Yoga for Athletes
In the fitness world, the question, “What’s the opposite of CrossFit?” might draw the response, “Yoga,” (though Prancersize would definitely be more appropriate, if you exclude our warm up routine). At CrossFit Sacrifice we believe that movement within the human body is interconnected. A proper yoga practice can serve as an incredible asset to an athlete’s rest and recovery.
Yoga promotes optimal range of motion and general mobility, a benefit that will leave most CrossFitters drooling. It can also improve breathing, balance, and mental focus. All of these things will help to develop strength training and gymnastic movements. Would you like to improve your handstand push up? Do your heels rise up off the ground as you’re doing a squat? Do you want to master the pistol squat? Paired with a proper mobility regimen (which our coaches lead before each class), yoga movements like the ones listed below can help you as you continue to work towards your CrossFitting goals.
We have our very own, in-house athlete who does CrossFit and practices yoga: Gabrielle “Gabi” Streiff. Gabi, a 200 RYT yoga instructor, graciously demonstrated each pose and put together the information for this blog post. The best thing you can do to say, “thank you,” is to utilize all of her hard work by putting this into practice. If you have any questions about the movements or if you’d like to get in touch with Gabi, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wide Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana) with shoulder opener
- Find a wide legged stance, turning the toes slightly inward and straightening the legs if possible.
- Clasp your hands at your low back and pull them down towards the floor, opening the chest and shoulders.
- Start to fold forward, keeping the back as straight as possible until you cannot anymore, then slowly allow the back to curve as you release the weight of the head down and allow your hands to fall over your head. Hold for 10 breaths.
Modifications: If shoulders are tight, grab opposite elbows instead of clasping hands; or, hold a band, shirt, belt, etc behind your back with the hands as close/far from each other on the band as feels comfortable.
Benefits: opens up and releases the shoulders, improving shoulder mobility. Great stretch after any movement than heavily involves the shoulders (push ups, pull ups, handstand, weightlifting). Also stretches the hamstrings and low back.
Seated Eagle Pose (Garudasana variation)
- Find a comfortable seat either on your heels or with the shins crossed in front of you, perhaps sitting up on a block, blanket, or ab mat.
- Cross one arm underneath the other and try to intertwine your forearms until the palms touch. Lift the elbows and drop the shoulders down the back, away from the ears. Hold for 10 breaths, then slowly unwind and switch sides.
Modifications: If shoulders are tight or the pose is unreachable/uncomfortable, you can press the forearms into each other with the palms touching, being sure to keep the arms active and pressing into each other.
Benefits: Stretches the upper back; opens up the shoulders
Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
- Starting in a downward facing dog, bend the right knee into the chest and then place the shin down on the floor in between the hands, right knee to right wrist, right ankle to left wrist.
- You can bring the foot as close to the body as necessary if the pose is intense. Keep the front foot flexed and activated to protect the front knee. If this feels comfortable, start to walk the fingertips forward and fold over the front leg, bringing hands, forearms, or even the forehead down to the ground. Hold for as long as feels comfortable, then switch sides.
Modifications: If the right hip is high up off the ground, prop it up with a block, blanket, or ab mat(s) for supports. If the knees are injured or this is too painful for them, do a reclined pigeon instead.
Benefits: Opens and lengthens hip flexor muscles, groin, and hip rotator muscles (glutes). Great as pre- and post-workout stretch, especially when preparing for squats or other exercises that engage the hip flexors and rotators. Improves hip mobility for a better squat!
Eye of the Needle Pose (aka Reclined Pigeon, Figure-4 Stretch) (Sucirandrasana)
- Come to lay on your back. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, right under your knee. Flex your right foot and keep it activated to protect your knee.
- Thread your right arm under your right shin and clasp the hands around the front of the left shin or back of the left thigh. Gently pull your right knee towards your chest, trying to keep the shoulders and head relaxed down onto the ground. Hold for 10 breaths, then switch sides.
Modifications: If your shoulders are lifting off the floor, you can place a strap, band, belt, shirt, etc around the left knee/shin to lengthen your reach.
Benefits: Stretches the outer hips and glutes; relieves low back pain. Great stretch as an alternative to Pigeon Pose if knees are injured. Good after squats or other movements that engage the glutes, or after heavy lifting when the low back has been engaged.
Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana)
- From a low lunge with the back knee dropped down and toes untucked, bring both hands to the inside of the front foot. Stay here, or drop down to one or both forearms. Allow the hips to sink down, keeping a nice bend in the front knee.
- Hold for 10 breaths and switch sides. For a more intense stretch, tuck the back toes under and lift the back knee up off the ground.
Modifications: Use a block or some stacked ab mats under the forearms if you are having trouble reaching the ground.
