Mar 12, 2022 • 5 min read
If you ever watch professional football, you might notice that these huge athletes are surprisingly flexible on the field. For instance, you might see an NFL offensive lineman fold his six-foot-seven, three-hundred-pound frame over far enough to place his palms flat on the ground. With his legs straight! And, he can comfortably hold himself there for several minutes. How does he do it? Like many NFL players, he probably does yoga.
Youth football players are probably not as big as the NFL athletes. However, they can still benefit from incorporating yoga stretches into their routine. No matter the age of the player, football is a fast-paced, hard-hitting sport. Practicing yoga helps a football player with balance, flexibility, strength, and mental toughness.
Here are four poses to try with your young football player before or after a practice or a big game.
Why it’s good: Gorilla pose is a variation of standing forward fold. Both poses open the entire backside of the body, from the calves to the hamstrings. It helps players to crouch in a low position, be more flexible in a tackle, or scramble on the ground for the football.
How to do this: Stand up tall with your feet about hip width apart. Fold over at the hips so the top of your head is pointing toward the ground and your butt is pointed toward the ceiling. Bend your knees a lot and lift your toes so that you can slide your hands, palms facing up, underneath your feet. Your toes should be facing straight ahead, and your toes might be able to massage your wrist creases. Keep your knees bent or begin to slowly straighten them to increase the stretch in the calves. Let your head and neck relax, as you place your gaze at the back of your mat. Keep your hips stacked over the ankles, and keep your spine long. Take five deep breaths. Remove your hands from under your feet and prepare for the next pose.
Why it’s good: Practicing airplane pose helps football players balance their whole body on one leg. This pose encourages stability, endurance and confidence when diving for a catch or getting tackled on the football field.
How to do this: From gorilla pose, place your hands directly under your shoulders. Press into your standing foot and lift the opposite leg to a 90-degree angle. Put a soft bend in your standing leg. Internally rotate your lifted leg so that your hips are square to the floor. Reach your arms back toward your sides like wings, with your palms facing the floor. Lift your pinky fingers toward each other and stretch your chest open. Set your gaze to one point on the floor, about a foot in front of your mat. Hold for about 30 seconds. Release by setting your foot on the mat and returning to standing. Switch sides.
Why it’s good: High lunge twist stretches and tones the legs, hips, and butt. It also opens the chest, shoulders, and arms. High Lunge Twist improves balance and increases both energy and confidence.
How to do this: Step one foot backwards into a lunge position. Bend your front knee to a 90-degree angle with your knee directly above your heel. Straighten your back leg and lift your back heel off the ground. Keep your hips square to the front of the mat. Keep the weight of your front leg grounded in the front heel. Bring your hands together in the center of your chest and twist your upper body to one side. Keep your core engaged, squeeze your glutes, and be careful to not rotate your front knee. Place your bottom elbow on the top of your front thigh to deepen the twist. Hold for 8—10 breaths; repeat on the other side.
Why it’s good: Frog pose is a deep hip opener. This stretch is useful for football players who have tight hips due to running up and down the field. While you hold the pose, focus on relaxing and releasing tension.
How to do this: Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Pull your weight forward onto your hands. Slowly, scoot your knees out to the sides, keeping them in line with your hips. Keep your knees bent and your ankles behind you, in line with your knees. Flex your feet and turn your toes out to the sides. Rest on your forearms with your elbows beneath your shoulders, and place your palms on the floor. Sit back into your hips to deepen the pose. Breathe deeply, and hold for 1-2 minutes.
Football is a surprisingly graceful sport. Players dive for the touchdown or spin away from a tackle. Developing that grace comes from flexibility and balance. Practice these four stretches on a regular basis with your young football player will help them achieve that fluidity on the field. These poses are also helpful if they want to stay fast, strong, and unbeatable on the 100th yard line.
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Sarah Kostin is a freelance copywriter, published author, life coach, and yoga teacher. An exercise and outdoor fanatic herself, Sarah has a passion for writing about health, wellness, fitness, yoga, and living your best life.