Despite appearances, CrossFit and Yoga are perfect partners. From an outsider’s perspective, both fitness protocols appear to be on the opposite end of the scale. CrossFit is intense and “brash”. Yoga is purposeful and meditative. But there’s no reason you can’t complement yoga with CrossFit or vice versa. And yes, you can have one foot in each camp at the same time. I’ve been doing it for years. Yep, CrossFitters do yoga. Want to get better in the gym? Here’s how you can do it.
How Yoga complements CrossFit
Check out any of the many Yoga gurus on YouTube. Most of them have incredibly strong upper bodies and legs that can withstand hours of endurance. Handstands and hand-balancing poses like Bhujapidasana or Shoulder pressing posture make the average CrossFit gymnastics moves look tame.
Balance & Coordination
There’s a lot to learn from this ancient discipline. For example, take the walking lunge with an overhead kettlebell. That’s a difficult move not only from a strength point of view but also from a coordination and balance aspect. And that’s where Yoga can help. Yoga movements help CrossFit athletes develop balance and isometric strength (for holding kettlebells with straight arms)
Here’s another example. To perform a handstand walk takes not only coordinated strength but shoulder, upper back and arm flexibility. You can, of course, work on this flexibility while you’re practising your handstand walks, but you can also cross-train and learn from yoga how to balance upside down and how to place your hands for inverted movements.
Breathing is fundamental.
Ever watched how the best CrossFit athletes at the Games breathe? Notice how the belly expands to almost comical levels. These athletes understand how to breathe diaphragmatically while performing insane feats of strength and endurance.
Yoga breathing or Pranayama is one of the foundations of yoga. Without proper breathing, yoga is only half-complete. The breathing techniques you can learn from yoga will help you breathe better in CrossFit. The result is more oxygen and energy. And that means better results.
Even more variation
One of CrossFit’s mantras is “constantly varied”, meaning every workout is different in terms of exercises, duration, and challenges. There’s no denying that the sport is varied. But there’s still room for other forms of training. And rather than take up running or swimming, enjoy yoga’s superior crossover benefits.
The squat is a core weight training exercise that yoga can support and facilitate. Yoga poses for squats help open the hips, squat lower under control, and breathe better in the bottom of the movement.
How CrossFit complements yoga.
The one thing that always struck me about yoga is the lack of “pulling movements”. There’s plenty of pushing and pressing (handstands, downward dog) for the arms, squatting and warrior poses for the legs, but there’s an imbalance in the muscle pairs. According to Yoga International, studies show that traditional yoga can lead to muscle imbalances.
I’d bet that most yogis are bad at pull-ups. I know a few people that can handstand all day and hold the bottom of the press-up in a yoga class for hours. But they can’t perform a single pull-up. This is especially true with female yogis. But walk into any CrossFit class and you’ll see women doing unassisted pull-ups all day. Yoga teachers have come up with all kinds of movements and poses to try to combat this imbalance but nothing beats getting into the gym to pull yourself to to a bar.
“yoga for strength” and “yoga for back strength” are popular topics on the internet. Are yoga fans and prospective students concerned about yoga lacking strength elements?
How to incorporate Yoga into your routine
Every day after class, I perform 5-10 minutes of yoga poses. This might be as simple as an intense dorsal stretch (Seated Forward Bend) where I’m trying to grab the toes of my outstretched legs. Or I might try some Ardha Matsyendrāsana to open the hips and back.
CrossFit is my daily meditation
These poses not only make me feel calm after a WOD, they help return the muscles their original length. If you’ve been doing multiple reps of cleans for 20 minutes, it’s likely that the muscles of your back, forearm shoulder and biceps are tight and short. Stretching movements like the ones in Yoga will prevent knots, tightness and reduce the chance of injury.
