The exercises of CrossFit are renowned for their high physical intensity. As a newbie to CrossFit I was keen to get up to speed as quickly as possible. A more seasoned practitioner advised me that I want as many tools that can improve my performance. I know practising yoga is a great compliment to all sports but do yoga poses for CrossFit give you a competitive edge in the Box?
Practising yoga regularly will improve your balance, flexibility and mobility which are vital elements of CrossFit foundational movements. Yoga poses are excellent in developing and advancing all round strength. Additional yoga leads to better breathing so you can regulate rest periods effectively.
I believe you can only benefit from including yoga in your CrossFit training. There are many ways it complements your training and will improve your performance. If top athletes like Noah Ohlsen and Sara Sigmundsdottir are using yoga regularly it must be worth looking further into it.
CrossFit and Yoga Connection
If you stop and take a closer look, CrossFit and yoga have some common traits. They are both activities that outsiders have preconceived misconceptions about. Participation is required to obtain a better understanding of the real essence of both disciplines.
I actually believe you can improve your performance in either CrossFit or yoga by adding both to your routine. If you want to be a more well-rounded CrossFit athlete and significantly improve your performance, spend some time focusing on flexibility and mobility.
Mobility vs Flexibility
Restrictions on your mobility limits your joints range of motion. Increasing that range of motion will result in better movement and results and more fun in the Box. Flexibility, on the other hand, refers to the ability to flex or extend a joint through its full range of motion. Mobility concerns muscle strength and movement. Flexibility deals with strictly muscle tissue length but is also dependent on your joints range of motion. If you lack flexibility, your mobility will suffer.
Staying mobile and active ensures you maintain a high level of physical, mental and emotional fitness. Research shows that inactivity can negatively impact your health leading to serious medical disorders. These can include depression, heart disease and chronic back and neck pain. Regular stretching is where your mobility activities begin.
Active and Passive Stretching
To ensure that you body is ready for the unique demands of a CrossFit session, utilise both active and passive stretching. Active stretching consists of slow and steady movements with the goal to elongate the muscles. There is no external force like a stretching partner or accessory utilised. This type of stretching is very effective Pre-WOD and for improving CrossFit mobility.
In passive stretching an external force is provided. Partner stretches or using gravity and body weight as tools to facilitate muscle stretching are examples of passive stretching. This type of stretching is a great way to improve flexibility and perform Post-WOD.
Yoga Poses for CrossFit Flexibility and Mobility
Yoga poses are a combination of active and passive stretching. So you can use them to improve your flexibility and mobility with confidence. In CrossFit improvements in your flexibility and mobility result in:
- Increased ability to get your body into the optimal position to perform movement most effectively
- Less power loss when performing movements
- More efficient use of energy in your movements
The areas where CrossFit athletes should focus on improving their flexibility and mobility are the back, hips, hamstrings and shoulders. By doing this you will see real improvements in your performance of exercises like box jumps, cleans, snatches and all variations of squats.
Poor Lunges and Squats – Fix Tight Hips
Tight hips are a common problem area that impacts both active and inactive people. The main cause for this is that you spend too much time sitting down. The seated position weakens your glutes and tightens the hip flexors. Your lack of hip mobility causes the following performance related issues:
- Limited Strength – You are not maximising your range of motion and engaging your muscles in the right way.
- Less Tension – You can’t sink deep into your squats so you have less tension in your stretching muscles for explosion into exercises.
- Reduced Power- Efficiency lost when using your glutes and hips results in a weak hip extension
Reduced hip mobility restricts your movement when performing lunges and squats. Improving your hip mobility will increase your leverage and you will maintain good alignment and posture in lunges and squat exercises.
Yoga exercises for hip mobility
There are many yoga poses that you can perform to improve hip mobility and flexibility. They focus on opening your hips to provide better circulation in your legs and alleviating back pain. Doing the following yoga poses for Crossfit hip mobility regularly, will improve your lunges and squats.
This is a pose that really opens your hips! It is a great stretch for the hip flexors, hamstrings and quads. Doing Lizard regularly will improve the mobility of your hips and strengthen muscles in your legs.
How to: Begin on all fours in Downward Dog. Step your right foot forward to the outside edge of your right hand, coming into a lunge position. Lower your left knee to the ground and press into your hips, keeping your arms and back straight. From here depending on your flexibility you have the option to lower onto your forearms. Hold for 60 to 90 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
Pigeon pose is a powerful stretch for releasing the glutes and the hip flexors. It works as a hip opener and forward bend, stretching your thighs, groin, back, piriformis, and psoas.
How to: Begin in a tabletop position. Bring your right leg forward and sink down so the outer edge is resting on the floor. Extend your left leg behind you, keeping your hips angling toward the floor. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then step your right foot back under you and repeat on the left leg.
Band Resistance Hip Hinges
This is not a traditional yoga pose but it is a great exercise to target the posterior chain.The muscles that make up the posterior chain include the glutes, hamstrings and low back. Doing the hip hinge with a resistance band forces you to stabilise through your mid-section and control the movement.
How to: Start by attaching a flat-looped resistance band around a bar at waist height. Step inside the band and face away from the anchor point. Engage your core and ab muscles and forward bend from the waist. Reverse the movement once you feel a big stretch in the hamstrings.
Underperforming in Lifts – Work on Shoulder Mobility
Having good shoulder mobility means that your shoulders can move through a range of motion with control. Poor mobility in your shoulders is caused by tightness from inactivity and poor posture. Your lack of shoulder mobility causes the following performance related issues:
- Reduced Efficiency – Your shoulders are in poor positions for the lifts so you compensate by using other parts of your body
- Unsafe training – Insufficient shoulder mobility increases the strain and stress on your shoulder joints.
