While some rowers prepare for their final races of year in the U.S. and abroad, most rowers have completed their racing season. So, we thought it best to demonstrate a restorative yoga movement that can benefit the athlete who’s recuperating from their season as well as the athlete who’s still engaged in the heat of battle. The Downward Facing Dog Posture with your legs spread wide is a great tool for opening the chest and back. It also helps in the communication that takes place internally between our hands and feet. The foundation of each great athlete is that they take in more energy than they expel. Each stroke as we row, your hands and feet are constantly having a discussion about intensity, pace and balance. That conversation is sent to the brain for evaluation. The brain evaluates all the options from past rows, training, present energy levels, etc, and sends an answer through the nervous system to the muscles and bones about how much energy to expel for the body. The more we can combine strength and flexibility with a balanced internal dialogue, the more confidence your athletes will have and less fear. When all this comes together there is an abundance of choices to the rower in each moment of rowing. We also want to spend some more time reviewing some of the details of proper breathing before going into some advanced techniques that will be introduced in the coming months. We emphasize proper breathing for many reasons. But, to maximize the athlete’s ability to seize that moment, you must have control of your breath for everything to be perfect. Breathing correctly and consistently gives you the best shot at managing the energy in your body and achieving those winning medals! Yoga Posture: Wide-Legged Downward Facing Dog. As you can see from the photo, this posture combines strength and flexibility. This also helps athletes whose hamstrings and hips are hard and inflexible. Doing this posture with the legs open wider makes it easier to balance and puts less pressure on the low back and hamstrings. The closer your legs are together, the deeper the stretch in the low back and hamstrings. This posture provides great strength to the rowing muscles of the upper back and also gives a great stretch to the upper chest to help create more room for the athlete to inhale up under the collarbone. Coaches Tip: Encourage and train your athletes to breathe into your whole body not just your belly and chest and back.. Allow athletes to feel energy moving in and out of their body on each inhale and exhale. Allow the athlete to visualize a point 3 inches behind and below their naval. From that point, extend energy down the legs and out the soles of the feet. Do the same with the upper body sending energy thru the chest and back, down the arms and out the palms and fingers. Feel free to incorporate breath retention to increase the heat in the body (making it more challenging) and to quiet the mind. Basic Technique: Standing with your feet 4-5 feet apart, press your feet into the floor, fold forward from your hips and bring your hands to the floor. Walk your hands away from your body slowly until your chest and shoulder girdle open and engage. Fan your fingertips wide and press into the floor. Let your hips rise towards were the ceiling and the wall meet behind you while you press your heels to the ground. Try to get as much space as you can between your hips and ribs. Look internally to extend your breath into your body. Look for length wherever you can get it. There is plenty of room to breath, so hold 2 to15 minutes. Benefits: Chest opener, lengthens and strengthens back, rotates and opens hips, opens shoulders, creates balance between hands and feet (huge for rowers), improves circulation. Precautions: Inflamed shoulders or low back issues, high blood pressure (don’t hold as long). Breathing Technique: We have previously talked at great length about breathing through your nose as much as you can when training and racing. We have taught the “Ocean Sounding” breath. We also touched on some breath retention work. In this article, we will explain why we do it. Breathing is one of the most basic functions in human life. It’s an involuntary physiological function that occurs naturally. Or, if we so choose, we can control our breath. As a culture, our breathing is usually a shallow, superficial process involving only the upper portion of the lungs using only a small percentage of their 5-quart capacity. Learning to control and master the breathing process has tremendous benefits to the body beyond athletic performance. It can aid in the correction of many upper respiratory conditions, anxiety and stress disorders as well as cardiovascular diseases. So, imagine what it can do for the athlete looking to improve their performance. There is an untapped source of energy in the blood rich lower lobes of the lungs where oxygen and blood are exchanged just waiting to be utilized. And, as your athletes become familiar with how to harness the bodies energies, the mind will be less disturbed in moments of stress. Building Athletic Foundation (Inhalation). Like all movements in the body, the mechanics of your inhale involve a muscular contraction. Every inhalation begins with a contraction of your external intercostals and your diaphragm. This allows the rib cage to lift and your diaphragm to drop into your abdomen. Athletes should attempt to access the lower lobes of the lungs before drawing the breath up towards the pit of your throat. This particular technique of breathing is designed to maximize certain structural effects of the inhale and exhale. This allows the spine to stay as erect as possible which means the athletes have far more energy to row. Removing Waste Products (Exhalation): The quality of your exhale will involve your athletes ability to contract primarily your rectus abdominals. We need a responsive belly to meet the athlete’s needs. This doesn’t mean doing 500 sit-ups a day. When the belly is hard, the inhale won’t be able to penetrate the belly and your athletes will be rowing on only 75% of the energetic capacity. Your exhale does many things, but for now we will say it removes toxic wastes that form from any athletic intensity and also serves to stabilize the minds activity. Into Action: To help your athlete understand what’s happening in the body, the athlete should be aware that a paradox occurs during each round of respiration. As the body structure lifts on the inhale, it invites your attention to follow the breath downward into your pelvic bowl. On the exhale, the structure drops and your attention rises up to your brain. During aerobic activity, focus on the movement of your spine. This will aid in your athletic mechanics of whatever you are attempting to excel in. Tips For Athletes: 1) Breathing should always be smooth, steady, and comfortable. 2) Be aware at all times of your facial features, hands and feet. If you feel a contraction in those areas, a contraction is already occurring in your respiratory system. Change your breathing pattern immediately and force yourself to relax inside. Know were you are in the race and make a honest decision on whether to force it or not at that moment. Remember your body has never lied to you, it’s your mind that lies.
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