As always, check with your physician before beginning an exercise program.
Yoga is an ancient practice dating back almost 4000 years ago. It is currently, however, finding new popularity as an alternative to traditional exercise routines. Pilates, an exercise technique first popularized for dancers in the 1920’s by Joseph Pilates, has also recently become popular. Pilates features many similar poses to Yoga, but is without the meditation/relaxation component of Yoga. Traditionally, Yoga combines physical work through strengthening and flexibility poses, with meditation and relaxation to promote inner focus, balance and awareness. It is an ideal way to enhance the type of focus necessary for athletes, and also promotes core strength and balance, essential for injury prevention.
Personal trainers, physical therapists and sports conditioning specialists often incorporate “yoga-like” movements into their training programs for the reasons outlined above. Listed below are a few “yoga-like” poses which will greatly enhance balance, strength and postural awareness.
Intended audience: This series of yoga poses is ideal for novice as well as experienced yoga students. It will also enhance posture and “core” strength for athletes and experienced exercisers looking for variety and a change of pace from their usual routine.
Goal of this program: To build core strength through practicing yoga-like poses.
Frequency: These exercises can be done every day or every other day, depending on the amount of muscle soreness you have post exercise.
Duration: Unlike traditional exercise routines where you must increase work over time to increase benefits, yoga poses have infinite time-tested value and potential as they are more than just an exercise routine. Yoga provides additional benefits such as focus, calmness and body awareness. This short series of poses can be performed as long as you enjoy them!
Your breath: Breathe consistently through the exercises. Breath holding can elevate blood pressure. You may want to use a towel or a Yoga mat to stand on. Generally yoga is performed barefoot, and so the yoga mat provides a “sticky” surface for traction.
As always, stop exercises immediately if you have any unusual pain. Work carefully and slowly at first, as these exercises are very challenging.
- Warm up your body by doing cardio activity or by using the three warm-up movements (woodchopper, cross-body reach and standing rotations) described in Warming Up and Cooling Down.
- Lunges– strengthen the legs, gluteals and promote good balance.
Stand with feet hip width apart, toes pointed straight ahead. Step forward with right leg about 2/3 of body length. Remain here- lift heel up of back leg and bend knee of back leg- keep toes pointed straight ahead. Keeping back very straight, chest up and abdominals tight, lower slowly towards floor (not all the way to floor) bending both knees, and push back up to start position. Repeat 10-15 times, and then switch legs. Make sure front knees stays over shoes, not jutting out in front of shoe.
- Bridges– works core strength, gluteals, hamstrings, low back.
Lie on floor on your back with knees bent and feet on floor, hip width apart, toes pointed straight ahead. Place arms next to your body, with your palms down. Lift buttocks up by pressing through heels, until hips and thighs are level to floor. You can hold this position for 20 seconds, or lift and lower slowly for 15 reps. This exercise can also be done with one leg crossed over the other, ankle resting on opposite knee, pressing up with one foot for 15 reps each leg.
- Plank Hold- works core strength (abdominals and back), shoulder stability. Get on hands and knees and lower onto forearms. Move feet back until you are up on your toes with legs straight as in pushup position, knees off of floor. Remain on forearms, making sure elbows are under shoulders, and draw in abdominal muscle as you hold this “plank” position for 20 seconds or more. Back should remain perfectly straight in this position. This can be done 3-5 times depending on fatigue and strength level.
- Side Plank– works lateral abdominals and back muscles, shoulder stability. A more difficult variation of plank! Lie on your side, knees bent slightly, propped up on one elbow with chest and ribcage lifted and shoulders strong. Split legs slightly so one foot is in front of the other. You will be resting slightly on sides of feet. Using legs to push you upwards, lift hip up until hip and back are straight in line and body is off floor except for feet and forearms. Make sure hip is lifted with chest and hips facing the wall, not towards floor. Work opposite side as well, 2-3 times per side.
- V-Seats (or boat pose)- works core strength.
Sit on floor with knees bent up and feet flat on floor- toes pointed straight ahead. Lean back onto arms behind your body, and lift chest up and press shoulders slightly back (i.e., try not to slouch). Try and keep back straight as you sit at the base of your spine, and lift legs off floor, straight in front of you. Keep chest up and hold this pike position for 10 seconds or more. As you progress, move arms so that they are lifted straight in front of you, palms face each other, fingertips pointing towards feet and try and hold this balancing position. Once you can hold your balance, move arms and legs slightly to side in opposite directions to work obliques and lateral back muscles. Perform exercise 3-5 times depending on strength.
- Dead Bug– works core, deep abdominal muscles.
Lie on floor on back, knees bent up, feet on floor. Lift legs up keeping knees over belly button, knees are slightly bent. Lift arms up too, pointing finger tips up to ceiling, arms very straight. Inhale, and exhale hard as you lift shoulders off floor, tucking chin in to chest, and lift buttocks off floor in a reverse curl. (picture the dead bug in the Raid commercial!) Then, inhale again and exhale forcefully pulling lower abs in with exhale. Lower arms and legs and repeat a few times. For an advance variation, lift into dead bug, exhale hard, then resume normal breathing as you move arms and legs right to left in opposite directions to work lateral back and abs.
- Cool down your body with an extended period of stretching.