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Bucs players strike a pose, tackle yoga

Robert Ayers and Noah Spence, the oldest and youngest of the Bucs' defensive ends, are lined up a few feet apart, each in a decidedly nontraditional three-point stance.

Their hands are on the floor in front of them, and each has one foot planted and the other leg outstretched high behind in the air in what is called the "three-legged dog" position. In a room full of NFL players, they hold the pose for a moment, sweat dripping.

It's yoga, and it's something a handful of Bucs have embraced as part of their offseason conditioning. Rookie Vernon Hargreaves has done it, as have safeties Chris Conte and Keith Tandy and linebacker Adarius Glanton; even Jameis Winston has given it a try.

"I do it every offseason to work on my flexibility, my mobility, my core, my stability," said the 275-pound Ayers, 30, who signed with the Bucs after getting 9 1/2 sacks in a breakout year with the Giants. "I'm not extreme, but I like it. If you want to do things, performance-wise, it's not just about lifting weights and running fast and bench-pressing and pushing sleds."

On this particular Tuesday, the Bucs are taking a yoga class at Performance Compound on Cypress Street in Tampa, having finished normal outdoor and weight-room workouts already. There are 10 football players in Kristy Robinson's class this time, including aspiring Colts and Texans and other locals still hoping to get into the league. They shift from one simple pose to another, with names like "pigeon" and "plank" and "warrior II."

"They do a lot of strength training and conditioning, but it's really important to have flexibility to balance the strength," said Robinson, a former athlete and sports reporter who has practiced yoga for five years and has been an instructor for athletes for two. "Developing more mobility and flexibility is really helpful to prevent injury, and that's huge for an athlete."

Ayers and Spence see yoga in their football — as defensive ends, they're constantly contorting their bodies to bend around and inside offensive tackles as they rush the quarterback. That means keeping their balance and strength in difficult body positions, where the yoga can help them out.

"When I'm trying to turn the edge, if someone's pushing me, I don't want to fall easy," said Ayers, wearing a white Bucs shirt and keeping active during a rare down time on the NFL calendar. "You turn your hips, you flip your feet and stay balanced the whole time. I need to stay strong, to fight resistance, to be flexible, and this helps with all that."

Ayers started doing yoga when he was in college a decade ago, and Spence embraced yoga this spring as part of his preparation for the NFL draft, before he even came to the Bucs.

"It helps me strengthen my hands and my hips, and it really helps being flexible when I'm trying to get around an offensive lineman," said the 22-year-old Spence, the Bucs' second-round draft pick in April. "I'm getting better at it. I slip sometimes but it's like any other thing: You get better as you go."

Robinson tries to explain the importance of specific poses to players — when the class is in a pose called "cow face arms," on their knees, opening their chest with an arm stretched behind them, it's key to get the "toe crunch," with toes on the floor, stretching out the backs of their legs and strengthening the ankles.

Robinson, who works with some players year-round and hopes to work more formally with the Bucs, tries not to get too "spiritual hippie" with yoga, so there's R&B music playing during class. She's careful to always include the savasana — literally the Sanskrit words for "corpse pose" — at the end of class, when the lights are turned off and players lay flat on their backs in a relaxation pose.

"It's great for the mindfulness aspect of it," she said. "Just five, 10 minutes for them to turn their thoughts off. They have such high expectations put on them. It can help them off the field, too."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Bucs players strike a pose, tackle yoga 07/19/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 10:45pm]
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