Yoga for Functional Fitness – the perfect yin to any fitness lovers' yang!
By Harriet Smith, Founder of Flotality.co.uk / Nasty Lifestyle Ambassador
If you’re reading this blog, I suspect you might be a fellow CrossFitter or fitness lover of some sort!
So, I guess my question to you is, how do you recover after workouts? Do you just hit the floor, then pick yourself up after you’ve got your breath back? Or do you take time to stretch off and cool down properly?
Recovery after workouts is so important, and what you do to in between each training session will definitely have an impact on your fitness performance in future workouts.
If you don’t do any kind of cool down already, my advice to you is to start now. After your next workout, spend five minutes or so just stretching off – even if that for you is just a walk around the block. Your body will thank you for it – both in the coming days, but also in the years ahead as we grow older and become more prone to aches and niggles caused by our actions in our youth.
If you want to really take care of yourself, then maybe you might consider trying yoga if you haven’t already – just one session a week can make a massive difference to your recovery, but also your mobility and functional fitness performance too.
For me when teaching, especially those who enjoy other fitness activities, the goal is to help you move better and move stronger as well as support recovery in between training. By getting strong and flexible at the same time, you will bend rather than break when under load and bailing out of your missed 1RM attempts!
My Yoga Journey
Although I have practiced on and off from the age of 16, I would say I only became a ‘true yogi’ 3 or 4 years ago when going through IVF (you can read more about that story over on www.wyldandfit.com). I began using yoga to help relax, and soon discovered the value that yoga can bring to your both your body and your mind in any circumstance – particularly calming the mind, bringing clarity and helping to focus better.
During this time I decided to sign up and train to become a yoga instructor and so was practicing every day. Sometimes these practice sessions would fall just before I was to head out to CrossFit. I began to notice that whenever I had practiced yoga just before, I performed so much better in these sessions. I began to see the link – yoga had helped me destress and refocus in other ways too without me even realising!
It suddenly dawned on me just how important regular yoga practice is for sports or fitness enthusiasts like myself.
Yoga is the perfect yin to any athlete’s yang!
We are so intent on hammering our bodies to move faster, lift stronger, do better, that sometimes we forget to look after them so that we can do better overall.
Sometimes you have to go slow to move fast.
Many sporting injuries are caused by overtraining, lack of mobility or stability or both, tightness and tension, or even just from bad posture.
In addition to this, as athletes we put our minds through a lot too – getting stressed out when we don’t hit goals, or suffering from anxiety if we don’t train. We put our bodies and minds under a lot of pressure.
The benefits of yoga for sport
Yoga can help ease this pressure, allowing us to become better, healthier athletes – both in body and in mind.
Now as a fitness enthusiast you are likely to be fidgety by nature – I know I am! The thought of doing yoga instead of a sweaty HIIT session seems like a boring alternative, it’s not your priority and so often just doesn’t happen. Many people have this misconception that yoga is all about laying around and meditating, but it doesn’t have to be. It actually can be tougher than HIIT!
You don’t have to do mediation or Savasana to get the benefits from yoga. I for one, could not just do a complete session on mediation – my body and mind have to be wound down first before I truly realise how much I need to just stop for a moment. Even now.
However, I find that the art of yoga, flowing movement with breath, is almost meditative for me in itself. The process of focusing on my inhale and exhale through movements tunes my thoughts and focus into the present moment, gradually allowing me to turn off from the outside world and focus on the here and now. This in itself gives a sense of relief and a weight lifted by the end of the session. Plus, by the end of the flow I am ready and accepting of a few minutes of Savasana, and many of my students feel the same.
Benefits of yoga for sport – the physical effects
Yoga has so many benefits for sports and fitness enthusiasts from supporting faster recovery, loosening sore muscles, improving flexibility and mobility. A regular practice will minimise injuries and downtime and help you get the most out of your existing training routine.
Better flexibility, reduced injury rates & faster recovery
Let’s start with the obvious – flexibility and injury prevention.
An athlete’s flexibility can determine if they can bail out of a lift without hurting themselves or not.
Think - bend don’t break! Keeping muscles soft and supple will aid flexibility and reduce injury rates, as well as promote faster recovery. I cannot stress enough just how important it is to stretch off properly after workouts. Even just 5 minutes of simple stretching will massively help – even if only to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (the DOMS).
Mobility plays a huge role in exercise, including lifting, squatting, and gymnastics. A regular yoga routine can greatly improve an athlete’s ability to reach depth, kip better, and lift correctly. Thus, allowing you to perform better overall.
Improve joint stability, general balance, and posture
Being flexible and mobile is no use on its own, you need good joint stability and strength. You don’t want over flexible joints that are not strong and stable when put under weight, you are just asking for an accident to happen. It’s all about balance.
Yoga helps to build strength and stability without putting your muscles and joints under further strain and fatigue. Therefore, regular practice can be a very valuable additional activity for you to do alongside your existing training and is highly advisable.
Additional benefits – the mental effects
Increased focus and energy pre-workout
… or just get ready for whatever lies ahead of you really!
The combination of movement with breath naturally brings your focus inwards and possibly will help you tune out from the outside world, if only even just for the time of your session, escaping any stress or pressures that you may be under. You will find this will help to improve your focus for the here and now, aka be more present in the moment. The ability to attain this level of focus can be hugely beneficial for weightlifters or for competitive athletes.
You will also find, various postures help to awaken and enliven the body, this too can be really useful pre-workout, or even just to kick start your day. The ability to re-energise the body naturally can be very powerful and can help athletes steer clear of using caffeine which can have negative effects later on.
Better focus and better energy can also help improve clarity, be that for your training goals or just for life in general. Clarity essentially will benefit your mental health. A good, healthy mindset will automatically help you to avoid stressors throughout the day from impacting you negatively.
Clarity helps you to see situations, options, and pretty much everything in a better light. It will help you make better decisions, reach better conclusions, and possibly understand the behaviour of yourself and others better so that yoga can positively move forwards, or accept the current situation better. For example, as an athlete you might want to be good at everything, but acceptance that your body can only focus or be good in one discipline at a time will enable you not to stress out too much on the other stuff you think you are missing out on.
Unwind, calm the mind and sleep better
A gentle yoga flow or yin style session can be the perfect way to unwind and stretch off after an adrenaline-pumping workout, especially if you train later in the day.
Sleep is so important for recovery and your future performance, just moving through a few simple postures before bed can help you get a better night’s sleep and consequently improve your athletic performance.
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