A yoga practice can be designed to address many different aspects of athletes’ performance. A sport specific yoga practice does not need to follow a set structure or only have one focus. Because of this it can be designed to fit into the periodization of a training plan.
One of the father’s of periodized training is Dr. Tudor Bompa. In this article I will be using his terminology and basic system of periodization.
*There are many different ways coaches and athletes approach periodization, the concepts in this article can be used in multiple formats and structures.
The five phases that Bompa outlines are the General Preparation Phase (GPP), the Specific Preparation Phase (SPP), the Pre-Competition Phase, the Competition Phase (CP) and the Transition Phase (TP).
*You can find more detailed descriptions of the types of yoga outlined in this article in 6 Styles of Yoga That Can Enhance Your Swimming Performance.
The General Preparation Phase
This phase of training is focused on developing athletes general fitness levels providing a foundation for higher intensity training later in the season.
This time of the season training is approached in a more generalized manner and often includes several different types of cross training.
This phase is also one which is characterized by a higher volume of training.
This the perfect time of the season to use yoga to improve mobility, increase strength, refine co-ordination, include in an injury prevention plan and incorporate aspects of sport psychology.
Hatha yoga can develop all of the areas outlined above. Because hatha yoga is relatively slower moving it is also a great style to use to teach athletes the proper techniques involved in a yoga practice.
Flow/power yoga can be used to increase the intensity of the development of mobility, strength and co-ordination. This type of practice can also be designed in a way that addresses aerobic conditioning.
Hot yoga can also be used effectively during this phase. This type of practice can further address the aerobic system since the heart rate is raised by simply exercising in a heated environment.
When practicing any style of yoga one of the benefits is the development of mindfulness, which can assist athletes in many ways from the reduction of anxiety to having a greater understanding of ‘easy speed’ or flow.
The Specific Preparation Phase
The specific preparation phase is when the general conditioning developed in the GPP is applied to the specific requirements of the sport. Two examples of that would be how strength goes from general strength to the application of power to improve speed and how mobility goes from general mobility to applying the new range of motion to specific technical changes.
This is also the phase where it is common that many athletes will reach their peak volume of training.
During this phase hatha and flow/power yoga can be used in different ways to address specificity.
First the practices can be designed to focus on specific muscle groups that are involved within swimming techniques.
The second is poses can be adjusted and created to mimic swimming movements to increase both strength and mobility in a more specific manner.
Flow/power yoga sessions can also be created to involve an increased level of dynamic movement, which transfers the gains made in static strength through a hatha practice to strength that is more applicable to what is needed in the water.
Yin yoga can also be used effectively during this phase. Yin is extremely slow moving, but can be made to be fairly intense.
Athletes will be asked to hold poses that are aimed at increasing mobility for three to five minutes. This allows athletes to recover more effectivelyfrom high volume training due to the fact that they are encouraged to allow the body to relax while holding poses.
This type of yoga is also a way to challenge the athletes mentally that can applicable to performance requirements.
Typically a yin class will be structured in a way that athletes will be asked to remain in a state that is outside of their comfort zone for an extended period of time. To be able to maintain this state athletes will have the opportunity to develop different mental strategies to be able to develop the resilience needed to remain in that state.
The Pre-Competitive Phase
The pre-competitive phase is typically when a program reaches its peak intensity. Athletes often begin competing on a more regular basis to refine specific technical and racing skills.
Because of the increase of intensity in the water the main purpose of yoga in this phase should be to maintain strength and mobility as well as enhancing recovery.
Since athletes are under an increased load with the intensification of training it does not make sense to try to continue to use a yoga practice as an added load to further develop strength and conditioning.
Hatha, restorative and yin can be used very effectively in this phase. Hatha is a great way to maintain both mobility and strength whereas restorative is an outstanding way to enhance recovery.
Yin is also a great way to maintain mobility, but it must be remembered that athletes are often challenged mentally in this practice, which may not be the best practice to include in this phase of training that includes an intensity level that is physically exhausting.
The Competitive Phase
The taper highlights this phase of training. The purpose of a taper phase is to allow athletes to completely recover from the training load they have been under throughout the year so that they can experience a level of super compensation, which will result in a peak performance.
Because of this fact the most important use for yoga at this time of the season is as a recovery tool for both the body and the mind. This is when a restorative practice can be very useful.
Restorative yoga allows athletes to physically let go of tension and gives them time and space away from the stresses of training and daily life.
The Transition Phase
This phase of training is foused on complete regeneration and recovery so that athletes are ready to take on a new training cycle in tremendous health and motivated mindset. It is recommended that training done in this time does not have the same structure it does throughout the rest of the year and should include a great deal of variety.
This is the perfect time for athletes to be involved in a yoga programs of any type. This will allow athletes to maintain a strong level of fitness, but provides the variety and mental release they need to be ready for another amazing season.
Jeff is trained in vinyasa (flow), hatha, yin, restorative and therapeutic yoga practices. He is also completing his 500 hour certification as a yoga therapist.
Jeff has been deeply immersed in the sport for decades. He has been coaching for over 20 years and has had athletes medal at both CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) Championships and Age Group Nationals.