Yoga for Martial Arts
Just as in daily life, in the world of martial arts “Yoga” is mentioned more and more. Numerous martial artists start to include Yoga as part of their daily routines. Notable athletes such as Kevin Lee, Nathan Corbett and Diego Sanchez.are keen yogis. Many of the Martial Arts gyms nowadays offer, next to different Martial Arts, Yoga. This can make us wonder: is the world of Martial Arts just riding on the Yoga hypetrain, or does Yoga offer significant benefits to the athletes. In other words, would a fighter benefit from implementing Yoga in his routine.
Let’s take a closer look at the acclaimed benefits.
Let’s start with the most obvious one. Since Yoga consists of a sequence of stretching exercises, the practice obviously increases the flexibility of the practitioner.
For a martial artist this has tremendous benefits. An increase in joint and muscle mobility will translate in being able to throw a wider arrange of kicks at a higher pace. The increase in flexibility will also hugely help with the submission game of a fighter. When grappling, the athlete has a wider range of motion to get out of a bad position before having to tap. Furthermore, it will be easier to catch people with certain submissions like an Omoplata or Gogoplata. It’s no surprise that there are many Yoga programs specifically tailored to BJJ.
But does this imply that you should implement Yoga in your routine? I would imagine that if you apply certain stretching exercises, tailored to your goals, you would get faster the desired results. Instead of doing a complete Yoga routine, you would only stretch particular muscles and joints..
During Yoga, you will not merely stretch into difficult positions, you will also maintain these positions for a certain time. To keep a particular asana, balance is required. After practising Yoga for a while, your body will learn how to make subtle changes to your posture to keep your balance.
A great balance is indispensable for a fighter. Balance is necessary to take or keep the fight where he wants. It’s very easy to take a person without balance down or to sweep him.
But does this imply that you should implement Yoga in your routine? I would say that if your goal is to improve your balance, you would be better of spending your precious time training wrestling or Judo.
Correction of asymmetry
Whenever we engage and re-engage in the same movements and postures over and over, our bodies adjust. In sports this is called SAID, or also: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Most fighters choose to stand either orthodox or southpaw. This often results in muscle and flexibility asymmetries in the body, which can in turn lead to injury.
Yoga always includes the right with the left and the front with the back. This has the potential to bring balance to a body that has been unequally developed.
This seems to be a very good reason to do Yoga.
Getting injured is a fighters’ nightmare. The athlete loses the ability to perform his/hers profession and to earn a living. Serious injuries last for months, years or forever. So, it’s no surprise that athletes will look at all sorts of ways to recover better and decrease the risk of injuries to a minimum.
In theory there are many mechanisms at play as to how yoga could prevent injuries.
By correcting asymmetries in the body
By increasing blood flow to the muscles
By keeping joints flexible, healthy and durable
Despite the theory and anecdotal evidence, there has not been done any research on the ability of yoga to prevent injuries for combat athletes. There has been done, however, some research on yoga and other sports, like football, basketball and baseball. Sunitha Ravi has reviewed these studies and concludes: "There is potential to include … yoga programs in athletic training for prevention of… injuries."
But does this imply that you should implement Yoga in your routine? As you can notice from Ravi’s conclusion, he remains careful to make big statements. So, I would say that if you are looking for ways to prevent injuries and recover, I would stick to scientifically proven methods. These include: cryotherapy, massage, sauna,…
Apart from the physical benefits of yoga, the practice is most known for its mental benefits. These mental benefits are well supported by science and could be very beneficial to any athlete. They include:
Reduce chronic pain
But does this imply that you should implement Yoga in your routine? Although these effects are well supported by science, maybe yoga isn’t the best way to prepare mentally for a combat sports athlete. There are sports psychologists, some specialized in combat sports, who are experts in helping athletes to maximize their potential. I would say this would be a bigger bang for your buck (and time).
After reading my breakdown of the benefits of Yoga for a fighter, you may be surprised, but I think Yoga would be great to implement in a fighters’ regime!
Although it’s true that for almost all of the benefits of Yoga, I see a better substitute, Yoga will give you the best possible value for the time you invest. Many people truly enjoy yoga, which offers them benefits they otherwise would have to gather in a lot of different disciplines. At the end of a day they unwind while at the same time increasing flexibility, balance, injury resilience and confidence. They can do so at home or wherever they roll out their mats.
Make sure to read our article about yogic breathing as well!