find even deeper hip release, try a runners’ lunge, and then drop your back knee down, let your shin and top of your foot rest on your mat.
Make sure your front knee is stacked over your ankle but also that you have a deep enough stretch.
From here, press your shin down into your mat to open up your hip flexors and relive tension.
After you hold the posture for about four deep breaths on the first leg, switch to the next. Take your time here and exhale as you sit deeper into the pose. Let your head hang heavy.
Backs of Legs
Odds are, your hamstrings are going to be tight too.
Toward the end of your flow, try some standing and seated forward folds, letting your head hang heavy and keeping your hips square. Also, half-splits are key to find extension before you close out.
In the half-splits stand tall on one knee while your other leg is in front of you.
From here, keep your core tight, back flat, and hinge at your hips. This should open up your hamstrings. When you’re done with one side, switch to the next.
Click here if you need a visual picture.
Yoga for baseball/softball postures to potentially avoid
Not every pose is meant to be performed all the time and from all bodies. It’s CRITICAL to listen to know your limits before you force a posture that isn’t right for you. Be careful with the following:
- Crow pose if you have bad wrists.
- Upward facing dogs and downward facing dogs if you have shoulder or low back pain.
- Too many planks if you have severe low back pain.
- Bow pose if you have back pain.
- Warrior 2, triangle pose, and extended side angle if you have a pulled hip flexor.
- Dancer’s pose if you have shoulder pain.
- Shoulder opening stretches if you’re a pitcher. You don’t need them.
At the end of the day, just like your customized strength program, you should take modifications in your yoga practice to fit your unique body and position. Also, don’t trust every yoga class you find online.
Even better, find a class that is specifically focused to work with athletes’ bodies with an instructor who is certified. There are a lot of “Instagram voices” out there with no real experience, so don’t believe everything you hear on social media.
Looking to receive further yoga instruction from our AZ facility? Message us today.