Benefits: Opens up the hips, hamstrings, groin, and hip flexors. Great both pre- and post-workout, especially when the workout heavily uses the hips (eg squats).
Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)
- From a seat, bring the soles of the feet to touch in front of you, closer to the body for a deeper stretch and further away for a more gentle option.
- Bring the hands to the feet, lengthen the spine, and slowly fold forward over your legs. Hold for as long as you need. For a more restorative option, first lay down onto your back and then bring the soles of the feet to touch, allowing the knees to fall down towards the ground for reclined butterfly.(Supta Baddha Konasana)
Modifications: If too intense, move the feet further away from the body.
Benefits: Stretches the inner thighs, hips, groin. Stretches the back when folding forward. Great after any workout, especially if the hips, thighs were used (squats, lunges, running).
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
- Come onto the hands and knees, and then drop your hips back onto your heels. Bring the knees wide and the toes to touch behind you, then fold the torso forward over your knees.
- The arms can be out long in front of you or along by your side, with the palms facing up behind you. For a nice tricep stretch, lengthen the arms in front of you and then bend the elbows. Bring the palms to touch over your head, allowing the hands to rest on your head or neck (as pictured above).
Modifications: If the hips are high up off the heels, you can place a rolled up blanket, some ab mats, a pillow, etc under the hips so that they can relax and rest down.
Benefits: Releases and gently stretches the hips, lower back, knees, and ankles. Improves ankle mobility in those with limited range of movement. Relaxes the spine and neck. Calms the mind. Great pre- and post-workout or at any point during your day!
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Come onto the hands and knees, with the hands just forward of the shoulders. Spread the fingers wide, tuck the toes under, and lift the hips high, gently straightening the legs. Work on lowering the heels down to the ground. If the hamstrings are tight and the low back is rounding, bend the knees to find a slight curve in the low back.
- Keep the arms active, pushing into the ground to find a lift in the arms and shoulders, and to keep the shoulders engaged instead of collapsing down. Push the torso between the shoulders, towards your legs. Lift the tailbone and hips up high towards the ceiling.
Modifications: Bend the knees as much as needed to find a slight curve in the low back.
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens hamstrings, calves, and shoulders. Elongates spine and releases tension. This pose is a mild inversion (head is upside down), which calms the nervous system and relieves stress. Great both pre- and post-workout, especially to open up the shoulders and stretch the hamstrings.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
- From down dog, step one foot through and place it between the hands. Bend into the front knee, allow the hips to sink down towards the ground. Keep fingertips down on ground or lift the arms straight up overhead, relaxing the shoulders down the back.
Modifications: If knees are sensitive, place a block or padding/mat underneath the back knee for extra cushioning.
Benefits: Really great hip stretch! Strengthens the quads and glutes.
Half Split (aka Runner’s Stretch) (Ardha Hanumanasana)
- From your low lunge, start to sit the hips back and straighten into the front knee. Lengthen your stance as much as needed, moving the front foot further forward to get a deeper stretch.
- Lengthen the spine and fold the torso forward over the front knee. The more you fold forward, the more intense the stretch will be in the hamstring.
Modifications: If you can’t reach the floor, place blocks, ab mats, even kettle bells under the hands for extra height.
Benefits: Deep hamstring stretch; stretches the hips; calves; and low back. Great after running and pretty much any workout. More hamstring flexibility helps relieve low back pain! Also, hamstrings are very engaged during some weightlifting exercises so flexibility in that area can help improve lifts (eg deadlift).
Standing Forward Bend with twist (Uttanasana)
- Stand tall with the feet hip width distance and toes pointing forward. On an inhale lengthen the arms up towards the ceiling, lengthening the spine; on your exhale fold forward over your legs.
- Plant the right hand or fingertips down on the ground below your face (on a block, ab mat, etc if you need help reaching the floor) and bend the right knee, keeping the left leg straight. Lift the left fingertips up to sky, twisting the torso open and gazing up. Hold five breaths; switch sides.
Modifications: Prop the bottom hand up on a block, stack of ab mats, books, anything if you need help reaching the floor. Bend the knee as much as needed for the hamstrings.
Benefits: Awesome hamstring stretch; also stretches the low back and outer hips. Especially useful after a workout that engages the hamstrings, running, squats, lifting. Good as a warm-up stretch to get the hamstrings ready for working out and prevent injuries!
Low Lunge with Quad Stretch (Anjaneyasana variation)
- From your low lunge, bend the back knee and reach for it with the corresponding arm (e.g. if the right leg is back behind you, reach with the right hand). Place the other hand on your front knee for support.
- Gently pull the foot towards your glutes; hold for 10 breaths and switch.
