Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” Plank always wins this category for me: it’s simple to do, you can do it anywhere (you just need a comfortable spot for your hands), and the payoff is big. Not only does plank help strengthen your core in a major way, it also encourages strong posture, helps keep your back pain-free, and is a great pose to do before you get moving.
Core strength is crucial to aging well. It’s also crucial to good performance in your sport. Having strong abdominal muscles means you’ll have less back pain. But core strength isn’t the only benefit of this pose: holding plank is a balance challenge and provides good work for your arms and upper body. It also has the added benefit of gently stretching the backs of your legs.
Come to hands and knees and then lift your knees off the earth, extending your legs fully. Spread your fingers wide, and push down firmly with your palms, knuckles, and fingertips. Pull your belly in and engage your core. If you’re not sure how to get your abdominal muscles to fire up, take a moment to check out Core Engagement 101. Press back through your heels, lengthening your legs. Draw your shoulder blades down your back and keep your gaze down to the earth or just a little in front of your hands so your neck remains long.
Hold plank for successively longer periods of time as you make it a part of your routine. Start with 5-10 breaths and add a few breaths each time you explore the pose.
If your arms or shoulders need more support: Keep the long line of plank from your head to your tailbone, but drop your knees down to the ground. Focus on maintaining core engagement.
If your wrists need more support: Try elbow plank. Find this same long spine and core engagement, but put your forearms on the ground. While elbow plank takes the pressure off your hands and wrists, it is more challenging for your core.
If you want more challenge: Try lifting your leg. Or try lifting and drawing circles with your leg. Or try lifting your leg AND extending your opposite arm. Or try any of these in elbow plank.
If you compete in a sport, your training follows a cycle that should build in progressive stages to your peak competitions, then allow for downtime before reaching a new crest. In exercise physiology, we call this periodization: the training progression has distinct periods. As you consider how to include yoga to support you as a masters athlete, keep this training cycle in mind. The closer you are to peak competition, the more mellow your yoga practice should be. I outline this approach in detail in my book The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, and again in The Runner’s Guide to Yoga.
Keeping the intensity of your yoga practice in inverse proportion to the intensity of your sport training is especially important for aging athletes, because we require more recovery time between challenging workouts. If you slot a vigorous yoga practice into your already-rigorous training week, you’ll have to factor extra time to recover, which means the more challenging styles of yoga should generally be ruled out during your most active peak period in your sport. This means you can enjoy hot yoga, Ashtanga, and power vinyasa styles in your off-season, but keep them away from other major demands on your body.
Maybe your competitive days are over, but you enjoy getting out to play on a seasonal cycle: golf in the summer, skiing in the winter. The same principle applies, even if your activity isn’t expressly periodized. Use your off-season—if only the one determined by the weather—to choose a more strength-building yoga practice. While you’re more active off the mat, dial back the intensity of the practice so you have time to recover between sessions.
This balance is the key to longevity. Use your energy wisely, where it is best spent. If you’re targeting an athletic goal, most of your hard efforts should be in your training sessions, not on the mat. Use gentle and restorative yoga, and shorter home routines like those Alexandra and I offer on YogaVibes and those in my book Everyday Yoga, and you’ll be best balanced to perform at your personal best.
In our “Basics” posts, you’ll find quick overviews and tutorials for basic ways to stay strong and healthy. Let’s start with the most basic of basics: core engagement. In the short video below, you’ll learn how to engage your core. Since movement needs to originate from the core whether you’re picking up your grandchild or swinging a golf club, this overview is a great place to begin.
You need to engage your core because if you don’t, your back is going to be doing the work your core should. In the long run, this is detrimental—and may even result in back pain or injury.
You should be engaging your core all the time! Okay, okay: not all the time, but most of the time. You need to engage your core whenever you are starting a movement: standing from sitting, picking up a grocery bag, swinging your tennis racket, etc. Good movement patterns originate from the core space.
Core engagement is best accessed standing, so start there. Then imagine that your core engages from three places: first, pull your low abdominals in and up, as if you were sliding on a pair of extra snug pants. Next, pull your belly button straight back to your spine, as you might do when you’re trying to look good for the camera. Finally, tuck your low ribs down, as if you were starting a little crunch. And then relax a little. And breathe.
Welcome to Yoga for Aging Athletes—a resource to help keep you in the game. Here, yoga and Pilates teachers and athletes Sage Rountree and Alexandra DeSiato offer advice and answer your questions about how yoga will keep you active and balanced through the decades.
Use the links at left to read about us and get our tips—we post new content weekly. Visit us in person at the Carrboro Yoga Company in central North Carolina, and virtually by streaming our yoga and core-strength classes online anytime at YogaVibes:
Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” We’ll kick off with one of my favorites: standing pigeon.
This multitasking pose builds balance in space, balance between the hip and lower portion of the standing leg, and balance between strength and flexibility in the glutes—the standing leg glutes have to work to hold you steady, while the bent leg’s glutes get a stretch. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck, making this a go-to when you have the time or energy for just one pose.
Stand tall, shifting your weight into one leg as you cross the opposite ankle over your standing leg’s thigh. Lower your hips back and down until you find a natural stopping point. This could feel like stretch in the bent leg’s glutes or inner thigh, or like work in the standing leg’s foot or hip. Make sure your standing leg’s knee points straight forward over your toes. Keep your spine long and use your arms for balance. Hands can be in prayer position, as shown here, or off to the sides.
Hold the pose for 5–15 breaths, and repeat on the other side.
If it’s tough to balance: rest one or both hands on a wall, table, or counter. Take off your shoes and try the pose in bare feet on a hard surface. (Conversely, to up the challenge, stand on carpet or a folded yoga mat.)
If your knee or hip won’t bend this way: substitute tree pose, shown above, instead.
For a bonus chest stretch: Reach your hands behind you. Use a belt or tie to help them connect, or interlace your fingers if you can.