Today’s post is from a friend of mine named Stephanie Ring, who is currently working on a book for yoga for functional fitness athletes. Stephanie founded a yoga brand called Endure Yoga, which focuses on functional yoga (similar to Man Flow Yoga), and I am excited to have her present her knowledge for the Man Flow Yoga community here.
Take it away, Stephanie.
At some point, injuries happen to almost every functional fitness athlete. It is the nature of being an athlete. Accidents like sprained ankles or pulled hamstrings, can sideline an athlete almost instantly but happen from time to time. Yoga conditioning for athletes are unique in that injuries, beyond the occasional accidents, come from repeatedly performing functional movements poorly. For many, the underlying cause of improper form is lack of mobility and flexibility.
Functional movements are based on our body’s biomechanics for dealing with real world scenarios like lifting or pulling. When we see a breakdown in form, rarely is it a byproduct of our body’s natural ability to perform such a movement, but mobility (range of motion in the joints) or flexibility (length of the muscles). And the two most common reasons for mobility or flexibility issues are prolonged periods of sitting and/or lack of proper post workout recovery protocols like stretching or foam rolling.
We all hate to admit it, but we spend most of our days sitting at a desk, in the car or at home. Sitting, especially those of us with less then perfect posture, creates tightness in the back and shoulders due to slouching, tightness in the hip flexors and hamstrings, and even lack of flexion in the wrists from typing all day. Tightness can also occur after periods of activity. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which usually strikes hardest 48-72 hours post workout, can prevent full range of motion, though once the soreness has subsided, range of motion usually returns with some lingering tightness. It may seem as though there is no way to prevent muscles from becoming shorter and tighter, and you would be right. However, stretching is one of the best ways to lengthen out muscles after periods of activity or inactivity.
As a functional fitness athlete and yoga teacher, yoga has been an integral part of my training, from warm up to increasing and maintaining mobility and even recovery. I use specific poses and sequencing depending on the movements performed during the workout to target specific muscle groups in a way to help lengthen, relax and reduce tension in the body. Beyond that, yogic breathing focuses the mind, calms the nervous system and increases athlete’s level of body awareness.
Below are the 10 yoga poses I teach most often to functional fitness athletes. These poses stretch the main muscle groups used during most WOD’s (Workout of the Day) and encourage overall mobility and flexibility to improve form for movements like Snatches and Kipping Pull Ups.
• Allow for up to two minutes in each stretch either pre or post workout.
• Breath slowly in and out through the nose to calm the mind and relax the body while performing each posture.
1. Downward Facing Dog
Functional Fitness Movements: Deadlifts, Snatches, Pistol Squat and Cleans
Starting in plank pose, shift the hips back and walk the feet towards the hands about 2 inches. Place the feet hips distance and the hands shoulder distance. The first finger of each hand should point forward. Bend the knees, press through the palms as though to push the mat away extending the outer hips up. Feel your tailbone lengthen towards the ceiling. Once the maximum extension of the spine is reach, begin to slowly straighten the legs, drawing the heels down. Relax the neck and gaze in between your feet.
2. Upward Facing Dog
Functional Fitness Movements: GHD Sit Ups, Toes to Bar, Burpees, Squat Cleans
From Downward Dog, shift forward into plank and bring the thighs down onto the ground. The hands should be underneath the shoulders. Press down through the palms and tops of the feet to allow the hips to slowly lift of the ground. Feel the chest move forward and up through the gateway of the shoulders as you lengthen your tailbone towards your heels.
3. Extended Low Lunge
Functional Fitness Movements: Box Jumps, Back Squats, Kipping Pull Ups, Back Extensions
Starting with the right foot forward, the front heel directly under the front knee and the back toes un-tucked, allow the hips to relax towards the ground. Hug the hips together while keeping the frontal hip points facing forward. Place your right forearm on your right thigh or hip for stability and lift the left arm up and over to the right feeling a side stretch along the left side. Turn the left side of the chest up and reach back slightly.
4. Twisted Monkey
Functional Fitness Movements: Wall Ball Shots, Front Squats, Muscle Ups, Overhead Squats
Starting from low lunge with the right foot forward, walk the foot a couple of inches to the right and then bend the back knee and grab for the left foot with the right hand. If that is not possible, use a strap/band and wrap it around the foot. To deepen the stretch, you can drop down onto your left forearm and turn the right side of the chest down towards the ground.
* I have had numerous athletes’ cramp during this stretch because they are contracting their hamstring to grab the back foot. My best suggestion is to shift the hips back to stack over the left knee, grab the foot, shift slightly forward, let the foot fall into the hand (turning off the hamstring) then shift the hips all the way forward to find the stretch.
5. Half Split
Functional Fitness Movements: Running, Rowing, Sprints, Prowler Push, Straight Leg Deadlifts
Start by kneeling. Extend the right leg out in front so that the hips are still stacked over the left knee. Flex the right foot and keep a slight bend in the knee. Place the hands on the ground or use a block or plate underneath your right knee for more height, and extend the chest forward and down towards the right shin. The square the hips drawing the right outer hip back and turn the right pinky toe, towards your face.
6. Clasp Hands Forward Fold
Functional Fitness Movements: Pull Ups, Push Ups, Ring Dips, Push Press, Split Jerks
Start standing with the legs hips distance. Clasp the hands by the low back, squeeze the shoulder blades together. Extend the arms while keeping a soft bend in the elbow. On an exhale fold forward sending the hand up and over the head.
*If clasping your hands behind your back is not accessible, use a strap or PVC pipe; widen the grip to a place where you can fold forward.
7. Gate Pose
Functional Fitness Movements: Butterfly Pull Ups, Strict Pull Ups, Handstand, Kettlebell Swings
Start in a kneeling position. Extend the left leg out to the left with the left toes pointing forward. Keeping the right hip stacked over the right knee, lift your right arm up. Lengthen your tailbone towards the ground. Extend through the side body and lean over to the left. Turn the right side of the chest up, resisting the urge to bow forward. Place your left hand either below the left knee or above it for a light support.
8. Puppy Pose
Functional fitness Movements: Muscle Ups, Shoulder Press, Snatches, Tire Sled Pull, Push Up
Start by kneeling on the ground with the toes untucked. Keeping the hips stacked over the knees start to walk the hands forward as far as possible. Pressing your palms on the ground while keeping the forearms lifting and a slight curve in the low back, extend the chest towards the ground. Feel the armpits open, the chest broaden and the upper back lengthen.
Functional Fitness Movements: Weighted or Air Squats, Cleans, Deadlift, Thrusters, Lunges
Starting in Downward Dog, bring the right shin forward and place it on the ground. Keep the right foot flexed. The right knee should be to the right of the hip. Extend the left leg back. Roll towards the front of the left hip so the hips are square towards the ground. Depending on tightness, shift the right heel forward, but only if this doesn’t hurt the right knee. Once you feel an intense stretch in the glute, walk the hands forward, resting the forehead on the ground or on your hands.
10. Eagle Spinal Twist
Functional Fitness Movements Deadlifts, Back Extensions, Farmers Carry, Heavy Squat Cleans
Start by lying on your back with your left thigh wrapped over your right thigh. Shift the hips to the left and on your exhale send the knees to the right. Extend the left arm out to the left. To continue the stretch up the back of the neck, gaze over your left fingers.
For more on Stephanie and Endure yoga, check out these links: