As crossfitters, we tend to subscribe to the purely active lifestyle. If we’re not moving, if we’re not pushing ourselves, if we’re not sore twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, we’ve done something wrong.
I myself have lived by these guidelines for most of my life, so it was really hard for me to adjust my mindset and embrace the idea that rest and active recovery are just as valuable as pushing myself beyond my limits to become stronger, faster, and harder to break. Practicing yoga has changed my life in so many ways, but for me, the most profound impact it has had on me is that it has made me a better athlete.
For anyone reading this who feels like yoga might not be for you, or it might take away from the gains you’re trying to achieve by pushing yourself day after day, I would like to show you how it has changed me. So here are the top five ways yoga has made me a better athlete…
1. Yoga Has Improved My Recovery Time
The first time I ran a marathon, I couldn’t walk without any pain or soreness for two full weeks. As an avid runner, those two weeks felt like an eternity, and I knew I needed to make a change. So the second time I trained for a marathon, I added yoga to my schedule and practiced once a week, turning one of my rest days into active recovery. After I ran my second marathon, I felt ready to run after only two DAYS. And the discomfort I felt was minimal compared to my first experience.
I knew yoga was what made a difference in my second race, and it has continued to make a difference in CrossFit as well. Of course, I get sore from WOD to WOD, but the soreness I feel now doesn’t limit me like it used to before I started practicing yoga. Yoga has taught me how to give my body the rest it needs while it heals from being broken down by a challenging workout. And because I rest and stretch and strengthen in my practice, I come back stronger.
2. Yoga Has Made Me Stronger
You might be wondering how that’s possible since there are no barbells involved, but believe it or not, yoga has made me a stronger athlete. Almost every movement in yoga (aside from the restorative poses) involves engaging the major muscle groups, stability muscles or the core. Balancing poses work the muscles in the feet and ankles. Chaturanga (moving from a high plank to prone, or “yoga push-ups”) focus on the “pushing” and “pulling” muscles that we engage in regular push ups. Chair and Boat pose engage the abdomen. Warrior poses engage the glutes, quads, calves, and obliques.
All of the muscles we use in CrossFit are used in yoga, just in a different way. In yoga, we practice the art of stretching AND strengthening simultaneously. So while my hip flexors, ankles, shoulders, chest, and neck are opening up and stretching in my Warrior II, the muscles in my glutes, calves, quads and obliques are engaged. It’s a different kind of challenge, but worthwhile because of the strength gained from a full practice. The strength I gain in yoga transfers to the strength I need in CrossFit. And with that strength, comes more flexibility because I am stretching at the same time.
3. Yoga Has Made Me More Flexible
I used to think bending my knees to a 45 degree angle counted as a full squat… until I started CrossFit. And of course I struggled to break parallel for a really long time. And then I struggled to keep my chest up when I finally broke parallel. All of these mechanics came down to one simple foundational idea: mobility. Once I started practicing yoga on a regular basis, my mobility greatly improved in all aspects. Not only did it help with my squats, but it also played a key role in my recovery from shoulder surgery. In order to get back to where I was before my injury, I had to work on my shoulder mobility. Since I focused on opening my shoulders more in my yoga practice, I could work towards improving and perfecting specific CrossFit movements I would have struggled with otherwise, such as getting a better kip and maintaining my form on an overhead squat. Also, the better my mobility, the less chance I have of getting injured again.
Not only has yoga improved my mobility and made me more flexible physically, but it has also made me more flexible mentally by improving my mindset when it comes to CrossFit and facing challenges that, frankly, scare me sometimes. Looking at that white board every time I walk into Soar and reading what the coaches have in store for us still makes my stomach turn, but then I take a deep breath, accept my fate, and just roll with it. There are just some things I can’t control, like having to do Karen on a Friday when it was Wednesday’s WOD, but such is life. Like I said, I just do it and breathe.
4. Yoga Has Taught Me How to Breathe
Air fuels our body when we move, and how we breathe determines how much fuel we get. The more shallow the breath, the more difficult it is to push through a challenging workout. Thanks to yoga, I have learned how to breathe the right way so that my body can move and I can complete a WOD to the best of my ability. I begin every yoga practice with breathing exercises and continue to focus on my breathing with every stretch, pose, and flow from one position to the next. My breath keeps me centered and energized in a practice and even more so in a WOD. And because I am so focused with my breathing during a workout, I am able to listen to my body better and look for cues telling me when I can keep pushing myself and when I need to stop.
5. Yoga Has Taught Me How to Listen to My Body
One of the reasons why I love our box so much is because all of the coaches believe very strongly that you have to master the technique of a movement before adding the intensity. And CrossFit allows you to scale movements to align with your fitness needs. It can be really easy, though, to look at everyone around you and see how they are piling plate after plate onto their bars in preparation for some snatch work while you are sliding those tiny five pounders onto the training bar, and in a moment of stubbornness and ego, you decide to add more weight even though you might not be ready.
That used to be me, and I, unfortunately, learned the hard way that that type of mindset won’t get me very far. I wasn’t listening to my body and being mindful of my movements during a WOD the same way I would in a yoga practice. In yoga, so much emphasis is placed on body positioning, alignment, and proper motion from one movement to the next. If you take the time to practice yoga, even just once a week, you will ultimately transfer this mindfulness to every WOD and focus on movement and technique before adding more weight to that bar and potentially putting yourself at risk for injury.
These are the core reasons why yoga has made me a better athlete. If you are looking for a way to add a little more balance to your exercise regime, a way to actively recover, a way to increase your mobility, a way to stretch and strengthen, then I highly recommend giving yoga a try. It made a huge difference for me, and I believe it can do the same for any athlete.
Gina coaches SOAR’s Yoga/Mobility class on Sundays at 10am and 10:30am. Drop-ins are $15 or purchase a 10 pack to any specialty class for $109.