On June 22, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil, the U. S. Men's National Team was fighting for its life. Trailing Portugal 1-0 in the 64th minute of their World Cup match, the team needed a miracle to keep their hopes alive of advancing past the opening round. A matchup against powerhouse Germany loomed, so a loss to the Portuguese would seal the Americans' fate.
U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi sends the ball into the box, hoping to find forward Clint Dempsey; but a Portuguese defender elevates and seems to clear it away from danger. The ball takes two long bounces, then settles at the feet of Jermaine Jones, who is posted about 25 yards outside the goal. Jones takes one quick dribble, then smashes his right cleat through the ball. A white blur explodes through the traffic in the 18-yard box, curls inside the right post and burrows into the back of the net. Tie game.
The crowd needs a second to process what they've just seen. No one expected Jones to shoot from there, let alone score. The fans then explode into celebration. The U.S. team goes on to secure the draw with Portugal and advance past their opening round "Group of Death." With the attention the team earned by doing so, and the support they won playing deeper into the 2014 World Cup, one could make a convincing argument that Jones's improbable goal ranks among the most important in U.S. soccer history.
Jermaines Jones in action during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
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Thousands of hours of training in practice and in the weight room played a role in his stunning goal, but Jones had a secret weapon, which helped him increase his shot power—yoga. Yoga unlocks lower-body explosiveness by increasing flexibility and functional strength in ways that other training methods cannot.
The 34-year old Jones started integrating yoga into his routine a couple years ago, and he has been amazed with the results.
"When people told me I had to try yoga, I was like, 'nah, man, that's easy,'" Jones says. But when the defensive midfielder finally gave it a shot, he found an intense challenge. "When you start it, you get the feeling like 'this movement or that movement is really hard and I don't like it.' But if you go through with it and keep going, you see how much you can stretch a muscle—and it's unbelievable. I think it's amazing for every sport."
Jones has big, muscular legs, and although they certainly benefit his performance, all that power wouldn't mean much if he lacked the flexility and mobility to execute athletic movements. Yoga helps stretch major muscle groups like the hamstrings and quads, while also building strength in smaller stabilizer muscles throughout the body. Yoga practice also benefits the hips, core and lower back, all of which are critical to efficient lower-body movement.
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"You have to be able to get your leg up, and the hip flexor is where a lot of guys strain. It also has a big impact on your lower back," says Jones's yoga trainer, Kent Katich. "With our lifestyles of sitting all day, our hip flexors get really tight. With soccer in particular, where you have to run and accelerate and thrust your knees and legs up and forward, the hip flexors are critical."
Yoga's helped Jones harness his strength and power, which in turn made him more proficient at everything from shooting to slide-tackling. "It's really good for all movements," Jones says. "It keeps you really loose, and I think that's a big point for soccer players." Jones says.
The 7-Move Yoga Routine for Improved Soccer Skills
Jones and Katich recently documented some of their most powerful yoga routines in a series of online videos. The videos are helpful for anyone who is thinking about beginning to practice yoga. They include sequences geared toward a variety of goals, including improving recovery and warming-up.
This routine is a 7-move sequence designed to help soccer players open their hips and stretch their lower bodies so they can perform at their peak when they hit the pitch.
Work your heels towards the mat as you pull your hips towards the ceiling
Begin in the top of a Push-Up. Spread your fingers apart and press them into the mat. Lift your hips off the ground and move back onto your toes. Continue to pull your hips back and up toward the ceiling while keeping your hands firmly planted on the mat. Tuck your head in as you move. Hold for five deep breaths. "This is a whole-body pose that works your hands, shoulders, calves, lower back, feet—everything, really," Katich says.
One-Handed Down Dog
From Down Dog, take your right hand off the mat, reach back and grab your left leg just above the ankle. Don't let the elbow of your left (supporting) arm rotate out. Relax your head and neck. Hold for five deep breaths.
Single-Leg Down Dog with Knee Tucks
Focus on keeping your back flat
Return both hands to the floor and, staying in Down Dog, elevate your right leg so it forms a straight line with your torso. Keep your palms pressed firmly on the mat. Slowly lift your right knee to your right elbow. Return your right leg to the starting position, then pull it toward the middle of your chest. Return your right leg to the starting position again, then lift your right knee to your left elbow. Return to Down Dog once you've completed the sequence.
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Focus on keeping both arms at shoulder height
From Down Dog, step your right foot between your hands. Lift your hands off the mat while rotating your left foot so that it is parallel to the back of the mat. Raise your arms out to the sides until your hands are level with your shoulders. Pinch your shoulder blades slightly while broadening your chest. Keep your right knee tracking over your middle toe. Focus your eyes on your middle finger. Keep both feet flat on the ground. Hold for five deep breaths.
"This will tone your arms if you focus on keeping them up at shoulder-height. They will feel heavy after doing those other poses," Katich says.
Focus on keeping front knee even with the toes
From Warrior 2, lift your right arm up into the air as you lower your left arm to just above your knee. Look up at your right palm. Hold for five deep breaths.
"This move works on the obliques, lower-back and shoulders," Katich says.
Focus on keeping your left arm fully straightened
From Reverse Warrior, lower your torso toward your front (bent) leg. Place your right arm either on top of your bent leg, or if you're more flexible, lower your hand to the ground just in front of your foot. Lift your left arm above your head and allow your chest to open. Hold for five deep breaths.
"This disperses some of the tension you have in your upper-body from the last pose and opens up your hips," Katich says.
Pull your left leg back to open up your hips
You might need a block for this one. If you don't have a block, use any object that will give you a few extra inches of reach—a water bottle will do.
Starting from Side Angle, move your right hand a few inches in front of your foot. If you're very flexible, your hand will touch the ground, but you can use the block or any other prop to extend your reach. Lift your left leg off the mat, raising it behind you. Keep your elevated leg straight while maintaining a micro-bend in the knee of your standing leg. Rotate your torso so that it is parallel with a wall. Hold the pose for five deep breaths.
Once you've completed the sequence, repeat the routine on the other side.
Want to see videos of these and other moves? Watch Jones and Katich demonstrate their yoga routine here.