5 Yin Yoga poses for better overhead squats

In my opinion there is no other movement where limitations in mobility are more evident than with the overhead squat – Cassie Butler writes for Chin Strapped.

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Being a yoga teacher dabbling in CrossFit a few times a week, means my flexibility gives me a slight advantage.

The two areas of focus are ankle/ calf flexibility and the thoracic spine (upper and middle areas of the back).

Ankle and calf flexibility is often a limiting factor in a full-depth Olympic squat, but tightness in your thoracic spine makes the overhead position virtually impossible.

Shoulder flexibility is less of a problem than most people think. If you can hold the bar overhead in the correct position when standing and with a forward lean of the torso of a few degrees, you’ve enough shoulder flexibility to overhead squat.

Why Yin Yoga, and what is it?

The main physical difference between Yin and Yang styles of yoga is that Yin poses are held for extended periods of time – around 5 mins – and muscle activity is kept to a minimum.

The good thing about Yin is that it targets the connective tissues, such as the fascia, ligaments and joints as well as the muscles.

When we work to increase our range of motion, it is not only the muscle fibres that need to be lengthened; the fascia which makes up approximately one third of the muscle tissue and provides a great deal of the tensile resistance, needs to be released as well. 

1 – Rabbitasana or Fire Toes

Rabbitasana provides a strong flexion of the ankles and stretches the feet, toes and Achilles tendon.

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Kneel with the inner thighs and feet touching. Tuck your toes under so that there is a strong flex in the toes and soles of the feet. Sit your hips onto the heels intensifying the stretch in your feet. If this stretch becomes too intense – and it’s not called fire toes for nothing – lift your hips off the heels to decrease the weight.

Try placing a rolled up towel at the base of the calf when you sit back to get a foam roller effect. Move it a couple of inches every few minutes to massage the whole muscle.

2- Squat

Not to point out the obvious is, but this pose is a great stretch for the back of the thighs, calves and ankles.

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Take feet to hip width or slightly wider. They should be pointing parallel or slightly outwards. Bend your knees so that you sit down but keep your hips off of the ground. Make sure your heels are either on the ground or supported by yoga blocks.

The center of the knees should be pointing in the same direction as the feet.

3 – Fish

This supported version of fish allows for a strong stretch in the front of the chest and thoracic spine.

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Lying on your back: place a pillow under your upper back parallel to the end of the mat. Lie back onto the bolster with your hands overhead. Enjoy.

4- Dragon

Overhead squats require deep flexion of the hip, particularly the psoas. Dragon pose stretches both the back and front of the thighs, as well as the muscle running from your lower spin to the inner thigh called the psoas muscle.

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Begin on your hands and knee (tabletop). Bring one leg forward and place the foot between the hands, keeping a 90° angle in the front leg. Slide the back leg away to intensify the stretch in the hips and quadriceps, however, make sure the 90° angle in the front leg remains.

5 – Melting Heart

This is an intense stretch for the thoracic spine and works into the shoulders and chest area.

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Go back to your tabletop position, outstretch one arm forward and place the second forearm on the mat parallel to the end of the mat. The head can be placed on the forearm, on the mat or just behind. Ensure the hips are directly above the knees and lower the chest towards the mat.

Remember this is YIN yoga so hold each pose for about five minutes

Cassie Butler is a yoga teacher I met while ordering a round of tequilas in Shepherds Bush, London. Since she’s a keen CrossFitter she offered to give me a few tips to loosen up. 

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