More Players Should Include Yoga in Training

The team stretching before the start of practice (photo property of the author)
The team stretching before the start of practice (photo property of the author)

Recently the Vancouver Canucks hosted a “Yoga on Ice” Fundraiser for their local children’s charity. All in all the fundraiser was a success and produced a number of hilarious photos. It did however generate some negative discussion in the media and amongst the hockey circles on Twitter.

The majority of the discussion that was generated seemed to ridicule the idea of hockey players twisting themselves in various yoga poses.  Zack Kassian adds some fuel to the fire when mentioned John Torterella put a stop to the regular scheduled team yoga for the Vancouver Canucks in the 2013-2014 season.

As an amateur athlete competing at the national level of rowing, I have experienced first hand why not including yoga, as part of your regular cross training, appears it would do more harm than good to your athletes.  If you are a coach it becomes important to manage your assets and minimize your top missing games due to injuries. Part of this misconception stems from the general lack of what yoga means in the contexts of sports training.


To the uninformed the idea of yoga typically produces images of the physical, mental and spiritual practice that comes from Hinduism and Buddhism, with emphasis on the latter of the three. This assumed form of yoga is usually associated with meditating, being one with the mind, and creating a spiritual connection with the world or yourself.

Marc-Andre Fleury (Tim Turk/THW)
Marc-Andre Fleury (Tim Turk/THW)

This is a type of yoga, and is the traditional view of what yoga is. However, in the context of sports yoga is related to Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a branch of yoga that “denotes a system of physical techniques supplementary to a broad conception of yoga”. The physical postures of hatha yoga have become known throughout the western world as “yoga” colloquially – and that is the form of yoga we are referring to.

Yoga in cross training can simply be thought of as stretching. It has similarities to pilates and it involves the holding of stretches for therapeutic purposes. Much research has been performed on yoga and found it helps reduce injuries, pain, stress and decreases the occurence of injuries.

As an athlete and a coach, in hockey and other sports, it is a negative benefit to prevent your athletes from performing this type of cross training.

Benefits of Yoga

There are many benefits of regularly participating in yoga type activities including strengthening your core, improving flexibility and reducing injuries. Specific studies have found the following benefits that would help hockey players, athletes, and even non-athletic people in their day to day life. Benefits include:

  • Better sleep, increased energy levels and muscle tone, decreased stress, relief from pain and stiffness – all beneficial to hockey players. (Jaloba, A. Nursing Standard. 2011. Vol 25, Iss. 48, pp. 20–21.);
  • Yoga is incoperated by professional athletes in other sports such as in the English Premier League, to maximize performance, improve conditioning, minimize injury and lengthen professional careers;
  • Yoga helps reduces hamstring injuries through increasing flexibility, improving posture and core stability, improving fatigue and strengthening muscle attachment sites, balancing hamstring to quadriceps strength and adjusting the position of peak torque;
  • Yoga reduced over-use injuries in high-level dancers from 81% to 17% over a period of 5 years.
  • Attenuates peak muscle soreness (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) following bouts of eccentric exercise.
  • Can increase cardio fitness by allowing one to “acheive higher work rates with reduced oxygen consumption per unit work and without increase in blood lactate levels.”


(Shawn Coates-USA TODAY Sports)
(Shawn Coates-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s clear that there are a large and vast array of benefits to those who incorporate yoga regularly into their cross-training regimen.  These benefits mainly are focused on the areas of injury prevention in your athletes.  It’s not uncommon for viewers to see a player be assisted off the ice due to an injury in the groin on hamstring and then these players spend the next few weeks to months recovering.  Yoga can help to reduce these types of injuries.

If you review Vancouver’s CHIP data (Cap Hit of Injured Players) during the 2013-2014 season the Canucks were just above average.  CHIP accounts for the cap hit of all injured players to try and quantify the number of players lost due to injury and how valuable they were to the team.  With their new coach last season, John Tortorella, not actively encouraging his players to be involved in this type of cross training, this could have played a factor in the Canucks’ injury woes.

From a team’s management and coaches’ perspective, with knowing the value of including this type of cross training I would expect teams to include yoga, or a similar stretching regimen, to minimize players becoming injured.