Before diving into the ways in which yoga will increase your performance, let me first lay out a few guiding principles in how to approach yoga postures in the context of strength training:

 

#1. Yoga is NOT stretching.

yoga for athletes, yoga for strength athletes, best yoga poses for athletesOr rather, it is not stretching as you may think of “stretching.” There are tons of articles out there telling you not to “stretch” or why static stretching will decrease performance, and they usually have a picture of a guy sitting on the ground sort of leaning forward over one leg with a rounded spine, half-heartedly reaching for his toes while gazing off into the distance.

 

Well, yes, doing that sort of “stretching” will certainly not promote any positive gains of any sort for your body. Most yoga postures, by contrast, are a series of focused isometric contractions coupled with specific breathing patterns that yield gains in flexibility, mobility, and strength.

 

#2. Yoga has potential applications for ANYONE.

You need not already be hyper-mobile or super-bendy to begin integrating yoga postures into your training. You also do not need to practice a minimum sixty minutes of yoga five days per week to get the benefits. There are dozens of variations and preparatory poses that can meet you where you are at, regardless of age, injury, athletic goal, or structural imbalance.

 

#3. Use Yoga on active rest days or after your training session.

In order to utilize yoga postures for the purpose of gaining strength and increasing performance, practice them after your training session so that your body has at least 24 hours to recover from the poses. Although yoga is restorative, it is still a very intense physical practice (when you want it to be) and your body, especially your nervous system, needs time to recover from it.

 

The 10 Essential Yoga Postures (or Asanas)

I’ve selected the following ten postures to assist any strength athlete because of their ability to address the areas where so many of us often have limitations. Specifically, these postures will mobilize your hamstrings, decompress your vertebra, assist in relieving inflammation caused by a tight IT band, and allow for deeper hip flexion and rotation. They will also increase your ability to maintain thoracic extension in both seated and squatting positions. And the reduction in low back pain is a nice little bonus too. These postures can be used in this sequence or enjoyed individually after an intense training session.

 

In future posts we’ll dig into some of the finer details of each pose as well as some beginner modifications that make all of these accessible to anyone. But first, an overview of the ten best poses for strength athletes:

 

1. Triangle Pose

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Aids in developing and deepening the hip hinge movement pattern.
  • Direct application for kettlebell swing, deadlift, and kettlebell windmill.

 

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2. Extended Side Angle Pose

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Increases mobility in hip flexion, abduction, and external rotation.
  • Lengthening lats.
  • Direct application for all squatting patterns and overhead presses.

 

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3. Downward Dog

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Lengthens and mobilizes the entire superficial back line while decompressing spine.
  • Benefits ankle mobility and Achilles tendon.

 

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4. Low Pyramid Pose

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • IT band and hamstrings. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

 

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5. Warrior 1

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Thoracic extension coupled with shoulder and hip flexion.
  • Direct application for the front squat.

 

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6. Lunge Variation

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

 

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7. Low Lunge with Quad Stretch Variation

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Lengthens quadriceps while assisting deep knee flexion.
  • Also improves thoracic rotation.

 

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8. Pigeon

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Facilitates a much deeper hip opening.
  • Helps to alleviate low back pain in most cases.

 

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9. Shoelace

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Stretches butt muscles you forgot you had.
  • Amazing recovery tool after sessions with a high volume of hip-hinging movements.

 

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10. Reclined Spinal Twist

Primary Musculoskeletal Benefits:

  • Deep thoracic rotation while calming the central nervous system.

 

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How to Combine Yoga With Your Strength Training

I want to highlight two methods of integrating these postures into your training:

 

Method #1 - Add in one full day of yoga practice during a day when you would normally do a light workout or a day you would normally devote to active recovery. At the same time, add in fifteen minutes of yoga practice after training sessions. Pick just three or four poses each day and work on them. Focus on just these basic ten postures for now. You can add in all the other fancy poses later if needed.

 

Method #2 - For twelve weeks, scale back on the intensity of your training. Devote only two days per week to your strength training, preferably a short-duration total-body workout of a lighter than usual intensity utilizing exercises such as kettlebell swings, deadlifts, kettlebell front squats, TRX low rows, kettlebell overhead presses, Olympic lifts and variations, and Turkish get ups, or whatever lifts compliment your overall goals.

 

Aim to practice yoga five days per week, four days of just yoga, and one day of yoga combined with your strength training. Try a few group classes, and also practice on your own. For the first four weeks, you will probably feel as if you are getting weaker or not making any strength gains. But keep at it. Commit to twelve weeks and then transition back to Method #1, integrating yoga while adding intensity to your current program.

 

Give one of these methods a try and see what happens. I believe that In the long run you will be stronger and more importantly you will have increased the sustainability of your training.

 

Post any questions to comments, and keep an eye out for future articles on the adjustments, modifications, and nuances of each pose.

 

Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock; all other photos by Brandon Hofer.

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