For many CrossFitters, the foam roller is the only thing they ever use for mobility. And foam rollers are effective. But like with fitness, the more you do something, the less effective it becomes. Progressive overload is the key. Rolling around on a roller works to a point. Yoga can take your post-workout routine to a new level.
Yin and Yang?
CrossFit is my daily meditation. It’s the one time in the day when I have no problems. When I never think about work and the daily grind. Many people feel the same way. But we know that CrossFit emphasizes short, intense workouts. And this intensity can cause tension.
Yoga, on the other hand, is the ideal complement to the fast-paced CrossFit protocol. It’s not black and white though. Find out what works for you. Do you feel amped and in need of some calm meditative moments after a WOD? Or would post-WOD yoga kill your motivation?
Mobility and flexibility
MobilityWOD and ROMWod, two mobility-related online courses, are popular programs aimed at the CrossFit community interested in staying injury-free, improving the range of motion of their limbs, and enjoying everyday life free of pain. It’s easy to see the similarities between these programs and yoga. Both use stretches and poses to improve mobility.
Yoga teaches us concentration and focus. When your mind wanders in a WOD or you’re finding it hard to get pumped for a class, the techniques you learned from yoga for focusing the mind can help.
Don’t be afraid of the terms!
Newbies to Yoga are often intimidated by the jargon and the names of the poses (asanas) downward dog, Shavasana, puppy pose, Chaturanga Dandasana, the Crane, Tadasana, and Mālāsana. Remember, you once had to learn what WOD means. Remember when AMRAP sounded like some kind of kitchen product? How about Rx? And you can tell the difference between a high-hang power clean and jerk and a squat clean and jerk, right?
Think of it as learning the basic steps in Salsa. It’s awkward at first and you spend most of the class looking at the instructor or other people for queues. But eventually, the movements ingrain themselves in your brain and you can switch from a downward dog to a handstand without even thinking about it.
Dos and don’ts for combining CrossFit with Yoga
- Don’t perform intense yoga poses and stretches before CrossFit class. That might seem counterintuitive but many studies show that excessive mobility and flexibility exercises before lifting weights reduces strength and power. The ideal warm up before a class is to perform dynamic movements and gradually move through the exercises, increasing in intensity until the blood is flowing and the body is primed.
- Do perform yoga after a WOD. Make it part of your daily stretching routine. Post WOD mobility stretches are an essential part of my routine.
- Don’t try to do an advanced yoga technique or a full class of poses if your muscles are sore. This won’t help and can, in fact, makes things worse. Tired and sore muscles are liable to cramp, injuries happen, and soreness increases when the muscles have no time to rest. Gentle stretching, massages, foam rolling, and non-intense yoga poses are the best options for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
- Do work on shoulder mobility rather than shoulder strength. CrossFit is shoulder-intense. And most athletes are not only strong in that area but they are incredibly tight. For many people, working on improving the shoulders mobility rather than performing shoulder-taxing handstands is a much better use of their time. It also helps to prevent injury. If you can’t perform a downward dog, you’ve got bigger problems than your inability to do an “Eka Pada Koundinyasana I”
- Do attend classes. The best way to know if you’re performing poses and asanas correctly is to follow the lead of a qualified yoga instructor. You can always practise outside of the classes. The beauty of yoga is that there’s no need for equipment so you can do it anywhere. If you plan on doing yoga wherever you feel like it, I recommend a quality yoga or even a ROMWOD mat (for hygiene and comfort). Check out the Rogue Yoga Mat for an inexpensive but durable mat. You can even bring this along to your nearest box and they won’t laugh at you 😉
It doesn’t have to be CrossFit vs Yoga. You can join both tribes and enjoy the health benefits of each. Just know that one is not better than the other for fitness or health. They are different, each one targeting a different type of fitness. But combining yoga and CrossFit could help you 10x your efforts in both disciplines.
CrossFit fan. Ex-personal trainer, triathlete, and cross-country mountain biker. Masters Competitive CrossFit athlete. Writer and blogger.