I Should Go Do Yoga...For Weightlifters
If you're a serious weightlifter, or cross-fit lover, then chances are you'll have been told at some point that you 'should do yoga' right? We all know it, but how often do you actually put that advice into action? If heading off to a yoga class after a session in the gym just isn't your style, I've put together a few simple postures you can do right there in the gym after or before your session without even blinking an eyelid.
So why is yoga good for weightlifters? Increasing your range of motion allows you to reach higher and squat lower, and you can then use this to your advantage when weight training by putting more power behind your moves. Increasing your flexibility will also help protect you from injury, for example, if you have tight hamstrings then you might not be able to bend down to reach the floor without rounding your back. This will mean you put yourself at risk of back injury when you lift back up. What's more, yoga is a form of strength training, but using a wider range of muscles, including those forgotten smaller muscles deeper in the body, which will help improve your overall strength. Combine that with correct breathing techniques and you'll find yourself improving your weights more rapidly than you otherwise would.
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OK, let's get started. With each of these postures I recommend holding them for at least 5-7 long even breaths (through the nose) or longer if you feel comfortable. Use this sequence before, after or in-between weights sessions on a regular basis to see the best results.
So we'll start on the hands and knees. Bring a couple of blocks or books in front of you, about shoulder-width apart. You can also use a chair or a bench instead. Bring the triceps onto the blocks or whatever surface you're using. Take a deep breath in through the nose and on the exhale let the chest melt down towards the floor. Bend the elbows and bring the palms together, resting them between the shoulder blades.
You'll feel a stretch through the armpit and the triceps as well as through the ribs. Keep breathing and use each exhale to melt the chest a little further down towards the floor. Try to press the chest down rather than forwards. Breathe here for 10+ breaths.
This stretch really opens up the chest and stretches the ribs and triceps, improving overhead and upper-body mobility.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
Come back to hands and knees. Step the right foot forwards into a low-lunge. Walk the right foot outwards slightly and bring the hands to the floor inside the foot. Keep your wrists below your shoulders, and your hands and right foot in line with each-other.
You should feel a stretch in the hips and groin. Stay here, keeping the spine nice and long (don't hunch over) and breathe evenly through the nose. After a few breaths, if you want to go further you can lift the back knee and/or drop your elbows and forearms to the floor to deepen the stretch.
Choose a position where you feel a stretch, but not too intense that you overdo it. You want to be able to breath evenly through the stretch, using the exhale to relax. Breathe for 5-10 breaths and then step the right foot back and repeat on the other side. This posture opens up the hips and groin, which takes the pressure off the lower back and helps with deeper squats.
Parivritta Anjaneyasana (Revolved lunge)
From your table-top position now we're going to step the right foot forward (keep the left knee on the ground for now). After a couple of breaths, bring the hands together in front of the chest in a prayer position. Now we're going to twist; bring the left elbow to the outside of the right knee, twisting from the middle spine and opening the chest right up to face the right hand side. Use the connection between the elbow and the knee as a lever, to press back and twist further. After 5-7 breaths, do the same on the other side.
Once you've got that one down, try lifting the left knee. Engage the core and the inner thighs. This stretches the hips, helps improve concentration and balance AND helps with shoulder and spinal mobility.
If you find yourself struggling to breathe, ease off the twist, or come down onto the knee again. The goal really is to ease the body into these postures, so don't push yourself or you'll end up injuring yourself.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle)
This pose is going to open up the side-body, the ribs, and the muscles in the middle-lower back as well as stretch the groin and strengthen the thighs.
From downward-facing dog, inhale and step the left foot forward. Turn the right foot so it's parallel with the back of the mat, and rise up with the arms out at shoulder height. From here, drop the left elbow to rest gently on the left knee. Try to keep space between your shoulder and your ear; keeping the shoulder relaxed and the neck long and neutral.
Your left knee should be aligned with the left ankle; pointing over the middle toe of the left foot.
Inhale and raise the right hand up and overhead, rotating it inwards slightly, but keeping the chest open.
You should feel a really nice stretch from the hip to the finger-tips. This stretches out the lower and mid back, hips and groin, as well as strengthening the thighs.
Supta Padangusthasana (reclined hand to foot pose)
To finish up, we'll stretch the hamstrings and the hip flexors. Laying out flat on your back, use a strap, belt or towel around the ball of the right foot. With the left leg out in front, heavy into the ground, push up and away from you with your heel until you feel a stretch through the back of the leg. You'll feel a stretch in the front of the left hip too.
Breathe here for 5-10 breaths, if not more, before swapping the legs.
Once you've stretched out the other leg, hug the knees into the chest, stretching and massaging the lower back.
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