Ice Ice Baby
Elite athletes across all major sports platforms incorporate yoga into their training routines. Yoga has continuously increased in popularity most rapidly in the National Hockey League (NHL) in recent years. Hockey players find the benefits of yoga to be serious game changers both on and off the ice.
Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Ben Bishop in Fish Pose
Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning #24
Hockey players require an extreme amount of flexibility in order to perform at a high level. Goalies especially display an amazing amount of plasticity, in order to adequately cover the net. Tim Thomas mentioned yoga as an important factor in his preparation for earning a spot in the NHL All-Star game. The star athlete reported feeling an extreme improvement in his game, once he began to incorporate yoga into his training regimen.
“I think it’s helped my flexibility in the butterfly,” says Thomas. “It’s opened my hips up a little bit. And it helped me mentally in the way that I knew I had prepared as much as I could [last] summer.” – usahockeymagazine.com
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Teena Murray, the strength and conditioning coach for the USA Hockey Women’s National program has made yoga a part of the women’s team training regimen, as well.
“What we do is definitely use it in our warm-ups, and in some of our post-workout stretching we use some of the poses,’ says Murray, who is the director of Olympic Sports Performance at the University of Louisville. “We mainly use it as a regeneration tool on an off day.” – usahockeymagazine.com
Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, instructor Alain Robin, Carey Price, Travis Moen (Photo by Bikram Yoga DIX30)
The fast-paced nature of hockey required players to start and stop abruptly, requiring strong joint stability. Yoga is key in injury prevention among players.
Poses that focus on improving balance build and stabilize muscles that are commonly used in hockey. In addition, by strengthening muscles that are used less often in hockey, a greater sense of balance is created in the body. These poses strengthen the surrounding tendons and ligaments of the muscles, that serve to stabilize their joints.
“In yoga, it’s not like you’re lifting weights and just building muscle mass. You’re working all the fibers, all the tissue. A lot of times guys get hurt (playing hockey) because they’re extended and don’t have that strength and flexibility. Yoga is the teacher of strength and flexibility, and it activates everything. ” – Ryan O’Reilly
Overall mind, body and spirit connection is the key concept or theme in yoga. The mental focus and clarity that yoga provides can be just as important as the physical benefits.
By building mental resilience through yoga, hockey players are better equipped to keep their head in the game when things get tough. Increased mental awareness allows hockey players to keep their head in the game; an especially unpredictable, fast-paced sport. Another mental benefit that players gain from yoga is the ability to adapt and refocus in the midst of chaos.
Breath-work the basis of most all yoga classes. In yoga, hockey players gain increased breath awareness. They learn different techniques in order to control their breathing. Breathing through tough situations is one of the many skills that help the players on the mat, on the ice, and in their day to day lives. Hockey players that practice yoga can conserve and regenerate their energy more efficiently.
“I started doing yoga about three years ago. It felt really good in my body after every class. I was energized. My muscles were lengthening. It’s important to lengthen your muscles as well as strengthen them. Yoga does both. The training in hockey has changed a bit in the last eight to ten years. It’s become more about preventing injuries. With yoga allowing you more flexibility and lengthening your muscles, you can really see how your body can recover better with this practice." –Jarret Stoll, nhl.com
Hockey players face inevitably brutality in the sport, whether they are getting in a fight or checked into the boards. Therefore, there is no question that the importance that strength plays in preparing hockey players to perform is outstanding. Yoga is an amazing compliment to the strength and conditioning training that hockey players do in the weight room.
Having a strong core is the main component that keeps these elite athletes on their feet. Yoga asanas such as plank pose and side plank provide overall core and body strength. In addition, proper muscle training allows for a quicker start on the ice. A strong core allows players to skate faster, beating the competition to the puck. As fast at they start, they also need to be prepared to stop rapidly. Having strong legs and knees keeps them stable when doing so, preventing injury.
“Most guys that fight use the weights, weights, and weights, and they’re so big in their bodies that the muscle doesn’t matter. Yoga helps your core strength and that is way better than weights. I’m not the strongest guy weight-wise with enforcers in the NHL, but I’m strong, but not because I bench press six plates. If you do yoga, you don’t need to do weights that much because it’s like a weight exercise, but instead of using weights, you’re using your body.” – Georges Laraque, nhl.com