When we asked Mike Aidala, a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sports Performance Coach, 200-hour registered yoga teacher, and holistic lifestyle coach his favorite ways to use yoga for Olympic lifts, his first response wasn’t a pose; it was meditation.
“No matter how strong your back squat is or how strong you are in practice, there’s so much mental fortitude that needs to happen to execute a highly efficient movement like the snatch or the clean and jerk,” says Aidala. “If your mind is anywhere else except on the platform where you are, you’re gonna miss the lift. Clearing your mind and focusing on the activity ahead is the most beneficial kind of warmup.”
So before he starts his yoga poses, he does a seated meditation to improve his focus. After spending a few minutes focusing on his breathing (he likes this three-part breath meditation), he’ll spend five to ten minutes visualizing every single aspect of the lifts he hopes to accomplish. Some studies have shown that mental imagery can lead to increased strength outputs, so this can be actually be a smart way to prepare. (Just avoid the false visualization trap.)
Afterwards, he moves onto the poses themselves. If he’s using yoga to warm up, here’s the order in which Aidala would perform them. Typically, each pose is performed for about five full, deep breaths.
1. Sun Salutations
A relatively complex, full-body movement, this pose serves to warm the body, start lubricating the joints, and tease out a fuller range of motion. Complete five rounds.
2. Forward Folds
Simply bending over and holding your elbows is a great way to help lengthen the hamstrings and stretch the lower back. For a more advanced version, bend your knees until your thighs touch your chest, then try to maintain that contact as you straighten the legs. Remember that it’s more important to maintain that contact than to have perfectly straight legs.
3. Upward Facing Dog
“This is for the extension of your upper back and for opening up the hip flexors and quads,” Aidala explains.
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4. Bow Pose
Moving on to the bow pose increases the stretch of the hip flexors and helps to open up your thoracic spine.
5. Chair Pose
“The main part is to think about isometrically pulling apart the ground underneath you,” says Aidala. “This helps to activate the glutes. The move also opens up the thoracic spine.”
6. Handstand or Crow Pose
Right before the workout begins, Aidala likes to practice a handstand for five breaths to warm up his shoulders. If yours isn’t quite ready yet, consider a crow pose, or holding the top of a pike handstand or pike push-up.
Now that you’re warm, limber, and focused, you should be in for a solid lifting session. And hey, yoga’s great for the body, but have you heard of snatches?
Then, once your workout is complete…
7. Pigeon Pose
A nice pigeon pose will help to stretch the glutes and relax the body after your workout. Once you’re in the position above, feel free to fold over your front leg to get a deeper stretch.
Lie on the ground. That’s basically it, but many consider it the most difficult yoga pose because it’s intended to be used as another meditation. The goal is to completely still the mind and let the body start recovering from all of the previous activity. Anyone who has tried meditation before knows that not thinking, despite how simple it sounds, can be extraordinarily difficult. If you try to keep your mind focused entirely on the sensation of air entering and leaving your nostrils, you’ll gradually get better at it.
“Olympic lifting isn’t like shooting baskets,” says Aidala. “It’s a highly stressful and complex movement, so not only are you going to move your body, you’re going to improve your ability to focus.”
Yoga can help here. Give this warmup a shot for one of your less demanding workouts and let us know how it goes.
Featured image via @crossfittheflats on Instagram.