This blog isn’t for every athlete – it’s for certain kinds of lifters.
- the lifter spending 20-40 minutes before a training session smashing the shit out of his shoulders just to get into a decent snatch position.
- the fitness fanatic whose mind wanders between sets in training or lifts at a meet, distracted by her phone or lost in thought about her latest life struggle.
- the CrossFitter wearing her or his muscles like a shell. You might be described as a “brick shithouse” but never as “graceful” (unless in the punch line of a joke).
- the girl who pees when she works out.
- and any uber-competitive athlete who’s ever went home angry (or even crying) after a bad session.
Basically, it’s for any athlete who was like me.
If this is you I want to say: congrats on your hard work! You’re a go-getter (goal getter?). You push your limits every day – adding 5 more lbs to the bar than you did the week before and spending extra time in the gym polishing your technique. You’re gonna go far, kid, but I wanna tell you how to go even further.
What if I told you the path to your athletic prowess actually involved less hard work and more mobility?
ROMWOD isn’t taking over the world for nothing! Fellow athletic perfectionists: we all need some Yin or restorative yoga in our lives (that’s what ROMWOD is, if you didn’t know).
Here are seven of the best benefits you’ll receive from practicing yin or restorative yoga:
- Your muscles will relax, and your technique will improve because you’ll actually have better control of contracting them. I avoided yoga for a long time because I believed that some tension in a muscle was good: “A tight muscle is a strong muscle, right?” Now that I’m practicing yoga a minimum of 3 hours a week, I’m not so sure. Past Brittney couldn’t consistently shrug because her back and traps were so tight that she wasn’t able to powerfully contract them on command. Present Brittney’s muscles aren’t constantly clenching and so she moves much more explosively. The same can be true of you if you actually train relaxation.
- You’ll learn to be present in your body; you’ll actually feel what your muscles and joints are doing during your lifts. Ever had a coach tell you, “Get your back tighter in your set up,” or, “Punch under it in the jerk,” and you thought, “I’m trying,” but you struggled to make the words translate to movement? Any great yoga teacher will help bring you into your body; she or he will teach you when your hips are square and when they aren’t. You’ll be told to feel the sensations in your body after you’ve done a pose. By getting into your body more you’ll have better control and awareness of what it’s doing in training; you’ll be a faster learner and a more effective lifter and you’ll actually be able to put the movement cues that have plagued you up until this point into action.
- You’ll heal old injuries. If your shoulder’s been bothering you for 6 months, and all the lacrosse ball work, banded stretching, massage and chiro appointments in the world aren’t fixing it, maybe it’s time to try something else. In your yoga practice you’ll become aware of your imbalances – your right shoulder injury might be coming from tension in your left hip or side body. Your teachers will bring you through poses that constrict blood flow to certain areas and then bring it rushing back through the joint. By working on your breathing you’ll learn how all the systems in your body affect each other (e.g. how your respiratory system works together with your musculoskeletal system). Essentially, you’ll get to know your body in a new way so that you can really take responsibility for your recovery by getting to the root of the problem yourself.
- You’ll be calmer, more mentally focussed and present, and you’ll see the bigger picture better. Speaking as a beginning yogi, yoga at its heart is really meditation combined with movement. Meditation is “mindfulness practice.” Being mindful is all about being present. Practice being fully in your body and paying attention to the sensations and the breath outside of the gym and there’s no way it won’t transfer to your training. You won’t want to reach for your phone anymore because you’ll be squeezing so much enjoyment out of your training session from the littlest thing like really feeling the grip on the bar to the more obviously fun like laughing at your training partner’s jokes. You’ll become grateful for what your body can do and you’ll start to sound like one of those strange yoga teachers when you express your thankfulness for the way your hands have the power to act as hooks holding onto hundreds of pounds at a time or the way your heart beats faster during a WOD to provide oxygenated blood to all your hardworking muscles. When you miss a lift in training you’ll shake it off because you know it’s only one day and you’re just happy you can be there in that moment lifting. You’ll crush your old PRs at your next competition because you’ll be more fully there than you ever have been with complete control of both your muscles and your mind.
- Your pelvic floor health will improve (this means less peeing in heavy lifts or double-unders). It’s totally normal to pee during these movements, but I don’t think it should be. Stress incontinence (peeing when you lift) is usually caused by one of two things: 1) a pelvic floor that is too tight all the time (much like those muscles I talked about earlier) and so it cannot powerfully contract when needed, or 2) a pelvic floor that is too weak. I believe most lifters probably have the problem of having too tight of muscles everywhere – including the pelvic floor. Hip opening poses, mantras used to ground you, and breathing techniques used by yoga teachers will be your best friend in relaxing and learning to control your pelvic floor so you don’t need to wear a diaper when you deadlift.
- You’ll learn how to breathe, you’ll deepen your breath, and this will improve your bracing for your lifts. I swear I couldn’t take a full breath until the last month of my life. By stretching my side-bodies, working on taking mindful breaths (e.g. feeling which nostril my breath is coming more strongly through, feeling my lungs fill, etc.), and getting my diaphragm worked on by a massage therapist (okay, not yoga), I’m taking bigger breaths than ever. Check out this blog where I talk about proper bracing technique.
- You’ll increase your range of motion. I saved the most obvious one for last. You’re a perfectionist. A goal getter. When you stretch it’s probably a means to an end. You push the stretch to 100% intensity to get the best payoff in ROM gainz when you go to perform your next lift. So, let me just give you one tip I’ve found: you’ll actually increase your range of motion the most if you don’t go right to that maximum edge of intensity: push your stretches instead to the point where you can maximize your relaxation and you’ll hit your most perfect position yet.
There you have it, fellow turtle-shell backs: to increase the weight on the bar, expand the time you spend stretching and maximize your mindfulness gainz by developing a legit yoga practice (and not just laying in corpse pose at the end of a tough workout).
In closing, here’s how I’d recommend starting:
- BEST: If you can swing it, sign up at a great studio and attend a Yin or restorative class at least three times a week. Make sure you feel at home from the moment you walk in, and if you don’t – keep trying studios until you do. The benefits you’ll get from showing up to a space dedicated strictly to yoga with in-person teachers committed to you is incomparable to practicing in your own home or a gym dedicated to lifting; the energy and the expertise is just that much better.
- SECOND BEST: Attend the yoga classes your gym already offers. Many facilities offer mobility services to members, and they do this for a reason. Take advantage of them! You’ll improve a lot faster as a strength and conditioning athlete if you do.
- STILL GOOD: Sign up for an online option like ROMWOD. I’d recommend getting in the habit of doing the Warrior routines (45ish minute routines) at least two times a week as soon as possible. The benefits you get from the shorter routines are great, but based on my own experience doing a longer practice three times a week will have more payoff than a shorter one every day because you can get that much deeper into your muscles that are starving for relaxation – the positive effects of an extended practice will last proportionally longer.