If Ryan Giggs had never discovered yoga, the former Manchester United footballer and current Wales manager might not have become a record-breaking legend of the game. Giggs, 45, won 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two UEFA Champions League trophies, making him the most decorated British football player in history. But such remarkable statistics mask how a series of injuries once threatened to cut short his career. After embracing the muscle-strengthening, injury-preventing benefits of yoga, the Welshman prolonged his career to a stunning 23 years, helping him to win a total of 34 club trophies and rewrite the history books.
RSNG exclusively caught up with Giggs to find out what benefits yoga had for him and to get his top five yoga moves to do, right now...
Yoga helped me carry on playing until I was 40
RSNG What inspired you to introduce yoga into your football training? RYAN GIGGS, FOOTBALLER ‘I started yoga at the age of 29 or 30 because I kept getting hamstring injuries. I spoke to the doctors and the physios at the club and I said I wanted to do everything I could to change it. Yoga had a big effect and it helped me carry on playing until I was 40. It works not just your hamstrings, groin and quads but also your calves, glutes, lower back, neck, sides and core. It helps to prevent injuries and makes you more supple and flexible. That’s why I still do it today.’
RSNG How did yoga help you as an athlete? RG ‘I think it was mostly about helping me to know my body. Towards the end of my career a lot of the yoga would be warm-down sessions. We’d be playing two games a week and a lot of the warm-down sessions would just be about recovery one or two days after a game. It encourages you to feel every part of your body from your head to your toes.’
Footballers didn’t know anything about yoga 20 years ago – now it’s just a normal part of their training
RSNG How did players’ attitudes to yoga change during your career? RG ‘At the start, stretching was just about chatting with a mate before the warm-up. That developed into active, dynamic stretching. Then there was a big debate about what sort of stretching was good for you, and whether you do it before training or after training or not at all. But when yoga came along football players were really stretching properly for the first time. All of a sudden we’d be really concentrating on it for an hour or an hour and 15 minutes. Instead of doing lots of army sit-ups we really worked the core in so many different ways. Footballers didn’t know anything about yoga 20 years ago. Nothing. Now for most players it’s just a normal part of their training.’
RSNG What is your best tip for beginners? RG ‘It is best to begin by sorting your breathing out. You should aim to breathe in and out through your nose. It really helps you when you’re in a difficult pose. Breathing deeply relaxes the body a bit more and it also gives you something to concentrate on so when you’re struggling or sweating I always go back to that. Start off by standing upright with a relaxed posture but really concentrate on breathing in and out through your nose. Try to feel the breath deep in your throat, not just in your nostrils.’
RYAN GIGGS 5 BEST YOGA MOVES FOR ATHLETES
1. The Downward-facing Dog RG ‘Plant your hands on the floor and step back with both feet. What you are trying to do – and this is horrible – is to push your heels down to the floor, and push your bum and your hips up at the same time, so it really stretches your hamstrings. Spreading your hands gives you a bit more balance. Play around a little bit to get comfortable and just remember your breathing. This will really help your hamstrings and your lower back, and it builds up the muscles in your arms as well.’
‘It is really important to squeeze your quads because that takes the pressure off your shoulders. When you are in this position, if you don’t squeeze your quads you suddenly feel it on your shoulders but as soon as you strengthen the quads it takes the pressure off.’
2. The chair pose RG ‘From a standing position, squeeze your thighs together and position your feet together too. Move as if to lean forwards, but then as you do that, lift your hands up above your head as high as you can. At the same time, move as if to sit down, by lowering your bum. You should feel the stretch all the way through your back and your body. Keep your quads together and your hands in line with your ears, and really stretch it out. Open out your fingers and keep your palms facing inwards so you really stretch out your arms too.’
3. The Warrior Pose RG ‘The warrior pose is a really good one. Stand upright, straighten your back and move your feet a few feet apart by making a step back with your left foot. Bend your front (right) knee so it is over your ankle. Your left foot should be slightly angled to help you keep your balance. Lift your arms up parallel to each other as you do it and make sure you keep your head up. Remember to breathe deeply throughout. You want to keep your back leg straight and your front knee parallel to the floor.’
4. The Bridge Pose RG ‘Lie down on your back with your arms down by your sides and try to push your shoulder blades together. Now lift yourself up so that your core is straight from your knees to your chest and try to hold that position. Remember to squeeze those shoulder blades together. Sometimes linking your hands together underneath your body can help you push your shoulder blades together. Really squeeze the core as you hold that position.’
5. The Boat Pose RG ‘Sit down with your knees bent in front of you. Now lift your feet off the floor and lean back at the same time, raising your arms out in front of you. The aim of this one is to squeeze your core and keep your feet and hands level with your eyes as you try to keep your balance. Really concentrate on your core and remember to breathe because breathing keeps you focused on your core muscles. You can go down and back up again several times. It’s another really good one.’
WHAT NEXT? Learn more about Ryan Giggs’s yoga techniques with the DVD of Giggs Fitness: Strength and Conditioning, inspired by yoga
Photos: Lululemon, UA92, courtesy Hotel Football
Ryan Giggs was speaking at Hotel Football Old Trafford. For matchday hospitality packages, please click Enjoy Café Football’s special offer: guests who purchase an ‘Eat Like a Pro’ menu item in January can enjoy a free energising smoothie with their meal. Book [here( https://cafe-football.com/)
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.