Woman practices Warrior 2 Pose during a yoga for athletes practice

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Why Every Athlete Should Add Yoga to Their Fitness Routine

These poses will help improve your mental and physical performance.

By PelotonUpdated January 29, 2024


An active recovery is a key part of every workout routine, and there’s no better way to structure your rest days than with yoga. Practices designed with athletes in mind can help you maintain key elements of your fitness, including balance, flexibility, and core strength, as well as counteracting some pains or soreness from overuse and tightness. 

Regardless of which sport you love, you’ll likely experience some tightness. “Cyclists power hard through their quads and get super tight in the front of their thighs and hip flexors,” says Peloton yoga instructor Kristin McGee. “They also get stiff shoulders and complain of lower back pain from rounding over the bike. Runners have super tight hamstrings and can have a lot of knee and foot pain.” 

But it goes beyond running and cycling. Anyone who works out regularly (and skips the post-exercise stretch) risks developing soreness and tight muscles, Kristin says. Whether you’re a regular on the pickleball courts, a lifelong swimmer, or a golf aficionado, yoga will help you improve your skills—and recover quickly. 

Benefits of Yoga for Athletes

From cycling and running to golf and pickleball, there are dozens of benefits of yoga for athletes of all sports. Here, Kristin and Aditi Shah, both Peloton instructors, explain some of the benefits of yoga for athletes, as well as a few poses to consider adding to your recovery routine.

Yoga for Cyclists

Whether you’re a daily cyclist or someone who only sits in the saddle occasionally, you’ve likely noticed that any cycling workout consists of the same movements over and over again—just at different speeds and resistances.“Your body gets used to doing the same movements and will adapt to accommodate repetition,” Aditi says. “Including movements that challenge you to move in new and different ways is important.” If you’re a cyclist, look for poses that target your wrists, neck, and lower body in order to maximize your recovery and performance.

After a long ride, stick to basic movements to stretch your wrists, Aditi says. “For those newer to yoga, I'd suggest just simple wrist stretches on the mat on hands and knees, flipping fingers to the sides or back towards the knees and moving around, clasping the hands and rotating them in circles,” she says. “If you're a little more mobile and advanced, reverse prayer is a nice wrist stretch.”

Simple neck stretches should also be a go-to for any cyclist. “All yoga poses have a ‘drishti’ or gazing point where the yogi is supposed to look. Therefore, [throughout a practice] we end up moving the neck in a range of motion,” Aditi says. “Any yoga class is likely to include looking up, down and side to side."

For tight ankles or feet, Aditi suggests sitting in Supported Hero's Pose (Virasana). “After some time, maybe lose the block and try to sit back on the heels with toes pointed,” Aditi says. “For tight arches, start kneeling with shins and ankles all of the way together, tuck the toes under (so the arches are stretched) and sit back on the heels. The challenging part of this is keeping the ankles touching, but it gets easier over time.”

Looking for a place to start? On the Peloton App, you can easily find yoga classes to complement your cycling routine. 

Yoga for Runners

All runners can agree on one thing: Yoga for athletes, specifically runners, is a must for cross training and recovery. 

“Yoga can specifically help enhance a training regimen like running by aiding in recovery as well as strengthening opposing muscle groups,” Kristin says. “Yoga focuses on the core, back and inner/outer thighs and hips. Oftentimes, runners and cyclists focus mostly on the quads and hamstrings. Yoga helps stretch and loosen the muscles and bring more range of motion to the joints. The more mobility you gain, the greater power you have. You can move your limbs through their full range of motion and cycle or run faster.” Translation: Adding a yoga routine to your weekly workouts can help you perform at a higher level. 

Another one of the major benefits of yoga for athletes? Yoga can improve your mental toughness and focus. For example, if you have a long race coming up, yoga can boost your  focus and concentration, Kristin says. “When you’re training hard your mind needs to be on board as well, and keep you present and concentrated on the moment and what your body is doing. Yoga enhances your breathing and cardiovascular system. When you learn to tap into your breath your circulation is better, and you can adapt to higher intensity cardio easier.”