Yoga Exercises for Shoulder Mobility
Ideally your shoulders should be the most mobile joint in your body. A lack of shoulder mobility can result in you using your lower back rather than your upper back to extend in lifting movements. Performing yoga poses for CrossFit focusing on shoulder mobility will help to restore the proper range of motion in the joint.
Standing Cow Face Pose
A quite simple but very effective pose that will stretch your entire shoulder region. If your shoulders are quite tight you will want to use a strap or belt to connect your hands.
How to: Begin by standing up tall. Reach your right hand up and then behind your back. Reach your left hand down your back and then move it up and try to connect right and left fingertips. If they don’t connect use the strap or belt. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths then switch arms.
Downdog on the Wall
A modification on one of the most well known yoga poses. The benefit of doing it against the wall is that you stretch your chest muscles without applying too much pressure to your shoulders.
How to: Begin by standing facing a wall, about 2 feet away with your feet hips width apart. Lean forward and place your hands on the wall, at shoulder height and shoulder width apart. Stay in that position and release your chest down between the biceps, going as low as possible.
Thread The Needle Pose
This is a very effective stretch for your entire shoulder and upper back area. If you go deep and hold this stretch for a longer time you will feel the stiff knots loosen!
How to: Begin in tabletop position, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Inhale and extend your right arm towards the sky and then exhale sweep it under your chest. Rest your shoulder and cheek on the floor. Extend your left arm out in front of you. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths before repeating on the opposite side.
Lack of Back Strength – Back Mobility Limited
If you have poor posture or suffered from a back injury, your back flexibility and mobility can suffer long term. A rounded back leads to poor alignment and posture which leads to weak muscles in all areas of your back. Back pain is a common affliction that can cause minor discomfort to intense pain.
In CrossFit, many athletes experience limited mobility in the upper thoracic extension and lats. It makes it very difficult to do exercises like the front squat and deadlifts. If your back has limited mobility you will most likely overcompensate by using your elbows or wrists.
Yoga Exercises For Back Mobility
A healthy spine is your key to the health of your whole body. There are 5 major movements that your spine makes:
- Flexion: Rounds the spine forward
- Extension: Rounds the spine back
- Rotation: Twists the spine
- Side bending: Lateral flexion of the spine
- Axial extension: Decompresses and vertically elongates the spine
The following yoga poses for CrossFit address all these movements and performed regularly will increase your backs mobility.
Child’s Pose (Flexion)
Known more as a resting pose this gentle pose will stretch your back, ankle, hips and thighs. If you experience any lower back pain, Child’s pose is great for relieving any stress
How to: Begin kneeling on the floor with your toes together and your knees hip-width apart. Exhale then lower your torso between your knees so that you can rest your forehead on the mat. Extend your arms to the top of the mat with your palms facing down. Breathe deeply and relax in the position for as long as possible.
Sphinx Pose (Extension)
This pose can be adapted to be done active or passively. It helps in strengthening the spine and will open your chest, lungs and lower back.
How to: Begin on your stomach and walk your hands under your shoulders. Keep your elbows tight next to your ribs. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and open up through your collarbone. Press into your palms and the tops of your feet as you lift your chest up off the mat.
Seated Spinal Twist Pose (Rotation)
Another great pose that relieves back aches and stretches the upper body.
How to: Begin in an upright seated position with your legs extended in front of you. Lift and cross your right leg over your left thigh. Bend your left knee and position your left ankle next to your right glute. Place your right arm behind your back and place your fingertips on the floor. Next twist your body to the right and then raise your left arm upward. Hook it around your bent knee, then take a deep breath and twist deeper. Twist deeper with each exhale before repeating on the opposite side
Standing Side Bend (Side Bending)
A foundational yoga pose that stretches the muscles of the side body while improving flexibility in your spine.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Extend both of your arms up overhead with your palms facing each other. Clasp your right wrist with your left hand and apply gentle pressure pulling your arm toward the left. Shift your left rib cage toward your right to broaden the area . Gaze down and take 8 breaths. Repeat on the second side.
Downward Facing Dog (Axial Extension)
When you practice this foundational pose you stretch the spine apart from your head to toe. It is therapeutic for back care and greatly increases flexibility and mobility.
How to: Begin on all fours keeping your wrists inline with shoulders. As you exhale, push your hips up and begin to straighten your legs. Keep your knees bent at first as you find length in your spine. Aim to bring your heels towards the floor but they don’t have touch. Stay in the pose for 3 to 5 breaths, while alternating straightening your legs.
Becoming a Regular Yoga for CrossFit Practitioner
Committing to a regular yoga practice is the key to seeing improvements in your CrossFit flexibility and mobility. Start by spending 5 to 10 minutes every day performing some of the yoga poses for CrossFit mentioned in this post. If you do them after a class they will surely make you feel calm and help return your muscles to their original length. The stretching movements will prevent knots, tightness and reduce the risk of injury.
For me Yoga is my daily meditation. The process of unrolling my mat and committing the time to practice is invaluable. I focus on breathing and my mind is clear. Your CrossFit WOD may be the time when you can get away, not thinking about work or the daily grind through its intensity. Yoga is your ideal complement and provides balance and some calm meditative moments after your WOD.
CrossFit Mobility Courses
MobilityWOD and ROMWod, two mobility-related online courses, are popular programs aimed at the CrossFit community. The help CroosFit athletes stay injury-free, improve the range of motion of their limbs, and enjoying everyday life free of pain. It’s easy to see the similarities between these programs and yoga. Both use stretches and yoga poses for CrossFit to improve mobility.