By now, you've probably heard about professional athletes who swear by the positive impact unconventional training methods like ballet and yoga have on their careers.
Pittsburgh Steeler Steve McLendon famously told reporters that ballet is "harder than anything else I do." The Dallas Cowboys installed ballet bars outside the locker room at three different heights that allow players to stretch in a different manner. Former NFL star Ray Lewis and NBA icons Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James are all proud yogis.
But the benefits do not only apply to athletes competing at the highest levels.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, both activities improve athletic performance because they enhance balance and coordination, essential to every sport. Like a good rubber band, muscles and tendons behave more elastically and generate more force under tension when they are supple and compliant.
They also build strength. The use of body weight in ballet or yoga is a good form of strength training. This increases muscle tone, strength and endurance, as well as bone strength. Being stronger reduces your risk for injury and improves your performance in sports.
"Many athletes are incorporating yoga into their workout regimens for increased flexibility, improved strength and prevention of injuries," explains Dr. Justin Seale, a physician with Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedics. "By incorporating properly aligned yoga into the athlete’s work-out routine, you are able to build strength and flexibility to support the joints. There is a misunderstanding that yoga only improves flexibility, but strength is equally increased – especially around the joints."
Of course, that spectrum of fitness also applies to the general public. "The most ideal point of fitness would be a body that is equally trained in strength and flexibility," Dr. Seale says. "One should view fitness as a spectrum with flexibility at one end and strength at the other end. I often see injuries in my patients from those who train in a recreational manner without regard to maintaining the balance between strength and flexibility. It is imperative that we all recognize the importance of this spectrum of balance."
Dr. Seale knows this from both a professional and personal experience. He and his yogi wife, Amy, practice with Little Rock instructor JoAnn Camp, who teaches at Clubhaus Fitness and Barefoot Studio.
"In addition to the physical benefits, the athlete also learns mindfulness of muscular alignment, which he or she can apply to other aspects of their various workout regimen, which will ultimately help to prevent injuries," says Camp.
These workouts can also benefit those who suffer from back and joint pain. Ballet dancers and yogis have strong cores, which are key to reducing back pain and preventing many injuries, including shoulder, knee and lower extremities. A 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine study found that regular stretching was effective in relieving chronic back pain, while other research has shown quadriceps stretches can help decrease knee pain.
"It is important to recognize the changes in your body as we age while attempting to maintain your balance of strength and flexibility," Dr Seale says. "Often, our strength and flexibility decrease with age. One must constantly adapt their workout to address these subtle, yet progressive changes."
There may be rules to this change, but the good news is that it’s never too late.
"Our bodies are incredibly adaptable," he says. "However, I must warn that flexibility should be improved in a slow and controlled manner, never forced."