Stretching Their Limits
Voluntary yoga training pays off for some Montana football players.
Think yoga is just for girls, do ya?
Well, just watch what you say around the Montana Grizzly football team. They’re bound to strike a camel, a cobra or any one of the 26 poses they learned while taking classes at Bikram’s Yoga College this summer in Missoula.
Think the Griz have gone soft? Well, then you probably haven’t experienced 90 minutes of stretching and breathing in a 105-degree room with 40 percent humidity.
“I thought it would be intense with chanting and stuff like that,” said Grizzly long snapper and H-back Colt Palmer. “When I went there, it was hardcore. It was almost like football practice without the yelling. It surprised the heck out of me how hard it was. It was almost as bad as winter conditioning.”
Bikram’s yoga is the latest technique encouraged by Montana strength and conditioning coach Lacey Degnan. Players voluntarily participated during the summer. It was not an official part of the summer strength and conditioning program, which by NCAA rules is not mandatory. Degnan had been attending yoga classes for five months, after volleyball coach Nikki Best dared him to try.
“I swear it just blew me apart,” Degnan said. “Afterward I thought about how my body felt and how much more flexible and loose I felt. I thought it might be a good idea to do it with the football team. I also tried it with the Lady Griz basketball team after the season ended and they really enjoyed it as well.”
Degnan said he’s heard of professional football players, as well as the University of Texas men’s basketball team trying yoga.
“A lot of big schools dabble in it,” Degnan said. “I think Colorado even tried it once.”
The heat is what makes Bikram’s different from other yoga styles. Bikram’s yoga is named after Bikram Choudhury, who was born in Calcutta, India, in 1946. He currently resides in Los Angeles. The heat is used to “promote cellular metabolism, detoxification and suppleness of the muscular system.”
“When you detoxify the body, it allows you to relax and your muscles loosen up,” said Meg Lattanzio, who owns Bikram’s College in downtown Missoula. “There are also physical and mental benefits. It makes the mind stronger by being in that environment. It really strengthens the mind.”
Sweating is something Grizzly players are accustomed too, but even this took them by surprise. Senior defensive tackle Blake Horgan, who attended one class, arrived with just a small gym towel.
“I didn’t know I needed a beach towel,” Horgan said. “It was too hot for me. I’m a sweater. It was like 140 friggin degrees. I can do yoga in a cool room and get the same thing from it. It’s definitely a great workout.”
“At the end of 90 minutes the towel I brought in would just be soaked,” Palmer said. “You could wring it out and probably get a gallon of sweat.”
Players like Palmer, linebacker Dustin Dlouhy, offensive lineman Dylan Brown and linebacker Shane MacIntyre attended the classes several times. Degnan sent former Grizzly and current Buffalo Bills’ offensive lineman Dylan McFarland to Lattanzio just before the NFL Combine in February. Some players, like Tate Hancock and Horgan, opted not to go back for a second try.
“I walked in late and not really ready for it,” Hancock said. “I didn’t bring a towel and I brought just a tiny jug of water. It was gone in about the first 10 minutes. After about an hour and 10 minutes, I hit a wall. I was sitting next to (Nick) Vella and Blake and a couple of other guys and we were just hurting.”
Those that stuck it out noticed some positive changes. Palmer credited yoga training for helping him improve his maximum squat 85 pounds this summer.
“It helped my hamstring a lot,” Palmer said. “It helped my hips for long snapping. I feel a lot looser. It feels like I get more pop on the ball.”
Hancock said he was surprised by the changes in some of the other players who attended regularly.
“I went in there and they didn’t look like flexible guys,” Hancock said. “They were doing stuff I couldn’t even come close to doing and they were only there three or four times
Lattanzio said she believes yoga can be very beneficial for football players, helping them sharpen their concentration and eliminate all distractions.
“It can also help heal current injuries or injuries from the past and help prevent possible injuries by stretching the muscles and opening joints and building strength in the spine,” she said. “The body is more limber and able to take impact a little more without creating injuries.”
Lattanzio also said yoga can help lengthen the muscles which have been contracted by weight lifting and running.
“It will actually give the torso further range of motion,” she said. “They are able to turn their body and maximize every movement the body is able to have. It can also give them better balance.”
Lattanzio, who trained under Bekram, said all the players were very enthusiastic, and was very pleased with the progress some of the Grizzlies made.
“Dylan Brown was exceptional,” she said. “He improved more than he thinks he did.”
“Dustin Dlouhy was a phenomenal student,” she added. “Physically his body took really well to it. Mentally he really got it. Colt did great with balance. There is a whole balancing series in yoga.”
Degnan said he might include yoga as an official part of training, as a change to the normal weight training, running and conditioning.
Lattanzio said she wasn’t a big follower of Griz football prior to the players attending her class. That’s changed. She said she wouldn’t mind being involved on the field before the game.
“I’d love the opportunity to do some warm-ups on the field,” she said. “Some simple stretching for them, get them focused so they aren’t so jittery. I’d like to work with the teams.”