By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Some unconventional training methods have helped the DeMatha Catholic (D.C.) football team win four straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships. For the last two years, the team’s unconventional training includes Bikram Yoga.
The DeMatha Catholic football team participates in a Bikram Yoga class, also known as “hot yoga”, once a week at Bikram Hot Yoga Riverdale Park. Kendra Blackett-Dibinga leads the classes in 104-degree temperatures, mixing in some pilates with a steady diet of yoga.
Blackett-Dibinga shares 10 benefits of Bikram Yoga for football players.
- Builds mental toughness. After the DeMatha Catholic players get through 90-minute yoga and pilates sessions in 104-degree heat, a hot summer practice feels like a breeze. “It’s a mental exercise, first and foremost,” Blackett-Dibinga said.
- Strengthens cardiorespiratory system. A big part of yoga is controlling one’s breath in uncomfortable physical positions. “It’s important they learn how to breathe through that,” Blackett-Dibinga said.
- Heat training. Players need to learn how to survive in extreme heat through hydration and a good deal of composure. “A lot of players get sick through training in high heat,” she said. “They need to withstand high temperatures under strenuous activity.”
- Improves focus. A football player’s technique is sacrificed when he loses focus. Bikram Yoga is all about practicing perfect technique in adverse conditions. “The heat is a distraction,” she said. “Players get bothered. But they stay with it and really learn how to focus, listen to instruction, and be present.”
- Injury prevention. The extreme heat causes players’ tight muscles to expand, resulting in fewer muscle tears and cramps. “It allows athletes to be more present and aware of how they’re moving in time and space,” she said.
- Increases flexibility. The players’ muscles and fascia are loosened up after a Bikram Yoga session – more so than a standard football warmup. “Most times, they get on the field and there’s minimal focus on flexibility,” she said. “There’s more focus on weight training, and the flexibility isn’t there.”
- Leaner body types. Some of the big-bodied linemen at DeMatha have lost weight through the Bikram Yoga training, leaving them with leaner muscle mass. “They’re able to move their bodies,” Blackett-Dibinga said. “It can help slim out a bulky, big player. It’s toning without losing muscle mass.”
- Offers a mental break from a violent sport. Some of the DeMatha Catholic players have chosen to come in for a second Bikram Yoga session each week on their own. It helps them de-stress and calm their nerves, so they are not a threat to take penalties or let their physical aggression spill over to other aspects of their lives.
- Generates camaraderie. It is quite the visual when the DeMatha Catholic football team trains. “It’s 60 sweaty guys in a hot room with one tiny teacher,” Blackett-Dibinga said. “It’s pretty awesome; they actually do pretty well in the room. They focus, and (Coach Elijah Brooks) occasionally takes the class with them.”
- Teaches life lessons. Blackett-Dibinga sees hot yoga as a metaphor for life. “How they handle the hot room is how they’ll handle adversity on the field and in life,” she said. “Not paying attention is an indication of what they’ll do under stress.
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