Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yoga and CrossFit

Yoga and CrossFit.  Not sure if I can do that now.

Before CrossFit, I was reallyyyyyyyyyy into yoga, specifically Ashtanga yoga.  I used to randomly pick a pose from 608 Yoga Poses and attempt to do it after class each day.  I used to go 6 times a week!  Over the past months, my fitness interests changed.  As I attended more CrossFit classes, I skipped more yoga classes, until my yoga attendance hit zero.  After ditching yoga for a few months, I noticed a dramatic decrease in my flexibility and increased healing time for body aches and pains, specifically in my lower back.

When one of our trainers told me I might have shoulder flexibility issues in my front squat, my immediate reaction was oh HELL NO.  After class, my mind was busy processing a whirlwind of thoughts.  What benefits did yoga have on me when I practiced it?  Were there any movements I could perform better before, than now?

I'm no SME.  Below are just my thoughts, observations, and what works for me.

How yoga helps me with CrossFit:
  • Active recovery and stretching.  Yoga is incredibly conducive with recovery, with the major advantage of portability.  No foam roller, or any equipment necessary.  Yoga stretches out not only your muscles, but also all of your ligaments, tendons, and all that other soft tissues.  In a yoga session, your hips open up, and your wrists and ankles get loose. The body stretches out and relaxes.
  • Relieving aches and pains.  There's a difference between being sore and achy.  Though there is no way to completely eliminate soreness from CrossFit, body aches and pains can be minimized.  For example, every time after I deadlift, my lower back always ends up super achy.  If I do not foam roll or spend a few minutes doing some stretches afterwards, it will continue to bother me the next day too, and affect performance if there are any movements involving the lower back.
    Yoga poses/stretches for relieving lower pack pain
    : triangle (all-time favorite), standing forward bend (I like the variation where you grab both elbows from the back and then fold or elbows to ground of course), and child's pose.
  • Hip and shoulder mobility.  Flexibility is one of CrossFit's 10 general physical skills.  Having some flexibility gives you more air for injuries.  Poor flexibility can limit what you do in a WOD, i.e. not being able to fully lock your arms due to tight muscles.  Yoga can help increase the range of motion in your joints.  Shoulder flexibility is necessary for overhead movements and that front rack position.  Some degree of hip flexibility is required for movements like deadlifts, KBS, and specifically the squat, and of all its relatives: overhead, front, back, pistols.  Elite Olympic lifters tend to be pretty flexible.  Kendrick Farris, Chad Vaughn, and Liao Hui, all visit that deep squat (malasana) during a heavy lift, just to name a few.
    Yoga poses/stretches for hip mobility: Most basic yoga poses work on hip mobility such as pigeon, malasana (deep squat), and warriors aka the lunges.  
    Yoga poses/stretches for shoulder mobility: Shoulder rolls, dolphin (also a fav), and downward dog.
  • Abs.  I know we say all the movements we do work the abs in some shape or form.  However, I feel like extra ab-intensive movements such as hollow rock holds, rocking hollow rocks, plank holds, L-sit holds, V-ups, sit-ups, toes-to-bar, knees-to-elbow were significantly easier when I supplemented CrossFit with yoga.  Anytime those movements showed up in WODs or warmups, it was a break.  Full range of motion on the V-ups and sit-ups were easily doable back then too, probably from a ton of hollow rocks and boat variations in yoga.  One of the first CrossFit workouts I did was Filthy Fifty.  The two movements I was able to do unbroken with ease, were the lunges and knees-to-elbows (each rep from a dead hang).  Now, I am lucky if I can do 20 knees-to-elbows unbroken, and the same goes with toes-to-bar.  FYI, lunges are still unbroken but they are miserable now.  Also, at one point this year, I won an L-sit contest, games standard, with a hold of 1:30 something (probably from practicing the L-seat a bunch).  Now I am lucky to break the minute mark.
  • Stability, balance, and body control.  These are skills you develop just from attending a bunch of yoga classes.  I think I have a decent understanding of my body, finding my center of gravity, and how to get it into "different" positions while feeling stable and in control, thanks to yoga.  There are tons of arm balances and inversions in Ashtanga yoga.  To do any funky variations of these inversions on the hands, head, or shoulders, I had to be competent enough to get upside down and safely out of it.  Yoga got me comfortable with this territory.  These skills also translate to bodyweight movements like handstand walks, ring work, and also lifts like the overhead squat.

Just having fun:
2. Balance and coordination.  Ass-to-ankle pistol.

3. Static hold.  Frog.

4. Side splits on my favorite squat rack.

Though very different in principles, such as: Vegetarianism vs. Paleo, slow and graceful vs. fast and violent, and arched back vs. hollow position, yoga and CrossFit complement each other pretty well.  Yoga emphasizes flexibility, mobility, balance, and coordination, and for Ashtanga yoga, bodyweight strength and control, in addition.  It also helps with body awareness to not only how the body moves, but also how the body feels when it moves.  The two are similar in that they require full absorption in what you are doing and that there is no plateau-ing effect.  They will always be challenging no matter how experienced you are.  There are not many people in the world who can do all the poses in an advanced series C or D!

So, with that said, I think I'm going to try to go to yoga again... once a week.