Major League baseball players are coining the phrase “flexibility is the new strength” and adding yoga, stretching, and Pilates to their off season and spring training regimes. Baseball manager Joe Maddon said in 2007, when yoga was first introduced as an official part of the training program, that he expected yoga and stretching to soon be as mainstream as weight lifting for strength, and his assumption is now a reality.
The Devil Rays’ third basemen Evan Longoria is one player who first took yoga seriously as a way to find a little peace and contentment through the stressful baseball season. Needing to rehab his left foot, Longoria focused on functional movements and stability therapy, adding that doing yoga in a hot room for over an hour was no easy task, but also provided many benefits beyond peace of mind.
Many other baseball players have followed the lead of Longoria and used yoga or Pilates as part of their offseason training. Jimmy Rollins practiced yoga following an injury and went on to playing 142 more games after making a strong comeback. Jim Thome practiced both yoga and Pilates to better prepare his 41-year-old body for playing first base, and Alex Rodriquez, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson have also reportedly added more flexibility to their training.
“With the muscle, you think about the loading and exploding,” said Longoria’s physical therapist Adam Fry. “In order to get the maximum loading, you also have to get the maximum range and the maximum stretch of the muscle.” Adding stretching and yoga enables these players to get the maximum stretch of the muscle for achieving explosive pitches, power in running bases, and making that loud and satisfying crack that happens when the bat strikes the ball at high speeds.
As the players get older, many realize the injury preventing benefits that yoga and stretching have to offer. “I just felt that I needed to get up early and do the work, and stay up late and do the work,” said Rodriguez. “When you are in your 20s, you think about training then you think about recovery, and at this point in your career, it’s actually the exact opposite.”
What used to be a gimmick or a last ditch effort to gain an advantage, yoga is now becoming a necessity among athletes. Making its way into many professional sports teams as a way to enhance performance, prevent injury, and calm down pre-game jitters, yoga and flexibility are not just making it to first base; they are hitting a home run.