By Malia Warren, Trina Gorny
Yoga is the sh*t.
If you've done it before, you know the benefits. Sure it's a little awkward your first time (or even 10th time) as you try to get into the flow of the class, learn the names of the positions, and control your breathing.
As a Functional Fitness athlete, Weightlifter, shoot, any kind of competitive high impact sport, Yoga should absolutely be part of your routine. I've been an occasional Yogi for about 10 years now, sometimes in a routine, but mostly dropping in when I can.
Hot Yoga, Hatha, Bikram, Vinyasa, and Aerial. I've tried it all, baby!
It's great for anyone *ahem* lifting weights *ahem* that could use improved or maintained flexibility, light movement while rehabbing a minor injury, stress relief and SO much more.
For this article I spoke with my friend Trina Gorny, who is a Yoga teacher and fitness enthusiast, and she provided some insight on some of the benefits of Yoga for athletes.
Yoga provides students with the opportunity to balance engagement with lengthening, focus on proper alignment to protect joints and keep connective tissue (like fascia) happy.
Happy fascia = happy lifting.
More importantly though, it helps the athlete work towards building physical, mental and spiritual strength. This can be particularly beneficial for weightlifters to increase range of motion, prevent injuries and alleviate physical and mental stress.
What kind of Yoga Should You be Doing?
Different types of yoga can be beneficial, Trina says to incorporate at least a few yoga poses daily or after workouts. The benefits would be almost immediate. Over time this will help create better balance and improve your posture and alignment.
If you can commit to it, she thinks weightlifters should be hitting the Yoga mat once or twice a week. "I believe they would begin to see the more whole body benefits very quickly. The focus on breath control (pranayama) would be something that could help weightlifters during workouts and competition. I believe Yin, Vinyasa, or alignment focused classes. Ashtanga would be the most beneficial."
Types of Yoga
Ok we're really quickly going to go through some of these names because I want to make sure you know what you're walking into. I'm going to list just a few beneficial to weightlifting so that
Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga as exercise, incorporating principles of traditional Chinese medicine, with asanas (postures) that are held for longer periods of time than in other styles. Yin Yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues of the body—the tendons, fasciae, and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. A more meditative approach to yoga, its goals are awareness of inner silence, and bringing to light a universal, interconnecting quality. (Wikipedia)
Vinyasa is a smooth transition between postures in styles of modern yoga as exercise with movement that is paired with the breath (Wikipedia) It's more of a "flow" style and commonly found in the Hot Yoga room to get the sweat going.
Hatha a bit more intense type of yoga focused on the breathing and patience of the Yogi, over the movement. I happened to take one of these classes once by accident and let's just same I'm more relaxed in a Vinyasa class.
Ashtanga very similar to vinyasa, done in a group setting with an instructor leading you through a set of flows. The flow style is great for weightlifters and athletes because it's focused on continuous movement. As athletes we're sore in one place or another and a good flow class can be just enough movement for recovery but little enough to be an Active Recovery Day.
It's also worth mentioning Aerial Yoga and Hot Yoga (often Vinyasa style) for a little bit of a different experience.
Read more about my Aerial Yoga experience at AIR©, which was SO much fun by the way! The beginner class I took was less of a structured flow and more of a test your skills/have fun class. It wouldn't be my first choice to recommend to a weightlifter just looking to fit in some Yoga with an already busy schedule, but it's definitely worth trying for a fun, unique experience.
Hot Yoga has always been a go to for me. I mean, I challenge you to find any fitness class that can make you SWEAT like that. Some quick tips for Hot Yoga (I'll do a blog post with full deets in the future!) if you've never done it before:
1) bring your own mat and towel,
2) water bottle filled with ice cubes (non-negotiable, the heat will melt the cubes and you'll be thankful for the cold water),
3) wear clothes that can be thoroughly soaked in sweat and be ok, and
4) Temp is usually set to about 100-105, yes you can breath. Yes it will feel like you can't at first, but settle your mind and relax: You can do this.
My vote for the best yoga style for functional fitness athletes is Hot Yoga. The recovery is better for us to shake out soreness and benefit from the flexibility improvements. PLUS, having done the hard workouts in the box, you'll already have a great foundation and mindset to do a hot yoga class and power through. Let it FLOW!
If you're ok with more of meditation and holding positions while quieting your mind, Yin yoga has some great benefits. Positions are held for a longer period of time which can really help with stretching muscles and over time can improve flexibility.
No problem! The cool thing about Yoga is you don't need weights or anything really except space. Grab a towel if you don't have a mat and a water bottle and get to work!
With that said, Trina suggested some positions we can do at home or after the workout to help with recovery:
Puppy pose (Uttana Shishosana) - to open shoulders - being mindful to push firmly through the hands and roll the upper arm bones outward to broaden the shoulders.
Cobra pose (Bujangasana) - to stretch chest and open shoulders - firming the shoulders down the back, engaging the quads and pulling the belly up and in to avoid pushing the ribs forward
Dolphin pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana) - Open shoulders and build shoulder, leg and core strength - aiming to stack shoulders over elbows, hugging everything (including elbows) in towards the midline and zipping up from the pubic bone to the belly button.
Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana) - promotes balance, strengthens thighs and stretches the psoas muscle- firm the the arms, drawing shoulders down, engaging glutei and TFL, and avoiding dumping in the lumbar spine all while drawing the adductors towards the midline
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)- stretch front body and engage the muscles of the back body- great pose to focus on breathing
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)- this can actually be a tough pose for athletes because of extreme tightness in the hips. PROPS are important here.
A blanket or towel or rolled up to sit on to lift hips above knees. Then maybe a block or blanket/towel under thighs and knees to take off some of the pressure. We used the low side of an Ab Mat (which I'm thinking most of you have access to at your box) for these. Great for focus, breathing and mental balance also opening the hips. Ideally, if you're comfortable, you would hold this pose with your eyes closed and really concentrate on your breathing. Let the mind go blank and relax your face and any tension you might be holding onto.
A HUGE thank you to Trina for providing us with the Yoga lowdown. I hope this gets you up and moving to try some Yoga. It truly is a beneficial activity for recovery and mindfulness - which is something that is so easy to pass up as busy athletes.
Without a doubt, I would recommend Yoga as a non-negotiable part of functional fitness, weightlifting, or powerlifting (or really, any lifting) regime. Even 1-2 days a week, 30 minutes a day, would yield benefits to the athlete.
Trina currently teaches with Move Through Yoga, Inc. - a nonprofit with a mission of bringing yoga and adapted yoga to students of all abilities. You can find out more about them by visiting their IG account @movethroughyoga
If you have any questions or you would like to be a guest blogger, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you a regular or occasional Yogi? What is your favorite pose for stretching and recovery?
Malia is the force behind Lifting the Dream and a proud mompreneur. When she's not lifting heavy weights, she's probably at the beach or Disney with her family. She is a Cali girl born and raised, with salt water in her veins and sunshine in her heart. She and her family now reside in Florida soaking up the sun, heat, and all the amazing outdoor activities this state has to offer.