For SM East football team, plenty of time for weightlifting — but first, some yoga

Calen Gilmore, center, who can squat 540 pounds, said yoga has helped him with his weightlifting.
Calen Gilmore, center, who can squat 540 pounds, said yoga has helped him with his weightlifting.

As the Lancers’ starting nose tackle, SM East junior Calen Gilmore was part of the terrifying defense that helped propel the football team to its first-ever state title this past season. A 5’9”, 165 pound block of granite, he benches 295 and squats 540. When Gilmore is on the field, it’s his job to hit things — to beat down the opponents’ offensive line, to scare the bejesus out of the bad guys’ quarterback.

Football is part of the Gilmore family tradition, from his grandfather up to his brother, who currently plays in college. All of this is to say: Calen Gilmore wouldn’t strike most as your typical yogi.

On Wednesday morning, though, Gilmore found himself seated cross-legged and gently waving his arms over his head as an instructor encouraged the room to “Breathe, breathe, breathe.” A few minutes later, he and more than a dozen of his football teammates were carefully setting the foundation for the warrior II pose before moving into extended side angle.

Yoga for football players? A decade ago, the notion might have seemed pretty out there. But for the past three weeks, sports yoga specialist Melissa Marienau has put SM East football players through the paces of introductory yoga classes, part of football coach Dustin Delaney’s ever-changing conditioning regimen for his players. The program has been so popular out of the gate that Delaney opened it up to all student athletes. On Wednesday, the wrestling room was full of familiar football players, like K-State-bound defensive end Kyle Ball, but also members of SM East’s tennis, track, lacrosse, baseball and dance squads.

The benefits, said Delaney, extend beyond performance on the field, where added flexibility can help players avoid injury and build strength without limiting mobility.

“I’m a physical education teacher, so the idea is giving kids life long skills here,” he said. “If you do yoga your whole life, you’re probably going to feel better when you’re older.”

Marienau came to specialize in teaching yoga to athletes after time spent as a dancer and endurance athlete. She noticed that many athletes don’t incorporate enough flexibility training into their routines and set themselves up for injury.

“Athletes are extremely tight — they have no body awareness,” she said. “And they could hurt themselves.”

But far from being some easy, light stretching, Marienau’s classes have been a challenge to the football players.

“It kicked my butt pretty badly. It’s a lot tougher than people who haven’t done it would expect,” Gilmore said. “The people who haven’t come out and done it yet…they still like to make a couple jokes towards the football players, the other people who have, but if they did it, they wouldn’t anymore… So far I love it. It’s helped me be a lot more mobile in my lifting. I already feel it making a difference.”

The football team will continue to do the yoga training throughout the summer, and Delaney said he intends to re-open the in-school sessions next school year.

More than 50 student athletes participated in the first of three yoga sessions at SM East Wednesday.
More than 50 student athletes participated in the first of three yoga sessions at SM East Wednesday.