When most people think of yoga, they imagine a gym class full of skinny women doing some relaxing stretches without dropping a sweat. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is beneficial for everyone, especially those competing in the highest tiers of combat sports. Additionally, it’s one of the most challenging activities anyone can do.
There’s a good reason why fighters like Diego Sanchez do yoga on a daily basis. The benefits of doing yoga consistently over long periods of time greatly contribute to a fighter’s physical abilities.
If you’re not already doing yoga, here are three reasons why you should be:
1) Flexibility and Balance
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Yoga mostly consists of holding your body in extreme stretching positions. Over time, this will cause your muscle fibers to loosen up and make you more flexible. Being flexible has many benefits, including avoiding injuries such as muscle tears, joint damage, and lower back problems. Stretching also increases blood flow to various parts of your body. The blood flow carries essential nutrients with it and feeds it to the muscle fibers stimulated by the stretches you do. This allows your muscles to stay strong and healthy even as you get older. It also helps you recover more quickly after a grueling workout.
As you gain flexibility in your body, you’ll notice that your range of motion and the ease at which you extend your limbs will be greatly improved.
In addition to improving your flexibility, your balance will improve as well. Many of the positions in yoga require exceptional balance to hold and maintain. These positions will increase body awareness by forcing you to focus on adjustments your body makes while trying to maintain difficult positions. Over time, your body will learn how to shift it’s weight to maintain balance as a reflex; that means you won’t even have to think to do it.
For mixed martial artists, these benefits are invaluable. The more limber your legs and hips are, the faster you’ll be able to do a variety of different kicks. There’s a reason Mirko Cro Cop’s kicks were so explosive; his legs and hips were freakishly flexible. If they were stiff, he wouldn’t have been able to launch them so quickly. Stiff limbs slow your strikes down greatly.
The same concept applies for your grappling. Getting takedowns and defending them requires a great degree of flexibility. UFC champ BJ Penn was difficult to take down was because of his flexibility and balance. Just because you got a single leg on him, it didn’t mean you were going to succeed in getting him down to the mat. He had enough balance where he could hop on one leg for long periods of time, and his legs were flexible enough to where his opponent could lift it very high but he still wouldn’t go down.
In addition to your takedown game, flexibility is a huge plus in for your submission game. Anybody who saw Ronda Rousey battle Miesha Tate at UFC 168 saw the amazing flexibility Rousey had in her legs when she would triangle Tate from all different angles allowing her control the fight on the ground.
Yoga also builds strength. It won’t get you bulky like a weightlifting does, but holding strenuous positions for long periods of time will stimulate your muscles in ways that conventional strength training doesn’t. In yoga, even though your not lifting weights, you are lifting your own body weight in many of the difficult positions you have to hold. So it does build strength in its own way. It’s especially useful for strengthening your core.
Having a strong core is beneficial to any sport, especially combat sports where many of the techniques you use derive their power directly from the core of your body.
The various stretches and positions in yoga twist and bend your joints the farthest they can possibly go. This activity squeezes old fluid out of your joints and allows a fresh new supply to be soaked up. Consistently doing yoga will keep your joints lubricated with fresh supplies of fluid for as long as you continue to do it. The benefits of healthy joints become very important as you get older, and yoga is one of the best ways to maintain strong durable joints.
This is important for mixed martial artists because grappling techniques can put considerable amount of wear and tear on your joints. Having healthy durable joints that are bendable and heal quickly if they do get injured will do you wonders if you train hard on a daily basis.
For our younger readers who aren’t concerned with joint health, if you ever get a serious joint injury that requires surgery and almost a year of onerous rehab, you’ll understand why having healthy joints is so important.