Strong AND Flexible! Now, That's A Compliment.

Alexandra Ellis

As a yogi who lifts, I find myself part of a small, yet growing tribe. In the yoga space, my strength and bulk make me slightly less flexible than the others. In the gym, my flexibility allows me to achieve better positions to lift and move efficiently.

As I dabble with boot camps, BootyBarre, CrossFit and Yoga Tune Up®, I have had a revelation. Because the human body can only move in limited directions and planes of movement, every fitness class is built around basic human movements. As humans, we (should) have the capacity to pull, push, lift, squat, jump, and run.

We run into trouble because our modern lifestyle doesn't involve much activity. Most people only squeeze in their minimum daily requirement of 20 minutes of movement – but as fitness professionals, we move daily. Through what ranges of movement? Yes, we may exercise, but are we taking every joint through its entire range of motion during our exercise?  Exercise, as most Americans practice, is almost like the junk food of movement – we do it once a day, with high intensity, and then spend the rest of the time sedentary at work or in the car.

This is why I think CrossFit and yoga complement each other so nicely. The strength and conditioning of CrossFit helps the overstretched yogi literally find his or her body, and the flexible body is able to move into positions that will generate the most strength, without losing any power due to a lack of range of motion. When I compared the two movement styles side by side, I realized that they were not as different as I had once assumed. 

For example, the most basic of all human movements is the squat. In CrossFit, the squat is usually performed weighted, but also can be made plyometric (think box jump), or without weight. A pistol is a single leg squat, but a squat nonetheless. In yoga, a squat appears as chair pose, utkatasana in Sanskrit. While the cueing may be different, they both involve flexion at the hip, knee, and ankle, while maintaining a stable spine. The front leg in most every yogic standing pose is also in a squat. A squat is the simplest way to get up and down from a surface of any height. Start to watch what movements you do in your fitness classes. You know the pliés at the barre? Those are also squats, usually done with an exaggerated external hip rotation.

I can’t say that yoga is better than CrossFit, or that any movement style is the best. As I said before, I think that both movement styles complement one another. Conscious movement of our joints through their entire range of motion is best. Instead of experiencing joint pain that comes with over stretched muscles, I am the proud owner of joints with a healthy amount of stabilization and mobilization. 

Rather than limiting yourself to a single style of exercise or movement, why not experiment with them all? I challenge you to stop being so serious about your movement practice. Instead of going to (fill in the blank) this week, try something new. Go to a dance class, yoga class, lift heavy things, or any other type of movement practice. Even incorporating movement wherever you can is helpful. At home, I have transitioned into a standing desk so I can now do squats and chair pose at the end of every paragraph. When done correctly, movement is movement, and just needs to be done!


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