After a few weeks’ worth of WODs, CrossFit tends to ruin alternate forms of exercise for most athletes. How many times have you heard from a fellow CrossFitter, “I just can’t do regular gyms anymore”? We get addicted to the intensity, the constant variation and, of course, the results. If you’ve lost patience for treadmills and traditional group fitness classes, you’re not alone. So if you weren’t into yoga before CrossFit, it’s pretty unlikely you’ve found a regular practice now. That’s understandable. From an outsider’s perspective, a yoga class is everything a typical day at the box isn’t: quiet, calm and filled with long-limbed dancer types, each one a better of example of equanimity than the next.
As a yogi and a CrossFitter, I can assure you that this perception isn’t entirely accurate. I’ve certainly practiced in silent, candle-lit studios, but I’ve also taken classes with just as much grunting, loud music and off-color language you’d find during your typical “Fran.” And if that alone doesn’t convince you to give yoga a try, what if I told you that a regular practice could help improve your PR?
Israel Gonzalez, owner and head coach at CrossFit 718 in Brooklyn, New York, recommends that CrossFitters incorporate yoga as well as other forms of rehabilitative therapy and exercise like self-myofascial release, static and dynamic stretching, and meditation. “In our experience, the athletes who participate in yoga classes have reported a noticeable improvement in their flexibility, stability and range of motion,” Gonzalez says. “They also report feeling more relaxed and attest to improved recovery post-exercise.” Gonzalez has begun offering a weekly yoga class at his box, bringing on Melody Henry, a yoga teacher and CrossFit athlete, to teach classes designed with the needs of CrossFitters in mind.
So which poses are going to help you prevent injuries and crush old PRs? I rounded up a handful that have helped me with some of my own mobility-related issues and asked Henry to weigh in.
Downward Facing Dog
If you’ve taken even one yoga class, you’ve done Downward Facing Dog. I love this pose because it’s an active stretch for my calf muscles, which have a tendency to tighten up, aggravating my chronic plantar fasciitis during runs, box jumps and double-unders. I also sometimes struggle with sitting back and driving from the heels when doing explosive lifts like thrusters. Henry recommends Downward Facing Dog for this reason. “Pliable calves allow athletes to lift and drive from their heels,” she says.
“I almost always do Pigeon, which stretches the thighs, groin, back and psoas,” Henry says. “Pigeon can be helpful for those who hold tension in their lower body.” My hips and IT band are perpetually tight, which can make breaking parallel challenging during squats, especially as I increase weight. When my lower body is feeling loose, my knees are less likely to turn inward.
Standing Forward Fold
“We have seen yoga classes help athletes attain the flexibility and stability necessary for certain movements,” Gonzalez says. “We have had athletes who, over time (it varies from person to person), go from being unable to reach their arms overhead without arching their back to attaining enough mobility and stability to perform a snatch.” I’ll admit that the snatch is one of my “goats.” It’s highly technical and requires fast and flexible shoulders. Once I started paying more attention to shoulder mobility, I was able to gradually increase my weight while still maintaining proper form. Standing Forward Fold, with hands interlaced behind the back, helps pull tight shoulders back and open.
Warning for yoga newbies: This pose will likely be your “yoga goat.” But I assure you, it’s well worth the intensity, especially if you’re someone who dreads running intensive WODs like “Nancy,” “Eva” and “Murph.” Henry concurs: “I am all over Lizard pose. The biggest, strongest guys at CrossFit tend to hate it the most. It’s a real stretch for the hip flexors, which are super tight on a lot of athletes from either running, box jumping without full extension of the hips or just not stretching after squatting and impactful WODs. But Lizard can really make those WODS with running in them be less terrible.”
Just last week, I had a yoga teacher point out improper knee alignment in my Warrior 1 pose. She said, “See how your knee is turning inward? That could cause injury over time.” Hmm … where have I heard that before?
As a result, I spent the rest of the class focusing on aligning my knee over my ankle in every Warrior 1 and lunge that followed. And I thought about Warrior 1 the next time I did overhead weighted lunges in a WOD. “I find sometimes people don’t know where their knee is in relation to their ankle, which is important not just for lunges but for squats,” Henry says. Keeping the knees from rolling inward is crucial to injury prevention, and Warrior 1 creates a nice muscle memory of this concept.”
Reclined Spinal Twist
You may actually be doing this pose as part of your post-WOD stretching. And if you’re not, you should be. It’s a really satisfying lower-back stretch, and it just feels so darn good. Henry incorporates this pose at the end of each class. “I find CrossFitters get into their low backs during a WOD when they are going for reps and their form starts to go to hell,” she says.
If taking a yoga class feels intimidating or you still need some convincing, you also should know that just like a solid CrossFit coach, a good yoga teacher will provide personal attention and appropriate modifications to each of his or her students. You needn’t be super flexible or possess a Zen master’s level of concentration. Yoga is a lot like CrossFit in that you just need to show up with a positive attitude and a willingness to give it your best effort.