“So many yoga poses ask for a combination of stability and flexibility through the legs,” Aditi says. “If runners are too sore or if their muscles are too tired to do challenging standing postures, sitting and supine variations are just as useful. Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana) for opening the hip flexors, Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) or any figure four position for tight hips, Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana) for tight hips, and if forward folding is difficult seated, then Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) on the back is always an option.”

“For runners, lower body tightness and soreness is a common problem,” Kristin says. “Yoga can help with IT band tightness and other running issues by stretching out the hips, hamstrings, calves, and lower back, while also strengthening the glutes, core and feet. Certain poses, such as Fallen Warrior, specifically stretch the IT band. I also love all lunges and warrior poses for runners.”

Yoga for Other Sports

Yoga for athletes isn’t limited to those who love running or cycling. Tennis and pickleball players benefit from the core stability and rotational strength that yoga provides, while basketball players and soccer players need a sense of balance to switch directions quickly without falling. 

“I often hear people say they can't touch their toes, or their hips are so tight that they hate Pigeon Pose,” says Aditi. Whether you play golf, tennis, pickleball, or another sport, you’re going to need a similar amount of hip mobility and flexibility. To this end, Aditi suggests  Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose, a hamstring stretch with a strap, or a variation of Pigeon Pose with a blanket, bolster, or block. “For tight shoulders and upper back, I think all the yoga arm variations are helpful,” Aditi says.

In addition, athletes should focus on general mobility and full body strengthening. Here are some key poses for all-around fitness that Kristin recommends:

  • Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

  • Cow Pose (Bitilasana)

  • Plank Pose

  • Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

  • Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2 )

  • Side Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana)

  • Crescent Lunge

  • Seated Spinal Twist

  • Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)

  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

As you’re learning yoga for athletes, Aditi advises that if something feels tight, pay attention to how you feel, and if it hurts, back off. “Like any other practice, it's important to tune in to your body. No teacher in the world can know what you are feeling—only you can—so it's important that you are kind enough to not push too far past your edge,” Aditi says.

Consider Your Mobility

Mobility—actively moving a joint through its full range of motion—helps all athletes move with more efficiency while correcting muscle imbalances. In a mobility routine, you can expect to move slowly and with intention as you guide each joint through a full rotation of movement. While mobility is not the same as yoga (or flexibility, for that matter), being able to move smoothly and functionally will improve your athleticism on and off the mat.

Yoga for Recovery

No matter what sport or workout you love, you’ll need to build rest days into your routine if you want to reap the full benefits of your hard work. Enter yoga. 

Restorative yoga is always a nice way to get rest while still reaping the benefits of postures,” says Aditi. These classes feature lots of supported postures that use yoga props to allow you to be comfortable in a  pose for an extended period of time. If you’re looking for something more active, “beginner classes are also a great way to focus on form without getting exhausted,” she adds.

Listen to Your Breath

“Since athletes love to push themselves, the most important way for them to stay injury-free in yoga class is to listen to their breath and the cues from the instructor,” says Kristin. “When the breath gets held or [moves to] a rapid pace, it’s a good idea to back off until you can take a deep full breath in each pose.” Remember to take the practice at your own pace and stay mindful of your alignment.

In addition, yoga for athletes can help you reduce stress, which is crucial before, during, and after your athletic events. A 2011 study from the International Journal of Yoga found that regular yoga practice reduces stress and anxiety.

Who Should Try Yoga for Athletes?

Pro tip: Yoga for athletes isn’t just for “serious” athletes or professionals. Weekend warriors and casual 5K runners can also reap the benefits of the practice. Yoga can help you build strength and mobility, while also improving your ability to focus and practice mindfulness in high-intensity situations—skills that will help you in and out of your athletic endeavors. 

Adding Yoga for Athletes to Your Routine

As athletes and busy people, you likely already have a full stack of weekly workouts to hit. Luckily, your yoga practice doesn’t have to take up a ton of time. Cue up a power-based class if you’re craving a bit of a challenge, or go full recovery mode with a restorative or slow flow  class. (Psst: All of these practices are available on the Peloton App.)


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