If someone were to ask you what the strongest and largest muscle in the human body is, most likely you would answer gluteus maximus. But that is just part of what makes the backside the inspiration behind many rap songs. Yes, the gluteus maximus keeps the trunk upright, takes us upstairs, and lifts us in and out of chairs, but it is with the help of the hamstrings and spinal erectors (as well as many other small auxiliary muscles) that our bodies are able to perform functional movements like lifting, jumping, squatting and running. The power we get from this combination of muscles, referred to as the posterior chain, is more than we could get from just the glutes alone.
For functional-fitness athletes, improving strength in the posterior chain translates to more than just improved lifts or looking better in a pair of jeans. It increases explosive power, core strength and posture, all of which translates to improved fitness.
As we begin to build that strength through functional movements like deadlifts and squats, we might find that we lose flexibility in the hamstring or hips. Because the muscle fibers are shortened and torn during weightlifting or resistance training, it’s crucial that we stretch during the recovery process, as the muscles are healing and getting stronger. Stretching, when done properly, releases the tension and tightness that can build during the 24 to 48 hours post-WOD. And because we use the posterior chain for so many functional movements, it is an area of the body that can tighten up quickly. When tightness becomes an issue in one area, it can affect your form, which can lead to injury or inefficient lifts and movement.
But let’s be honest, although this information isn’t new to us, we regularly roll our eyes when our coach tells us to stretch, nodding as if to say, “Yes, I know I need to stretch but I gotta run, so I’ll do it at home.”
We can all agree that stretching can be boring, difficult, unrewarding and very humbling. The gains we see in flexibility can often take months or even years to see, which is why it can be discouraging. And the excitement we feel when we are an inch closer to touching our toes is no match for the excitement of PR’ing a lift. These are the reasons WOD Recovery Yoga (link: http://www.endureyoga.com/wod-recovery-yoga/wod-recovery-yoga/) was created: to provide athletes with the knowledge of how to stretch properly and what to stretch postworkout to maximize that recovery time. The goal with this yoga practice isn’t to get your leg behind your head; it’s to help you keep and improve on the flexibility you have and increase your mobility for better lifts and movements.
Listed below are the seven yoga poses I recommend (to be done in this order) for WOD recovery from movements like squats and deadlifts in which the lower back, hamstrings and glutes work the hardest. These stretches can be done immediately following the workout or the next day.
Tips For Stretching Post-WOD
1. Let your heart rate slow down and your breathing return to normal. This will allow you to mentally stay focused on the yoga.
2. Find a slow breathing pattern in and out through the nose. Your inhale and exhale should be even in length.
3. If something is painful (the kind of pain that feels like you might hurt yourself), back off and move on. Pain does not equal gain when you stretch.
4. Delayed onset muscle soreness can limit range of motion up to 72 hours post-WOD, so move into each stretch slowly. Once you are in the stretch, allow yourself to breathe there for at least 30 seconds, if not more.
Standing Forward Fold
Starting with your feet hip-distance apart and your toes pointing forward, on an exhale begin to fold at your hips (not your waist). Shifting your weight forward toward your toes and lifting your sit bones up, grab opposite elbows. Keep a slight bend in your knees by contracting your quads and lifting your kneecaps. Over time, your body will fold deeper as you breathe into the stretch. Hang in this position for up to two minutes. For an additional benefit, sway side to side and shake out your head.
Start in a kneeling position. Keeping your hips stacked over your left knee, extend your right leg forward. Flex your right foot and keep a slight bend in the knee. Place your hands on the ground, or on a plate, and extend your chest forward and down toward your right shin. Turn your right pinkie toe toward your face, then square your hips, drawing your right outer hip back. Right away, you will notice a change in the intensity and position of the stretch. Breathe here for up to two minutes and then switch sides.
Head-to-Knee Forward Fold
Start by sitting with your legs extended out in front. Draw your right foot in toward the inner left thigh. If your right knee begins to hurt, place your foot at the inside of your left calf instead. Grounding through the sit bones, place your left hand beside you and reach your right arm up. On your exhale, leading with your chest, reach for the outside of your left calf or ankle. Square your torso toward your left leg by drawing your right-side ribs toward your inner left thigh. Then reach for your foot or ankle with both hands. Use a band around the arch of your left foot if grabbing your foot is not an option. Breathing slowly, allow the stretch to deepen over time. Hold this stretch for at least a minute and then switch sides.
Starting on your hands and knees, bring your right shin forward and place it on the ground on a diagonal. Keep the right foot flexed. Your right knee should be to the right of your hip. Extend your left leg back. Roll toward the front of your left hip so your hips are square toward the ground. Depending on tightness, keep your right foot close to your left hip. Inch your foot forward if there is no pain in the right knee. Once you feel an intense stretch in the glute, walk your hands forward, resting your forehead on the ground or on your hands. Breathe in and out slowly through your nose and stay with the stretch for at least two minutes.
Modification: If this pose isn’t accessible, do Eye of the Needle instead.
Start in a seated position. Place your left shin on the ground. Flex your left foot and line your left heel up straight across from the left knee. Bring your right knee into your chest, flex your right foot and place your right shin on top of your left shin. Stack your right foot on top of your left knee. Stack your right knee on top of your left foot. Place your hands on the tops of your thighs and press down. Sit up tall and, on your exhale, fold forward.
Modification: If Double Pigeon isn’t accessible, place your left shin in front of your right to come into a seated crossed-leg position.
Eye of the Needle
Lie down on your back with both feet on the ground. Place your right ankle over and above your left knee. Flex your right foot. Draw your left knee in. Reach through your legs with your right arm and grab for either the back of your left thigh or top of your left shin with both hands. Allow your head to rest on the ground and your low back to flatten. Rest in this pose, stretching the glutes for at least two minutes, then switch sides.
Reclined Spinal Twist
Start by lying on your back with your left knee tucked into your chest and your right leg straight out in front. Shift your hips to the left and, on your exhale, send your left knee to the right. Extend your left arm out to the left. To continue the stretch up the back of the neck, gaze toward your left fingers. As you breathe, you will notice your left knee will begin to drop toward the ground. Breathe in and out through your nose for up to two minutes, then switch sides. Level up or down, if necessary.