More and more athletes swear by how their yoga programs improve their sports performance. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2004; 18 [4], 723–29) adds one more great reason to cross-train with yoga: a decrease in delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Researchers at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, found that ongoing yoga training and a single bout of yoga both appeared to reduce muscle soreness in women who had performed eccentric exercise. The goal of the study was to evaluate whether people who were yoga trained would experience less DOMS after strenuous exercise than those who were not trained in yoga.

Participants were 12 women trained in Kripalu yoga and 12 non-yoga-trained women, all healthy, aged 22–53 years and not taking pain medications. Both groups participated in a strenuous exercise protocol (not yoga). The observers measured muscle soreness, body awareness, flexibility and perceived exertion. Yoga-trained subjects continued their regular yoga practice before the study and participated in one yoga session during the 5-day measurement period. The other group did no yoga. Study findings confirmed that the yoga practitioners experienced less DOMS after strenuous exercise than those who were not trained in yoga and that a single bout of yoga practice further reduced the experience of muscle soreness.

The Springfield College researchers recommend that coaches, athletes and other exercisers consider including yoga as part of preseason training or as a regular supplemental activity. Since the practice of Kripalu yoga includes postures, breathing techniques and meditation, future research would be useful to determine which of these elements most contribute to reducing pain.