With the increased popularity of Olympic lifting and the fact that Crossfit has brought it to the masses, now more than ever, we need to consider how our day job affects our bodies and may actually be at odds with the exercises and workouts we may want to do.
We may want to do Olympic lifts. We may want to do gnarly, cool exercises.
Heck we may even technically be strong enough to do them.
But before we can, we have to make sure our body is mobile and ready to truly move through the range of motion.
Because if our body can’t truly do the motion, we are going to compensate and end up getting injured.
For awhile now, I’ve been telling myself that I need to start up yoga again.
Yoga makes me feel so good…after it is over.
In a way, it’s like foam rolling and stretching…even warming up and cooling down…people either love it or skip it because they don’t see an immediate benefit, like sweat pouring off of them and their heart beating hard.
You may not be gasping for air or have that feeling that you were just “destroyed” by a workout, but if you want something that will help your lifts and make you both mentally and physically stronger, yoga is it!
Very quickly though, I will note that there is a big difference from a yoga that is simply stretching and one that does force you to hold more strengthening poses that may cause a bit of muscle shake-age. Both have their place and can be very beneficial, BUT there is a difference between what you will get out of each.
The yoga that I prefer is one that, yes does have stretching, but more importantly creates a bit of muscles shake-age. (AND also to note…I’m not necessarily talking about one specific “type” of yoga. Sometimes people can take the same class and get very different things out of it based on how low they choose to go in their warrior pose….)
While both can be great for recovery and mobility and flexibility work, ones that force you to hold a low and strong warrior pose for a decent amount of time are going to create more strength both mentally and physically.
I believe that one of the best ways to create more mental strength (and physical for that matter) is to force yourself to do something longer than your mind tells you that you want to do it. Our minds will give up way before our bodies have to.
Do one more squat than you want to…One more push up…Run that extra sprint…
All those things push you just a little beyond what you want to do.
But personally, I don’t think any are quite as good at developing mental strength as forcing yourself to hold an isometric pose while your muscles start to shake just a bit.
Pushing yourself to hold that Crescent pose even when your leg is shaking is an incredibly difficult thing. You don’t get to move…AT ALL.
At least when you are doing that extra sprint or extra squat, you are moving. For some reason, getting to move makes pushing yourself to do an extra rep just a wee bit easier. It’s like because you are moving you can feel yourself getting closer to the end so you can hold out through that extra rep or so.
Whereas it is WAY easier to give up when you are simply holding a move while being super uncomfortable and just waiting for the time to pass. It is hard to keep calm while your legs or arms are shaking and your mind is screaming at you “GIVE UP!” and you aren’t allowed to move.
Continuing to hold Warrior I as your legs shake until that teacher (or timer) tells you to stop can be incredibly challenging. You just want to stand up so bad as your leg muscles burn.
And the best part is…your instructor is probably also telling you at the same time that your mind wants to give up, “Just relax and breathe.”
Just relax and breath….
As your legs or arms are shaking, as your mind is telling you to give up, just RELAX and BREATHE.
And the reason the instructor is telling you this?
Because your mind will give up before your body has to.
Your mind will start screaming at you all sorts of negative thoughts. It will make you tighten and clench muscles that don’t even need to be clenched. It will force your breath to become more shallow, labored and even “panicked.”
But if you just focus on deep calming breaths and keep your mind on trying to relax the muscles, you may just manage to beat your mind and successfully hold the pose longer than you ever thought possible.
If you want to reach your full potential, if you want to lift more or run faster, you’ve got to not only strengthen your body, but also your mind.
You’ve got to be able to be RELAXED UNDER TENSION.
So the next time you consider skipping yoga because it isn’t that hard a workout, think about what your body and mind really need.
My guess is that most of us out there aren’t getting enough mobility and flexibility work let alone ever really focused on working on our mental strength during our workouts….Physical strength yes…maybe even “pushing ourselves” but truly focused on relaxing under tension? I DON’T THINK SO!
So try adding in yoga once a week. It may just be what your body and mind need to take your performance (and even your health!) to the next level!
So yesterday I had a new client that I was assessing, lay on her back and raise one leg straight up toward the ceiling. I wasn’t looking at hamstring flexibility, I was looking for asymmetry between her two sides. Asymmetry puts people at greater risk for injury and means that there are some imbalances that need to be taken care of.
When I had her raise her leg, she said to me, “Oh I’m not very flexible.”
I told her it was ok…that I wasn’t looking at flexibility.
She said, “Ok, but still…it is embarrassing!”
I smiled and thought…It’s crazy that people worry so much about their flexibility, especially when there are really bigger fish to fry!
How important is being flexible really? I mean is it really important that you are able to touch your toes?
Honestly, being able to touch your toes really isn’t that important, BUT that doesn’t mean you should be locked up and immobile.
Mobility is WAY more important than flexibility. Mobility means how well we are able to MOVE..to squat, jump, push, pull.
Being able to touch the ground with your head while standing with straight legs doesn’t mean you are going to be able to move well. In fact, it could mean that you have potential imbalances that are actually inhibiting you from moving well.
So while being able to do the splits is cool and something that you may decide you want to master, being that flexible really isn’t essential to being able to move well.
What is essential to being able to move well is mobility of the joints.
And to have mobile joints means much more than having crazy flexibility. Flexibility can mean different things for different people.
You are flexible enough to be mobile if you take care of all shortened and tight muscles. So if you sit a lot, you need to make sure that your hips, which have been tightened and shortened by sitting all day, have been stretched and loosened so that proper length-tension relationships have been developed between all muscles around your hip.
And on top of needing good length-tension relationship between all the muscles around a joint, to be mobile you must also make sure that all the correct muscles are activated. That means that if you expect to have good hip mobility, you can’t have shortened and tight hip flexors and UNDER ACTIVE glutes.
So you must make sure that on top of making sure tight muscles are loosened and lengthened that overactive muscles are relaxed and under active muscles are ACTIVATED.
If you want to be mobile, stretching or flexibility is just a piece of the puzzle. You also need to do SMR (self-myofascial release aka foam rolling) and activation exercises.
While stretching is GOOD it isn’t near as important as most people make it out to be. You don’t need to be able to touch your toes….It may be something you want to do, but it isn’t necessary.
And even when people do spend a lot of time stretching, they usually stretch muscles they LIKE to stretch, not the muscles that are necessarily tight from sitting or doing repetitive movements day in and day out.
So instead of spending a ton of time stretching each day, focus on only stretching the tight muscles and use the rest of that time to do SMR and activation exercises! You will become more mobile and therefore GET MORE OUT OF YOUR WORKOUTS!