One measure of an excellent fitness routine is the degree to which one cross-trains. The body is very good at remembering the demands placed on it, so as we continue to train in a certain discipline we find that our body becomes ‘conditioned’ to the demands of that regimen and our ability to persevere over longer periods of time increases. When we try a new athletic endeavour, we are often surprised that despite a high level of conditioning in one sport, we are challenged by another. The reality is that the exertion placed on the body in a new discipline requires the muscles to perform in a different way. So even if you look and feel in top form and are able to play basketball for an hour, you may be challenged on the soccer field. It is this phenomenon that leads personal trainers to suggest cross-training. By varying the exercise routine you can achieve a level of fitness that facilitates a variety of activities.

Yoga is one type of exercise that is excellent for athletes looking for cross-training opportunities. Here are some of the benefits of yoga.

1. Each posture (asana) in yoga requires careful attention to body alignment. Concentration on alignment increases body awareness and better posture. Good posture is one way to prevent injury. The focus that yoga brings to body alignment will cross over into all other athletic disciplines. For example, swimmers and divers know that good form is critical to reducing resistance in the water.

2. Yoga requires concentration on smooth and consistent breathing. During vinyasa (movement from one asana to another), the practitioner is to match the time taken for the inhalation or exhalation to the time taken to move through the range of motion from one posture to the next. Focussing on a slower and deeper breath improves pulmonary function resulting in greater oxygenation of the entire body. How often have you seen someone not breathing while lifting a weight, straining the body and then bursting with an exhalation after completing the task? Bad technique? You bet! The weight lifter should be inhaling during ninety percent of the lengthening of the muscle and begin the exhalation just before the lift, pursing the lips to control the exhalation so that it is completed at the same time that the lift is completed.

3. Yoga involves extensive stretching of the muscles. Longer muscles are larger and stronger muscles. As well, certain postures require strong muscular contractions, often in an eccentric (lengthened) position. Variations are offered to accommodate differing levels of strength and flexibility. Any goaltender will attest to the value of being both strong and limber! Increased flexibility contributes to decreased stress on the musculoskeletal system when engaging in a full range of motion.

I would encourage all athletes to try yoga. There are many types of classes from which to choose, but you will find one that best suits your needs. You will be surprised at the aerobic demands of an Ashtanga class or the core strength required in preparing for inversions (head and hand stands). You will come away with a deep appreciation of the skills required and their application to other active undertakings.