Work It Out: 6 yoga postures for hockey players
Work It Out
Breck Vipers home opener
What: The first game of the 2016-17 winter season for the Breckenridge Vipers, the local semi-pro hockey team and reigning Rocky Mountain Division Champions with the Mountain West Hockey League
When: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.
Where: Stephen C. West Ice Arena, 189 Boreas Pass Road in Breckenridge
Cost: $8.50 to $27.50
The Breck Vipers open the season against cross-county rivals the Vail Yeti. The season runs from November through April, with playoffs held until May. For more info about the team and league, including season tickets and individual tickets for the home opener, see www.breckvipers.com.
Hockey players are some of the most powerful athletes in the world. They simultaneously use coordination, power, endurance and mental focus for split-second decisions in a fast-moving game. Explosive skating builds muscular thighs and glutes, but it also creates physical imbalances, and these imbalances create opportunity for injury in an already physical game.
Look at a hockey player’s stance: they are bent forward almost the entire game. This constant flexion of the hip joint creates strong hip flexors, but it also creates anterior (forward) pelvic tilt. Anterior pelvic tilt leads to a variety of postural issues, including limited range of motion in the hips. This can negatively affect speed and agility, while also creating pain and weakness in the low back.
Now consider what his happening in the thighs. Quads are used heavily, and though not the primary movers, strong hamstrings are essential to hockey. One role of the hamstrings is to help “put on the brakes,” but if the muscles are not strong and supple, this braking motion can lead to muscle strain. The more the hamstrings are overpowered by the quads, the more they are at risk.
Finally, let’s look at how hockey players use their hips. The outward motion of skating creates strong abductors (muscles that pull the leg away from the midline), but the adductors, or groin muscles, are weaker. If these inner-thigh muscles lack strenght, they also become candidates for injury: According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, a player is 17 times more likely to sustain a groin strain if his adductor strength is less than 80-percent of his abductor strength.
Yoga is a great way to help players of all levels and abilities avoid some of these common injuries. The following six postures increase mobility of the hip joint, balance the inner and outer thigh, strengthen the core, and increase mobility of the spine and low back.
Bridge pose is a gentle back bend, which opens the hip flexors and strengthens the glutes. Squeeze a block (or a rolled bath towel) between the thighs to encourage the adductors to engage. This helps avoid a common issue in the posture: creating an uncomfortable bend in the low back. As always in any yoga posture, move away from pain.
Lie on your back, with knees bent and feet hip-width apart.
Bring heels under your knees and ensure toes point forward.
Keeping arms close to the body, make a 90-degree angle in the elbow and point your fingers at the ceiling.
Press triceps down and squeeze the block between the thighs.
Engage your glutes and lift hips as high as possible. Your weight should be in feet and shoulders, but not your head.
Hold for 10 breaths. Release.
Camel pose, like Bridge pose, releases the hip flexors to increase hip mobility. It is also a much more intense back bend. Move in slowly and try to open through the entire spine: upper, mid and lower. Again, use a block to engage your adductors.
Come to your knees with arms at your sides, with a block between your thighs.
Tuck your toes under and pull your low belly in.
Lift your chest and gaze at the ceiling, creating length in the neck and spine.
Place your hands on your hips, with fingers either facing up or down (as if you are put ting your hands into back pockets).
Press your elbows toward each other. Slowly allow your spine to bend backwards, as if you are rolling over a giant beach ball.
Keep lifting the chest as you bend backwards and gaze to the ceiling or behind you.
Stay in the pose for three to five breaths. Release.
When you come out of the pose, sit on your heels for five breaths.
Modified low lunge
This posture strengthens the hamstrings of your extended leg while also stretching hip flexors. Use inner-thigh strength to keep the front knee close to the shoulder.
Come to your hands and knees.
Bring your right foot to the outside of your right hand and curl your left toes under.
Without lifting your hips, lift the left knee off the floor. Focus on lifting the leg from the inner thigh and hamstring.
Keep your right knee close to your right shoulder. For an additional challenge, bring forearms to the floor.
Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
Warrior 3 is not only a balancing posture — it is also a great posture to tone the hamstrings and promote deep core engagement. If you let your core relax in this posture, your chest will drop lower than your hips and you’ll feel wobbly.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and lift the right leg parallel to the floor, hinging at the hip.
Flex your right foot and engage through the deep core to stabilize your torso.
Drop your right hip down to be in line with the left.
Hold for five breaths and release.
Side plank improves core strength, especially in the obliques. These are used to stabilize and rotate the torso when skating, shooting or reaching for a puck. In addition, side plank works the transverse abdominus, the largest of the deep core muscles. It’s where you get power for a slap shot.
Come to the top of a push up and separate your feet a bit wider than your hips.
Roll onto the outside of the right foot and the inside of the left foot, resting weight on your right hand.
Reach the left hand overhead. Another option is to stack your feet and press the inner thighs together.
Lift your hips as high as possible.
Hold for five breaths. Release and switch sides.
Cat Pulling Its Tail
This twist, which lengthens the quads and hip flexors, is all about release, rather than strength. Twists rotate the spine and stretch the muscles of the back, restoring the spine’s natural range of motion.
Lie on your back.
Bring your right knee to your chest and roll onto the left hip. Try to keep both shoulders on the floor.
Bend your left leg.
Reach down with the right hand to capture the left foot.
Extend the right leg and hold onto the big toe with the left hand.
Hold for five breaths. Release and switch sides.
Pinna Gallant is the owner of Peak Yoga, Dillon’s only dedicated yoga studio. Designed to challenge both the body and the mind, Peak Yoga classes build muscular strength, physical endurance and emotional resilience. You can find out more about Peak Yoga at http://www.peakyogastudio.com.
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