Be Gentle, Be Powerful

CrossFit exercise fitness yoga

Surprise Benefits of Yoga

The next time I went in for a CrossFit workout, I found it much easier to get into the positions for weightlifting and bodyweight movements. As a result, I could move more weight and go faster. I was amazed at how hard I could push without straining or getting winded! Whereas before at least half my strength had been wasted fighting tight muscles, now it could all go into generating power.

Spending time loosening my hips with yoga had made me more powerful!

This experience convinced me that there is a lot of value in low-intensity exercise done correctly for the right purpose. Yoga’s main benefit seemed to be helping me develop body awareness and range of motion, which weren’t the focuses of CrossFit or gymnastics (though they were addressed to an extent).

Besides the yoga, I spent more time refining skills in various movements, another low-intensity activity. I would do exercises at a lower intensity, with a keen focus on perfect form and smooth, controlled movement. I improved my balance and the precision of my movements. Not every ‘workout’ had to leave me totally destroyed.

The result of the skill work turned out to be greater efficiency at higher-intensities, so I tired less quickly.

Again, training lower-intensity, more mental aspects of fitness had improved my performance overall.

Besides the performance improvements, I also felt less stiff generally, more energetic (because I wasn’t constantly burned out) and more relaxed.

A Prescription for Gentle Movement

Since starting a regular yoga practice, I've occasionally substituted with other, low-intensity exercises where the focus is on quality of movement rather than how far or fast I can go. Where I might have thought it a waste of time in the past, now I will happily spend an entire workout mobilizing and stretching or grooving one tricky balance move (handstands, for example, which are at least as much about skill as they are about strength).

I’m still exploring this area of fitness, but in general, it seems that a good foundation of skill work, body awareness, and mental engagement may be lacking in general fitness training, especially with the growing popularity of the super-intense fitness trend. The emphasis has always been on forcing your body to change, instead of coaxing it gently.

Trying to force our bodies to change is like trying to get a tree to grow one direction by physically pushing it. The tree isn't going anywhere, and will just break if you push too hard. You'll have more luck with light trimming and directed sunlight, and the final result will be much stronger.

I think that the fitness world may have overcompensated for excessively tame exercise by going for excessively hardcore fitness. The point of exercise is to promote health. It is essentially an act of caring for our bodies. And yet, we approach it with such frustration, as a means to punish ourselves and our bodies for not being as good as they can be.

If you’re finding yourself burned out, stiff, sore, frequently injured, or lacking in flexibility, and compensating by just pushing harder, I encourage you to try swapping out some workouts for rest or mobility training that emphasizes mental awareness, efficiency, and precise movement. Even just five minutes of yoga in the mornings made a big difference for me.

What are your thoughts on the appropriate ratio of low-intensity and high-intensity exercise?

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