Modifications: Place a blanket or mat under the back knee for extra padding. If you’re having trouble reaching the foot, use a strap/band/belt around the back foot to lengthen your reach. This stretch can also be done with the back foot against a wall.
Benefits: Intense quad stretch! Great warm-up to prevent injuries.
Supine Twist (with one knee) (Supta Matsyendrasana)
- Lay down on your back and bend one knee into your chest. With the opposite hand, bring the knee across the body and towards the floor by your side. Open one or both arms into a T and gave towards the side opposite the one your knee is facing. Make sure to relax the shoulders down onto or towards the ground.
- Hold 10 breaths and switch sides.
Benefits: Stretches the glutes; stretches and relaxes the spine and low back. Can help relieve low back pain. Great as a post-workout (or anytime) stretch when low back is sore.
Two Knee Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
- Lay down on your back and bring the arms out into a T. Bend the knees and bring the feet off the floor. Drop both knees, stacked, to one side, allowing them to rest on the floor or drop towards it. Relax the shoulders down to the floor.
- If it feels comfortable for the neck, gaze towards the side opposite the one your knees are facing. Hold 10 breaths and switch sides.
Modifications: This stretch can also be done with the legs crossed over one another. For an IT band stretch, straighten the top leg when the knees are stacked to the side.
Benefits: Great low back stretch, can help with movement and mobility in the spine and vertebrae. Great as a post-workout stretch when the low back is feeling sore/overused. Also stretches and opens the chest and shoulders.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
- Lay on your back, bend the knees, and place the feet hips-width distance apart. Bring them close enough to the body that you can graze the back of the heels with your fingertips. Lengthen the arms by your sides, palms facing down.
- Start to lift the hips up towards the ceiling by pressing into the feet and engaging the inner thighs. Try to relax your glutes a little if they are overly engaged! Roll the shoulders underneath you, towards each other, maybe clasping the hands under your hips. Gently lift the chin to lengthen the neck and spine.
- Hold 5 breaths and lower; repeat for three rounds, then hug the knees into the chest to gently counteract the backbend.
Modifications: Lift the hips only as high as feels comfortable for your back; flexibility will build over time. For a restorative option, place a block under the sacrum to hold the hips up.
Benefits: Gentle backbend, improves mobility and flexibility in the hips and back. Stretches and strengthens the back, hamstrings, and glutes. Stretches the chest, neck, and spine.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
- Stand with the feet hip width distance and soles flat on the ground. Pour your weight into your right leg and lift the left foot up – place the sole of the left foot on the inside of the right ankle, calf, or inner thigh, as long as it is not on your knee!
- Bring the palms of the hands to touch at your heart. Pick one point of focus for the eyes and if you feel stable, start to lift the hands above your head, maybe separating them and straightening the arms. Wherever you are with the pose, make sure the bent knee is pulling back slightly, opening the hips up. Lengthen and straighten the spine by lifting the crown of the head towards the ceiling.
- Hold for as long as you can! And then switch sides.
Modifications: If you struggle with balance, start off by keeping the toes down on the mat and just placing your heel on the inside of your ankle. This way, the ground gives you some extra support.
Benefits: Improves sense of balance. Strengthens the thighs, calves, ankles, and spine. Stretches the groin and inner thighs.
Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II)
- From downward facing dog, step the right foot through between the hands, toes pointing forwards. Drop the back heel down at a 45 degree angle, toes pointing forward and out to the side. Bend into the front knee, making sure it tracks right over your ankle. Lift the arms and open them out into a T; turns the hips towards the side. The torso, hips, and arms should all be facing the side.
- Gaze over your right fingertips. Make sure you can see your big toe when you look down at your front foot; this ensures that the knee is directly over the ankle rather than collapsing inward. Hold 10 breaths and switch sides.
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the legs and ankles. Strengthens shoulders and arms. Also stretches the groin and thighs. Improves balance.
Lotus Pose (Padmasana)
- Sitting on the floor, draw the right foot up onto the left thigh, heel touching the hip point and sole of the foot turned upward. If this Half Lotus is enough, stay here. Otherwise, bring the left foot up onto the right thigh, heel touching the hip point and sole turned up.
- Bring the palms to touch at your sternum and sit tall, lengthening the spine. Hold for 10 breaths and switch sides.
Modifications: Stay in Half Lotus if Full Lotus is too intense. Sit up on a block or stacked ab mats for extra height in the hips.
Benefits: Deep hip opener. Stretches the ankles and knees. Helps develop good posture when spine is straight and your are sitting tall. Builds strength and flexibility in the ankle joints, which is so important for CrossFit! Greater ankle flexibility assists with movements such as squats, and also lessens the chance of injury during workouts.