“In my opinion, EVERY athlete – irrespective of sport or discipline – has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice.
I’d go so far as to say that if you’re not practicing yoga, you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance.”
~ Rich Roll 
All CrossFit athletes want to perform their best at what they love while minimizing the risk of injury and overuse. Let’s face it: Injuries and chronic muscle or joint pain suck. Do you find yourself constantly struggling with:
- repetitive muscle strain or joint pain
- discomfort from overly sore/tight muscles
- movement restrictions
- lack of joint mobility in key load bearing joints
Have you ever wondered why?
In this article, we’ll answer that question. We’ll also discuss how yoga can help CrossFit athletes unravel poor posture habits, and the multiple benefits that you can gain by adding yoga to your regular training regime.
Train Smart: CrossFit Athletes Need Yoga
CrossFit athletes must have structural and muscular balance and optimal movement mechanics to maximize performance. The standards in the Sport of Fitness demand that athletes optimize their physical competence in 10 areas: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy (2).
Most athletes know that when it comes to training the body, it should be well rested, hydrated and fueled (nutrition), free of inflammation (through diet and good motor patterns), responding positively to stress and insulin sensitive.
However, as both a corrective exercise specialist and active CrossFit participant myself, I find that there are many athletes following all of these training protocols, but still suffering from chronic muscle and joint pan. Why is that?
In my opinion, athletes are not always aware of how their static daily postures affect their movements and overall performance. And as I’m fond of saying, “You can’t fix what you can’t feel,” and “You can’t change what you’re not aware of.”
It is absolutely vital that a CrossFit athlete considers how his or her daily postural habits and prior movement history affect their ability to perform in the sport.
Muscular imbalances, compensations and dysfunctional movement patterns are well ingrained and further strengthened in the position we experience most: our daily posture. Lacking awareness of this without correction leaves a CrossFit athlete susceptible to repetitive muscle strain, injury or simply the inability to improve in key areas of performance.
If you are unaware of your daily posture, or do nothing to address and correct it, you can be sure you’ll bring these imbalances into your workouts.
CrossFit is NOT Dangerous…But A Body Out of Balance Sure Is
Personally and professionally, I do not believe CrossFit is dangerous. However, any posture or balance issues in the body you bring into CrossFit without addressing and correcting proactively with a program like yoga are.
In reality, most of us come to CrossFit doing very little, if anything at all, to our body in order to rebalance it prior to our workouts.
Think about this common scenario: You drive to work (sit), get to your office (sit all day), get back into your car (sit) and then get out of your car to do CrossFit to finish your day.
Your daily posture is head forward, shoulders internally rotated and rounded and shoulder blades sitting in your armpits. Your torso, hips and knees are all flexed, short and tight. The posterior chain is overly lengthened and weak. On top of that, you have spinal changes and compression and most likely a pelvis that is tilted, hiked and rotated. Unfortunately, after such a long time of imbalance, you are strongest in these compromised positions because that’s what you do for 10 to 14 hours a day.
Now you want to do a CrossFit workout. Do you think that the warm-up and few stretches you do before working out at 100% effort are totally unravelling your daily posture imbalances before you start? It will help, but not as much as you’d hope.
Strength gained through improper biomechanics and poor postural position is a perfect storm that guarantees chronic pain and potential for injury. Building strength on a misaligned frame is a recipe for disaster. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has defined postural-distortion patterns as “predictable patterns of tissue overload and dysfunction that lead to decreased neuromuscular control, thus initiating the cumulative injury cycle (6).”
Remember, your performance results always reflect the body you bring into the WOD or training program. Working out at high intensity on an imbalanced alignment will always lead to unhappy consequences.
When you train on muscle imbalances and joint dysfunctions, you place unnecessary stress on your joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones. Multiply that stress tenfold when you add speed and weight to the mix.
Adrenaline and endorphins are kicking in, (which can mask “not okay” pain), and there is no way you can identify or make postural corrections when exercising at full speed.
Eventually, it will catch up with you. The body is an amazing thing. Some individuals are able to train through postural imbalances in muscle-length tension or joint position for a long time without a catastrophic injury, while others simply can’t. Some experience that “not okay” kind of pain right away, and others don’t.
Unfortunately, the lack of immediate pain is dangerous. Little nagging issues start to add up. The chronic pain cycle or pain symptoms you have start dictating whether you work out or not. By the time pain, swelling, loss of mobility, etc. kick in, the damage to the tissue/joint structure is already done.
Even worse is the sudden injury that “came out of nowhere.” You know, the kind where you’re just doing your normal routine and you bend down to tie your shoelace, and all of a sudden, you just feel something in your body give.
So, without a program like yoga that allows you to slow down and identify and correct these imbalances, you train your brain and body to go through a multitude of muscle and joint compensations and dysfunctions to get the WOD done.
Let’s be honest: Every athlete knows he/she should mobilize and stretch. Some do it, but most don’t. If you’re one of those rare athletes who does mobilize and stretch, do you even know if what you’re doing is good from an alignment, posture and biomechanics point of view?
If you are nodding your head in agreement or hear that little voice inside your head saying “Yes,” that sounds to me like, “STOP!” Do something about it. If you’re not mobilizing and stretching enough, get in the habit of adding yoga to your training.
Benefits of Yoga for CrossFit Athletes
Yoga is a perfect complement to the sport of CrossFit and can benefit athletes of all disciplines, genders, ages and abilities.
When you get into the fitness habit of taking a yoga class designed with the athlete in mind, it will force you to slow down and pay attention to the body you bring into all of your activities.
You’ll be given cues to correct your biomechanics and opportunities to create muscular strength, endurance and flexibility in desirable ranges of motion. This will translate into WOD success naturally as time progresses.
Adding yoga as a complement to your CrossFit WODs can help in a multitude of ways. All you have to do is Google “yoga benefits” to find a long list of reasons why you should include it in your training regime (3, 4,5). Some of these benefits include:
- improved joint biomechanics
- conserved energy
- improved strength, endurance and flexibility
- better breathing functioning
- better balance and coordination
- enhanced body awareness (kinesthesia)
- improved mental focus and control
- reduced stress, anxiety, depression and pain
- improved self esteem
- elevated mood
- reduced potential for injury and overuse
- enhanced recovery
- strengthened core stabilizing muscles
- improved posture
- better lymph drainage
- boosted immunity
Yoga can give a CrossFit athlete the opportunity to work on the areas they’re weakest in and can help restore and correct muscle and joint imbalances caused by everyday bad posture habits and poor motor patterns. With time, patience and practice, you can be sure to see a multitude of improvements that transcend yoga exhibited directly in your CrossFit
Give yoga a go, and be sure to let us know what you discover. I promise your body will thank you!
- Why Every Athlete Should Do Yoga Rich Roll. May 2012.
- “What is Fitness?” CrossFit Journal. October 2002.
- The Benefits of Yoga American Osteopathic Association
- Could Yoga Be An Athlete’s Fountain of Youth? Megan Senger. American Council on Exercise ProSource. December 2013
- Yoga for Every Athlete: Secrets of an Olympic Coach. Kogler, A. 1995. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
- “Postural considerations.” M Clark, A Russell. 2007.