You know how some football players take ballet lessons to learn agility, move gracefully, and improve flexibility? I like to think of yoga as “football ballet” for Crossfitters.
Every Sunday morning, my Crossfit gym has a yoga class. The instructor is brilliantly attentive to that past week’s WODs so she’s in tune with what body parts are probably sore and tight when we sleepily wander onto our yoga mats at 10:30. She’ll ask us if there are any particular areas we’d like to work on, and then we get started.
Every warrior pose makes my already tired quads burn, my sore shoulders are on fire during Downward Dog, and my weak wrists hate all the plank positions – but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s helping. With Crossfit’s already sharp focus on mobility (towards which I couldn’t be more thankful), yoga just feels like a natural, obvious way to add to that.
Yoga and it’s many benefits
I have never been, nor will I ever be, a “yogi”. I tried out yoga a few times in high school but it never stuck as a formed habit for me. When I did ballet I valued it as a way to improve my flexibility, but life’s business quickly took that allotted time away from me in favor of other things. When I found out my box was offering yoga classes, I didn’t think much about it – til everything started getting sore and tight and I was suddenly dying for something like yoga to help me out.
Yoga offers a ton of different health benefits, but here’s why I’ve found myself back on the mat week after week (when I don’t sleep in too late!):
- Slow down! Yoga is NOT about speed, while frequently Crossfit is! My time Sunday morning forces me to really slow down my body and think about each movement mindfully while performing them – which muscles are supposed to be contracting vs. relaxing, how my form looks and feels, so forth. The more I practice this thoughtfulness, the more second nature it becomes – and thus gets applied to what I do during a WOD.
- Breathe. This is always so obvious, til you find yourself mid-barbell complex and realize you’ve been holding your breath the whole time. Every yoga movement gets tied to your breath – you inhale and exhale in a coordinated pattern with your motions. Inhaling at the wrong time feels, well, wrong! I can’t tell you how beneficial it’s been to turn my attentiveness to my breath in a slower format, so that when it comes time to snatch or ball slam I’m able to speed that up and make it for me.
- Stretch it out. Obviously there’s a ton of stretching involved with yoga, but it’s blended in between lunges and planks so that everything “flows” together. Your muscles are already warmed before you even begin to sink deeper into a forward bend, so you can hit stretches with a more full range of motion. Not to mention, yoga has given me a few magical fixes for areas I just can’t seem to stretch that well – pop into a weird twist and suddenly your lower back area that’s been tight all week feels better!
- Ground yourself. Every movement in yoga involves awareness of your body’s alignment – and this translates into Crossfit, too! In stacking your body so your chest is up during a power clean, to being sure a kettlebell makes a straight line with your body when up in the air, this mindfulness ensures you’re activating your core and all the correctly corresponding muscles during a movement. Poor alignment leads to compensation in other areas of the body that can cause imbalances or just bad form. Additionally, you’ll frequently hear a yoga instructor reminding you to push through your heels and all other areas of your feet and palms equally, to help distribute weight evenly while you balance. This is a great thing to keep in mind when stabilizing during any other kind of position!
Room for improvement – always
I’ve only been doing Crossfit for a little over 6 months now, but the more regularly I attend our yoga classes, the better I feel. I’m more aware of my breathing, my form, and my alignment, and my mobility is improving bit by bit!
Specifics are always more fun, though, so here is specifically what I’ve noticed:
- My push-up form is much better. I can better ground my palms and keep my weight distributed between my toes and my wrists, and lower down with a tighter core. That Sun Salutation sequence with chaturanga dandasana isn’t for nothing.
- No more wrist pain. When I first started Crossfit, my wrists KILLED me. Every day. I was pretty sure I’d have to quit Crossfit and go into isolation and never use them again in order to feel better. Well, that wasn’t the case – all I needed was to work on my wrist strength and flexibility. Downward dog and planks help build up strength and keep my wrists limber at a 90 degree bend – though I do make sure to stretch them the opposite way as well afterwards. All this has given me better front rack positioning and more comfort with the bar overhead.
- I remember to keep my chest up when squatting! A common issue with back and front squats is letting the chest drop, which invariably rounds out the back and puts added stress there. Chair pose is great for this – you constantly have to be mindful of pointing your chest up to the sky, but still keeping your core tight and pelvis forward. Adding in a leg twist challenges your balance, and raising your arms forces you to remember to keep your shoulders down (while, of course, not dropping your chest!) So many components to think about – just like lifting.
- Shoulder mobility is slowly getting there. This is probably my WORST mobility area, personally – though it has definitely improved! Dolphin pose along with Downward Dog are great shoulder openers that have helped me with my overhead squats. I’ve also experienced less discomfort doing toes-to-bar (which always used to feel like my shoulder joints were ripping out).
- Reduced hip tightness = better squats. Sitting in a chair all day is no good for squat depth! Though anyone that knows me knows I do not have issues with hip mobility, learning to use CONTROL when lowering into a squat is crucial (and feeling comfortable in that bottom position is nice, too). Strengthening and opening your hips as well as keeping hip flexors limber makes a big difference! I used to drop down too fast into my squats (think “drop it to the floor” dance style) which was not only hard on my knees, but meant I wasn’t engaging the muscles needed to perform the squat in the first place. Better hip flexibility means better control lowering down.
- Way less asthma parties. I like to call them parties because, well, “attack” sounds rather violent – though they’re anything but party-like. Exercise-induced asthma has held me back before, but I find that every week, I’m able to go a bit further before getting beaten down. I attribute this to increased mindfulness of my breath during every movement I do, and timing my inhales and exhales to appropriate movements. I don’t know why it took yoga for me to figure this out, since everyone ALWAYS yells “breathe!” but somehow, it helped make it click for me. I’m still a 2-puff-a-day girl, but maybe only for now.
While I have to say I may not still be a yoga person, I love getting to do yoga with fellow Crossfitters since we all tend to need the same things and suffer from the same pains! I have an endless list of things I need to improve on, and I’m still learning every day.
And don’t get me wrong – yoga can benefit anyone, outside of Crossfit, whether you do it paired with a different sport or just for the yoga itself. Perhaps one of the most applicable lessons I’ve learned is what our instructor says in the very last, silent moments of our practice:
“Say something kind to yourself.”
Everyone can benefit from that.