I’m a firm believer that every athlete should incorporate yoga into their training. I’ve seen the benefits and that’s exactly why I chose to share it as a teacher. While everyone knows it’s a “great stretch,” yoga is so much more. The physical, mental and emotional benefits you will receive from a regular practice will dramatically improve your athleticism. Here are my top six reasons that every Crossfitter, lifter and any athlete should sacrifice at least an hour to yoga every week:
1. Flexibility & Mobility
One of the first things that comes to mind when you think yoga is stretching—it’s already widely understood that yoga helps increase flexibility. But combining Crossfit and yoga helps achieve the unstoppable pair of being strong AND flexible (or buff and bendy). It’s important to understand that you cannot have strength without flexibility, and vice versa. As one muscle contracts, it’s muscular counterpart must lengthen, and without the proper flexibility, we’re unable to gain maximum strength. Every posture in yoga is designed to do exactly that: build static strength in one muscle while deeply stretching another. Take the overhead squat for example—it doesn’t matter how strong you are; if you don’t have the mobility, it’s tough to master the movement. Too much strength can make us rigid and too much flexibility can make us unstable, but when the two meet in the middle it’s like magic.
“But I lift heavy weights, I don’t need yoga to get stronger!” Wrong. Yoga helps strengthen different types of muscles for different reasons. Crossfit is all about big dynamic movements and using big muscles. Yoga introduces new concepts of movements: static and static variation, which strengthens the muscles while keeping it at one length the entire time. Almost every movement in Crossfit is explosive. But to build the strength needed for efficiency in those movements, it’s important to build static strength as well for a strong foundation and muscular endurance. Additionally, holding strength postures in yoga for an extended period of time allows you to work toward perfect postural alignment through breath and deepening cues. This allows you to properly train your muscles and body position so when you do a movement or hit a lift, you do it right.
3. Balance & Proprioception
Snatches, cleans, pistols, split jerks, handstands, muscle ups, kettlebell swings…the list goes on. Almost every movement in Crossfit requires balance. Correction: impeccable balance. Balancing postures in yoga help strengthen your stabilizer muscles, helps you maintain focus and helps improve your proprioception (your awareness of your limbs in space). Working your sensory receptors in these postures also helps your agility, speed and footwork. Training stabilization, focus and proprioception will help you hit your lift or master a gymnastics movement, and best of all, do it right. Many people can muscle through a lift or a gymnastics movement, but those that do it right and with correct body position are those that can efficiently finish a workout.
4. Absorbing Cues
With Crossfit being a fairly new sport to everyone, not many people grew up knowing all of the movements. In learning new, advanced movements, small changes make a world of difference. So when your coach tells you to “extend your hips,” sometimes it’s difficult to apply the cue right away. However, these small changes and cues make movements more efficient, increase numbers, help you learn a new movement and prevent injuries. Slowing down your movements in yoga gives you time to make small adjustments and really feel how they make a world of difference. In a posture, when you shift your weight, draw your shoulders down, externally rotate your hips, or draw your thighs toward your midline, you feel the pose completely change and finally realize how it’s supposed to be. Absorbing cues in yoga will teach you to absorb cues in lifting, gymnastics and conditioning.
We spend so much time working our muscles (because, well, it’s fun), but sometimes we forget our most importance muscle of all—our diaphragm. Yes, without extra diaphragm exercises, we would still be able to breathe, but if we want to be athletic super humans, we need to be able to breathe well. Yoga introduces pranayama (breath) exercises, that strengthen the diaphragm and help us breath better. Regular Pranayama exercises will increase your V02 max and help you cruise through a long, grueling fire burner. Learning how to use your full breath potential will also help stabilize you during heavy lifts. With good breathing technique, you will stay cool, calm and collected no matter what is thrown at you.
6. Mental Training
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Let’s face it, Crossfit is a mental game. We’ve all been mid-workout and fallen apart mentally. We’ve all walked up to the barbell, were unsure if we were going to hit the lift or not and missed it. To be successful in Crossfit you must have focus, patience and a strong will. Yoga trains you to focus inward, find spiritual insight and tranquility. It’s a discipline that promotes control of the body and mind while letting go of external factors. Too many people panic, become impatient or frustrated and their physical performance always suffers. If you learn to remain calm and patient in challenging situations, you will be better at everything. Once you gain mental toughness, it’s amazing what your body can do.