ANGELS PITCHER Kelvim Escobar took one look at then teammate Tim Salmon contorting his 6'3", 235-pound body on a yoga mat last season and exclaimed: "What the hell is that?" Says Escobar, "Tim is a big guy, and he was moving his body in these strange positions. I didn't know anything about yoga, but Tim told me how it helps muscles recover and helps with flexibility. He said it would add five years to my career."
During spring training this year the 6'1", 230-pound Escobar, 31, delved into yoga with the help of Sal-mon's Arizona-based instructor, Alyssa Dinowitz. Her hourlong routine—which Escobar now usually does on his own, three times each week—is designed expressly for pitchers to help build core strength and increase shoulder flexibility. "I [also] focus a lot on twisting with Kelvim," says Dinowitz. "Anything that helps with his range of motion, shoulder stretching, lower back strength." Says Escobar, "Some of these poses take me a while to get into. But I've never felt better."
For SI PLAYERS, Escobar, who improved to 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA after beating the Pirates last Saturday, demonstrated six poses. While doing them, says Dinowitz, inhale and exhale evenly through the nose. To start out, hold each pose for one breath (one full inhale and exhale) working up to three breaths or about 90 seconds.
(Pictured at top)
Start in push-up position, body raised off the floor. Bring left knee down so it touches floor; raise extended right leg to same height as back. Raise left arm and extend it forward, palm down while the right palm remains on floor. Make sure back is extended and straight—a flat surface. Hold. Switch sides.
Strengthens shoulders and core and, says Dinowitz, "helps maintain good balance, which pitchers need."
Start in push-up position with left knee forward, right leg straight back and top of right foot on the ground. Roll right thigh to make sure right knee is touching the floor. Slowly move forward into hips, extending arms in front. For a more intense stretch, move left foot forward to beyond a 45-degree angle; move it back for less. If right knee becomes uncomfortable, cushion it with a blanket underneath it. Hold. Switch sides.
Loosens hips and stretches thigh and groin.
Head to Knee
While seated, extend right leg forward, bring left leg in so left foot touches right thigh. Inhale. Extend arms overhead for a full torso stretch. Twist slightly to left. Exhale and slowly fold, leaning over and reaching for right toes. Keep toes pointed toward the ceiling to engage quads and hamstrings. Keep chest open and extended. (Use a strap to help reach toes.) Repeat, with left leg extended.
Flexibility to hamstrings, lower back and obliques.
Half Cow Face
Sit on ground in comfortable position. (Escobar sits with legs crossed). Place left arm behind you and reach as high up back as possible. With right arm, reach overhead and try to grab left hand. Inhale, keep chest open in a full extension—do not lean or arch forward. If you can't touch hands, use a strap to complete connection. Hold. Switch sides.
Stretches deltoids, biceps and triceps and also releases tension in the shoulder blades.
Revolved Side Angle
Face front, palms together at sternum. Place left foot 3-4 feet behind right foot, turned slightly outward, right heel lined up with center of left arch. Bend right knee, keeping back leg extended. Fold torso forward and twist right. Keep palms together, tuck left elbow outside right knee, and look past right shoulder to open chest. Can lift back heel and turn foot parallel to front foot, if too challenging to keep back foot flat on floor. Hold. Switch sides.
Strengthens abs, legs and torso.
Tough for beginners. Squat and put palms flat on floor about shoulders' distance apart. Use elbows to push knees out. Start to lean forward, raising head. Lift one foot then the other so that you come to balance with both feet up.
Strengthens wrists, forearms and abs. Improves balance.