Flexibility, injury prevention and de-stressing: How yoga is keeping Salah, Haaland and Co. at the t
An increasing number of top-level clubs and players use yoga as part of their training regime, so GOAL spoke to an expert instructor to find out why
Mohamed Salah, as ever, was the calmest man inside Anfield.
As fans and team-mates - and perhaps one or two in the media seats too - lost themselves in the moment, the Egyptian simply smiled.
Clasping his hands together and closing his eyes, he lifted his left leg and wedged it against his right.
The Kop certainly bowed to its Egyptian King that day. Salah has scored some magnificent goals for Liverpool, but few have been as jaw-droppingly spectacular as the missile he unleashed against Chelsea that afternoon in April 2019.
And few celebrations have been as memorable, either.
“I am a yoga man,” Salah would later say of his iconic ‘tree pose’. “I do yoga and it just came to my mind.”
Salah, known at Liverpool as the ultimate athlete and the ultimate professional, has been practicing yoga for years, and is one of a host of high-profile footballers to have benefited from doing so.
The likes of Cristano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, David Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Erling Haaland all class it as an essential part of their training and recovery routine, while Ryan Giggs, the Premier League’s most decorated player, believes it was one of the main reasons he was able to continue playing beyond his 40th birthday.
A decade ago, a professional footballer taking up yoga was big news, but nowadays several top European clubs employ specialist instructors, with classes often compulsory, not optional, for players.
But why? And what exactly are those benefits?
“There are so many,” says Debs Baisley, who runs the Yoga Bee studio in Cheadle, Greater Manchester, when speaking to GOAL.
“Yoga increases flexibility, a person’s range of motion, so for footballers it is obvious that that will help them. It means the risk of injury is reduced, it can help lengthen a player’s stride, and it is great for core strength as well.”
Baisley works with a number of footballers, both past and present, and laughs as she explains how most are sceptical to begin with, before quickly changing their opinion.
“We have a real mix, current and former players, young and old players,” she says. “And what we notice is that players who have played football for a long time, and who are just trying yoga now, they wish they’d done it sooner
“The sport puts a huge strain on the body. There are two players I work with at the moment who had to retire early through injury. One is only just into his 30s, which tells you everything I guess.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about yoga - that it’s mostly for women, or that it’s people sat around ‘chanting’ and ‘ohming’ - but the main one I’ve found down the years is that it’s easy. It really isn’t, and the footballers I’ve worked with have discovered that pretty quickly.”
So what kind of yoga routine would Baisley recommend for a footballer, then?
“There are lots of different types, all of which have different benefits,” she says. “I don’t think footballers would, generally, want to be doing something like a fast yoga class. I think what benefits them more is something like a deeper stretch in a slower paced class, like Yin or power yoga, where you are holding postures but not for too long.
“We work a lot on balance, one-legged squats and tree postures (such as Salah’s), things like that. Football is an imbalanced sport, you’re kicking with one leg more than the other, pushing off and landing on one leg a lot and changing direction suddenly, so improving core strength and balance can be hugely beneficial.
She adds: “At the beginning of each practice, you’d normally do what is called a ‘sun salutation’, which works every part of your body as a warm-up.
“I wouldn’t recommend a player does a particularly strenuous yoga session before a match or a training session, but the sun salutation could be really beneficial, and can be done in less than 10 minutes.”
And what about the benefits to the mind, as well? Antonio Conte, for example, has spoken about using yoga and meditation to help keep him calm during games - we’ll let you decide if it has worked or not! - and players such as Hector Bellerin have credited it with helping them sleep better after evening games.
“It’s so hard to explain it unless you do it,” says Baisley. “But I believe it can not only prolong a players’ career, but also change their mindset.
“It can definitely be used to keep you calmer, for example. It helps lower the heart rate, so the cardiovascular benefits are there. Then there’s focus, concentration, recovery, reducing stress and improving sleep.
“It’s obviously quite stressful playing football, or any professional sport. There’s a lot of pressure and mental strain, and if you’re being taught breathing and concentration techniques, that has to be a benefit.
“Breathing is such a big, and underestimated, part of life. It’s one of the things I constantly tell myself throughout the day; breathe, breathe!
“A lot of people breathe from their chest, because they’re stressed. They don’t breathe from their stomach, so their lungs are not getting filled up. Yoga teaches people that side of things.”
Most footballers, such as Salah and Ronaldo, practice yoga on an almost daily basis at home, preferring privacy, while others attend classes at studios such as Baisley’s.
“Everyone is different,” she says. “The main point is that it’s about making it part of your life, your routine, your day. And in a footballer’s case, it would be an essential part of their recovery.
“I think with a proper class, twice a week, you’d see the benefits, and you’d learn the skills needed to go forward. Then 15 minutes before a game, to do those yoga stretches, you’d warm yourself up a lot better than some of the warm-ups I see!
“This is the era of marginal gains in football, in sport, and to that end it’s no surprise to see something like yoga becoming a bigger part of clubs and players’ routines, because like I say the benefits are huge.”
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