I’m not the biggest fan of yoga. I’ve cracked jokes about it in posts from the past, and I frequently criticize it in conversation, so you might be surprised to know I don’t think it’s all that bad. During my presentation last Friday, I discussed the role of yoga (and gymnastics) in preparing students for a strength-training program. While they are seldom grouped together like this in real life, I believe that they share the same direct role at a young age, which is to increase kinesthetic awareness. Kinesthetic awareness includes both the body’s ability to coordinate movement as well as the body’s awareness of where it is in space. As motor development occurs, it’s important that we learn how to move, and where are limbs are while we’re moving. It’s the difference between a good lay-up (my brother) and an ugly lay-up (me).
For physical education, I suggested that yoga postures implemented daily allows students to increase their kinesthetic awareness, and that tumbling units allow students to develop a knowledge of their bodies in motion. When it comes to strength training, yoga can prove beneficial for teaching kinesthetic awareness. There are many postures that help develop mobility, and static holds can be used to stretch chronically tight muscles. Not a bad thing if you consider our evolution:
In an age that finds most of the population pinned to keyboards, at desks, or in cars, we’re constantly hunched over and seated, and need some time to undo this. However, we don’t exactly need an hour and a half in a 105˚ room. That amount of time dedicated to stretching and sweating, which shouldn’t go hand-in-hand, is absolutely ridiculous; it’s not a workout, it’s the illusion of a workout. For practical results, it’s better to use self-mobilizations pre/post workout, and use some static yoga poses as supplemental work. While I’m supporting the use of yoga to enhance the strength training experience, let me reiterate that I don’t think it’s an efficient use of time, and it can sometimes be downright dangerous.
If you’re wondering which yoga poses you should be using, I’d refer back to the Joint by Joint approach. If you’ve never heard of Joint by Joint before, then refer to THIS article from Mike Boyle explaining it. (Seriously, go read it…NOW!) If you’re familiar with Joint by Joint, you know that we seek mobility from the ankle, hip, thoracic spine, and glenohumeral joint (aka your shoulder). While we want these joints to be mobile, the ones in between should remain stable. (That includes the foot, knee, lumbar spine, and shoulder blades.) If you put the body together from head to toe, we’re simply alternating between stable joints and mobile joints.
Now, if we consider what yoga generally strives to accomplish, it’s flexibility. While almost everyone requires some extra flexibility, it’s important to note where that extra range of motion comes from; it could be the difference between being pain free or preparing for an injury. Let’s consider the ankle, hip, t—spine, and shoulder. If we can create motion there, while preventing motion at the adjacent joints, we’re setting ourselves up for success. However, you need to keep a watchful eye on yourself (and others) to make sure that compensations aren’t occurring to make up for these mobility deficits.
If you want a good starting point for mobility that doesn’t include yoga, I’d check out THIS post from Mike Boyle’s StrengthCoach.com that includes 8 basic mobility moves that address these joints. If you’re REALLY interested in learning more about it, I own both Magnificent Mobility and Access and Correct from Mike Robertson, Bill Hartmann, and Eric Cressey, and both products offer a ton of information discussing mobility. Finally, if you want new content on a weekly basis, check out the blog for Mobility Workout of the Day. New content is regularly updated, and the drills are very short; 10 minutes at most. Using some of those drills can certainly help with your crappy ankles, tight hips, and hunched back.
You might not be as willing to click those links, or you might want a yoga-based approach, which is why I began writing this in the first place. If that’s the case, then I’d try using the following poses to undo some of the postural imbalances created by our daily lives, and to prepare your body to perform better.
The Garland Pose places you in the bottom of a deep squat. After setting your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, spread the ground with your feet as you squat between your heels. Press your hands together in front of your sternum, and use your elbows to gently spread your knees wider. While doing so, raise your chest, and breath in to your belly. This movement can help teach you what the bottom of a proper squat feels like.
Upon first glance, the One Legged King Pigeon Pose II looks like a static hip flexor stretch, and that’s because it is. I think it’s safe to say that almost everybody in our society has limited hip extension, and lengthening the hip flexors is part of the process to correct this. Similarly, the Low Lunge provides the same stretch on the hip flexor, while adding the requirement of shoulder flexion and thoracic extension. While yogis practice their poses in specific sequence, I’d go from the static hip flexor stretch to the low lunge, contracting the glute on the ‘down’ leg, raising your chest towards the ceiling, pulling your shoulder blades down against your back, and breathing through your belly.
Lastly, I’d check out the Warrior Pose III. You’ll see that the body is in a straight line perpendicular to the ground, with the exception of one leg supporting ones self. The reason I like this pose is because it looks very much like a single leg deadlift, with some ‘improvements’ that can help teach body control. Static control of a posture is important before one can move in and out of that posture, and this can help teach the bottom of a single leg deadlift. The hip stabilization requirements are the same, and you’ll likely feel a stretch through your hamstring and the outside of your hip. (If you don’t, you’re leaning too far forward, and rotating your hips open instead of keeping them square to the ground.) Maintaining shoulder flexion while bent over increases the workload of the thoracic (and lumbar) extensors, which can contribute to teaching a neutral spine and maintaining proper posture in in the gym and through out the day.
I’ll admit, I’m not a big supporter of yoga, unless you’re using it to support other activities. If it helps you prepare for a sport or helps you in the weight room, and can help you recover and relax after training hard, then it’s a good investment of time. Just keep it short, have fun, and stay out of saunas while doing it.