Athletes are focused. Athletes are dedicated. Athletes are ambitious. Athletes are intense. We do what it takes to train, practice, condition, work hard, fine-tune and push our limits to be the fittest and perform 110% at our sport. My chosen sport: CrossFit, the “sport of fitness” as it is known by the global CrossFit community.
CrossFit is defined by founder Greg Glassman as “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity…based on functional movements [that] reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more…the core movements of life.”¹
I have officially been CrossFit-ing (that’s a verb, just trust me) for almost three years. It feels like it has been much, much longer though, because like many athletes, I dove right in and made training my everything. I went to the gym every day, always in the pursuit of getting stronger, faster, more efficient, etc. I wanted to be the best. I pushed and pushed myself, way past my limits, to the point where I just could not hear my body screaming at me anymore for some much needed R&R.
I did not listen to my body, so what did it do? It made me listen. I became prone to every minor injury and nagging pain. I was always sore and tired. I could not sleep and when I did, I sweat through the night because my cortisol was so out-of-whack, along with every other hormone in my body. I gained 20 pounds (not muscle mass) without changing anything. My face became ridden with acne. ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH!
Last year, I cannot tell you how many doctors I went to and how many labs I had tested on me. The verdict? Inconclusive. My doctors were stumped. I claimed I was too, but I wasn’t. I knew. My body knew, months previously, but I didn’t take the time to listen.
So I am telling you now, athlete to athlete, listen to your body and treat it with love and respect. One way I found to practice this body love was yoga.
I exchanged two of my training sessions per week with yoga and slowly, but surely, I felt like myself again. My weight restored and my hormones balanced out. I could sleep in the night peacefully. I woke up feeling refreshed. I didn’t feel tired, yet wired throughout my day. My acne cleared away without any special creams or treatments.
I was at peace, body, mind and soul. I truly thank yoga for that. So much so, that I recommend adding a bit of yoga into any athlete’s fitness regimen.
Yoga is great for recovery and preventative care for all the intense and high impact training that goes along with the life of an athlete. Yoga helps also with balance and coordination and is a game changer when it comes to mental conditioning.
Ready to boost your athletic performance? You can start by adding a few of the following poses in your programming.
Adho Mukha Svanasana “Downward-Facing Dog”
“Down Dog” is a pose even non-experienced yogi’s know very well. This pose is a symmetrical inverted arm support that uses the deltoids, latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, intrinsic foot muscles, quadriceps, serratus anterior and triceps brachii muscles. Be sure to keep a neutral spine, press firmly through your feet (it’s okay if your heels don’t touch! Don’t force them down!) and through the whole hand, including weight distribution in the index fingers and thumbs.
Virabhadrasana II “Warrior II”
Warrior poses are asymmetrical standing poses that are good for stability of the hip and knee joints and the spine. Warrior II works the quadriceps, tensor fasciae latae, piriformis, gluteus medium, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, and pectoralis minor muscles. Think of trying to align the body along one flat plane, the heel of the front foot should be in line with the arch of the back foot, the knee of the front foot in line with that heel and the shoulders and hips are square together, etc.
Utkatasana “Chair Pose”
Chair is a symmetrical standing pose that benefits balance and stability. A neutral spine and an activated core are key to this pose that also works on shoulder mobility as the arms frame the ears. Muscles used include triceps brachii, extensor digitorum, deltoid, infraspinatus, teres minor, serratus anterior, rectus abdomens, erector spinae, gluteus medium, hamstrings, quadriceps, soleus and tibialis anterior.
The tree is an asymmetrical standing balancing pose that is great for a balancing challenge and helps with identifying asymmetries and imbalances in the body. Balance is a great test of fitness and athleticism. Do you suspect you have a “better” side in your sport? Try testing it out with a little tree pose. It calls upon the posts minor, tensor fasciae latae, iliacus, pectineus, adductor longus, gracilis, sartorius, quadriceps, tibialis anterior, gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. You can add more challenge to this pose by raising your arms or closing your eyes.
Boat is a symmetrical forward-bending balance pose that really lights up your core, better than any ab-crunch. Boat fires up the sternocleidomastoid, vastus laterals, hamstrings, rectus abdominis and spinal extensors. Try to work your way up to holding this pose for 30 seconds gradually from 5-10 seconds. Remember to breathe!
Last, but not-to-be-forgotten, the symmetrical supine pose of Savasana. Savasana is oh so important to down regulate the body and get it back to homeostasis. It is about finding the breath again and calming the mind and body. After a hard day of training, your body needs to recover, and what better way than in a little Savasana. Lay on the back with the arms and legs taking up some space in a comfortable position. I usually move all my limbs around until the settle to a natural state instead of “placing” them. Then, just focus on your breath and relax into the ground. It seems simple enough, but for active and individuals constantly go-go-go, this one can be tricky to recall what stillness feels like. I would recommend this pose daily, possibly before bed.