According to the ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, Yoga is one of the top ten fitness trends of 2017. This won't surprise the many of us CrossFitter’s that regularly attend our local power flow class to get our OM on. The rest of you may be wondering what it’s all about. Yoga today is not necessarily the yoga that has been traditionally practiced; however, yoga is based upon eight limbs or key principles (Ashtanga). The third limb is Asana or the postures you will find yourself doing in each class. This article will also discuss how the fourth limb, pranayama (breath), can aid each and every CrossFit athlete. It is my personal opinion that the most benefit is found in the other six limbs, but we will just touch on the most common practices today.
Yoga for CrossFit
In Greg Glassman’s own words CrossFit athletes require “Cardiorespiratory endurance, stamina, strength, power, speed, flexibility, agility, accuracy, balance, and coordination: you’re as good as your weakest link.” What exactly can yoga help us improve? Most athletes can benefit from increased strength, flexibility, core stability, alignment, efficacy and a decrease in recovery time. Yoga offers us all this plus the additional benefit of mindfulness or the connection we have to our own body, which can be vital when pushing through a challenging WOD. It allows us to face our dark places, release our ego and relax under enormous pressure.
Strength is the foundation for both power and speed. Training your strength endurance at lower intensities, where muscles spend time under tension, builds more than just muscle. The connective tissue is strengthened as is the central nervous system capacity, allowing you to apply force more rapidly and minimise your injury risk. Yoga also teaches us that true strength is more than just musculature; it is the limitless potential in every one of us. This is expressed through love, light, wisdom and beauty, the stronger we believe ourselves to be, the more likely we are to hit that body weight x2 back squat. Strength in combination with flexibility, allows athletes to create more torque (rotation) and strain on the joints safely and efficiently.
Building a strong core
The core musculature comprises the transverse abdominis (TVA), rectus abdominis (six pack muscles), erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, illiocostalis, multifidus, spinalis, longissimus, obliques, quadratus laborum, gracilis, gluteus maximus and medius, hamstrings and rectus femoris. There are many muscles involved with midline stability, the athletes’ capacity to maintain a neutral spinal alignment during a foundational or functional movement, and yoga gives us clear physical landmarks to align the body whilst engaging these muscles throughout the class. In yoga, we do this by creating co-activation of muscles at the navel, uddiyana bandha, and pelvic floor, mula bandha. The asanas are also practiced evenly through the body, allowing balance and coordination without favouring a particular side. Each pose will be held for a number of breaths, usually through the nostrils, and the transitions are coordinated by the breath.
Pranayama, or breath control helps us to relax by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, the opposite to our fight or flight response. We are taught to consciously deepen the breath to master the postures, which helps us to breathe efficiently and deeply when we are struggling. This is most helpful when getting up from the bottom of a 1RM clean or controlling your heart rate during Fran. Breathing this way also prevents us from over- using our intercostal muscles (between the ribs) allowing us to increase our cardiorespiratory output.
What it’s all about
Yoga is not about being bendy, just as CrossFit is not about having the best score on the board. It is about showing up to your mat or the bar consistently; not knowing what is going to happen and being ok with that. It can be about rehabilitating or pre-habilitating yourself and not believing that you are too old, too injured, too fat or too weak. It’s about believing that you can do anything, even if it’s the most scariest, impossible thing you could ever imagine…like Murph. It’s about stripping back the ego to uncover who you truly are, nurturing yourself so that you can then show kindness to others. It is about health without bulldozing your own limits, slowing down to build strength. It is about breathing and moving, connecting and grounding yourself. It’s finding your inner smile.
While exhaustion has become rather a status symbol these days, more and more elite athletes are tuning in and turning to yoga to improve their performance and avoid common injuries or training plateaus. While “there is no single sport or activity that trains for perfect fitness. True fitness requires a compromise in adaptation broader than the demands of most every sport’” (Greg Glassman), a combination of yoga and CrossFit can help to create a more balanced athlete.
Postures for CrossFit
Four essential postures for the everyday or advanced CrossFit athlete are adho mukha svanasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana, gomuksasana and supta virasana. Downward facing dog stretches the hamstrings and the calves while decompressing and neutralising the spine. It can help correct poor movement patterns in kettlebell swings, snatch, deadlift and pressing series. Wheel pose increases thoracic range of movement, lengthens the torso, stretches the chest and lungs while strengthening the arms and wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen, and spine. Cow face pose helps to target the piriformus in the glutes which is quite hard to isolate, it stretches the hips and iliotibial band. Reclining hero pose lengthens the psoas and quadriceps which benefits our squatting immensely.
We can clearly see the parallel between CrossFit and yoga; we can see that CrossFit athletes require mobility, midline stability and focus, that yoga can give us this. Yoga provides consistent and smooth transitions which translate well for lifting and gymnastics in terms of both timing and alignment. As with seeking a coach for your training, not all yoga teachers are the same, find someone that can communicate with you and attend your needs…and don’t be surprised if you find yourself Om-ing alongside a regionals athlete.
Coach Sares writes most of our posts in her spare time ;)