Yoga is the cheese to the CrossFit biscuit. The combination is now so highly regarded there’s a whole host of Crossfit trainers that have trained as yoga teachers (and vice versa), and yoga with CrossFit even has its own hashtag – ‘yogiwod’. If you chuck yoga and CrossFit into a Google search hundreds of articles and yoga flows will come up.
Whilst yoga and CrossFit might seem wildly different, there are actually many similarities between the two. Both improve strength and endurance; the difference being that yoga uses purely body weight whilst CrossFit does not. Experienced CrossFitters will recognise many yoga poses – Warriors are similar to lunges, Chaturanga is a variation of a push up, Chair pose and Malasana are types of squat. Whilst Crossfit has sometimes been criticised for creating tense rigid muscles, yoga has sometimes been criticised for creating hypermobility. Join the two together and you create a winning combination of suppleness and strength.
The benefits of yoga for CrossFit are huge and far reaching and it would be impossible to mention them all, so for this blog I will focus on a few of the main ones:
Breathing is a key element of yoga, with movements synched entirely with the breath. Yoga teaches you how to breathe deeply and fluidly, and strengthens the diaphragm. For CrossFitters better breathing equals an increased VO2 max, more oxygenated muscles, and better performance.
Breathing properly is also incredibly soothing for the nervous system. It calms the mind, and can relieve symptoms of things like stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
Flexibility & Mobility
You cannot have true strength without flexibility because as one muscle contracts it’s counterpart must lengthen. When strength is increased but flexibility gets left behind the muscles cannot gain their maximum contraction. Poor mobility also hinders strength gain because if you can’t get the limb into the desired position you can’t execute the move correctly.
The strongest snatch requires stable but flexible shoulders, and a comfortable squat requires spacious hips. Poses such as Downward Facing Dog increase strength and movement in the shoulders, which both improves performance and decreases the risk of injury in movements like overhead lifts or handstand pushups. Hip openers such as Frog, Pigeon, and Warrior ease tension in the hips and allow you to get lower in any kind of squat.
Contrary to popular belief yoga is not just stretching. Yoga is also strengthening. Every yoga pose is designed to balance strength and flexibility, so a typical pose builds strength in one muscle whilst deeply stretching another.
CrossFit develops strength in the big muscle groups, via largely explosive and dynamic movements, whereas yoga helps build static strength and engages many of the smaller muscles. Small muscle groups are important as they support the bigger ones, creating more overall stability and power in the body. Take Lotus pose as an example – Lotus strengthens the Erector Spinae, which are the group of muscles responsible for supporting the spinal column and extending the spine. Strong Erector Spinae are needed to boost overall strength, especially when it comes to power lifting exercises, and to build a solid foundation for all the bigger muscles that sit on top.
Holding poses for a longer time during a yoga class also means you are able to work towards better alignment, and develop an awareness of your movement patterns and imbalances. If you can learn to train your muscles in the correct position through yoga you are more likely to do it right when lifting heavy weights during CrossFit.
Yoga poses, especially the more challenging ones, require focused attention. Yoga trains your mind to focus, to feel into your body, to feel its alignment, and breathe through any discomfort. Take these skills back to any CrossFit session and your focus and performance will improve there too.
Almost every movement in CrossFit requires balance. Balance is included by Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, as one of the 10 general physical skills. Balancing poses such as Tree, Eagle, or Dancer strengthen the stabilising muscles, develop focus, and improve proprioception (awareness of the body parts in space). Improvements in all of these will increase balance and help you hit your lift or master a gymnastic move.
Joints love to be taken through their full range of motion, but in modern day life they are frequently restricted to limited movements. During a yoga class joints are moved through their full range, squeezing and compressing cartilage and tissue and flooding them with fresh new blood and nutrients.
Yoga also helps joints by strengthening the muscles (stronger muscles support the body relieving strain on the joints), increasing bone strength, and circulating synovial fluid meaning the bones are able to glide rather than grind.
Most people experiences muscle tightness, soreness and DOMS after a heavy workout. Yoga helps loosen everything up and relieve the soreness, making recovery quicker
It doesn’t take long to start to feel the benefits of yoga – after just one class you may notice a lessening of muscle aches and a soothing of tension, and after a few classes an improvement in mobility and flexibility. Give it a few months and the benefits can be exponential.
Incorporating yoga into your training regime hugely improves flexibility, mobility, strength and focus; consequently it makes you a stronger and more powerful CrossFitter. Still not convinced? Why not give it a try, who doesn’t like cheese with their biscuit.