Small gains can make a huge difference. In 2% Tougher, a Spartan Fit franchise, we ask our industry-leading experts to share their approaches to getting incrementally fitter. Every gain matters! Next up: Work some yoga into your routine.
“Much like power movements can be helpful for a variety of sports, yoga arm balances like Crow Pose can offer both physical and mental benefits for any athlete,” says Megan Hochheimer, founder of Karma Yoga & Fitness in Valrico, Florida.
Here's why working with Crow Pose matters, in more ways than one. (Yes, it's time to get your yoga on.)
4 Benefits of Crow Pose for Endurance Athletes
This is one of the most important elements of fitness for OCR athletes, says Director of Training Sam Stauffer, and Crow Pose is one way to build mobility in the hips, specifically.
Hochheimer says that the more hip mobility an athlete has, the more muscle they can recruit to run and jump, rather than just relying on the lower legs.
2. Core Strength
Crow Pose requires the body to essentially be in an abdominal crunch, held isometrically, while balancing on the hands. “This emphasis on the flexion of the spine and hips is greatly reliant on the muscles of the abdominal wall,” Hochheimer notes.
3. Balance and Proprioception
“Most people are not used to supporting themselves on their hands, but doing so creates a new way of working on balance,” Hochheimer says. “This can be very helpful for Spartans because running and performing obstacle courses calls on the same balance systems within the body.”
“There is a certain bravery and work ethic that are required to work through Crow Pose,” says Hochheimer. The perseverance it takes to work into Crow Pose can carry over to other athletic endeavors, like scaling the Monkey Bars, for example.
10-Week Yoga Plan to Master Crow Pose
Convinced you should work a little yoga into your routine in the form of a Crow Pose practice? Follow this 10-week plan from Hochheimer. The average healthy athlete may be able to ‘take flight,’ even if it's with the help of some props, in as few as five weeks.
Phase 1: Hip Mobility & Core Work (Weeks 1, 2, 4)
(Note: If you can do all of these exercises with ease, you can skip straight to Phase 2)
Directions: Do the following exercises one after another. You can do this as part of a warm up before another workout.
1. Deep Yoga Squat A.K.A. Malasana
How To: Holding onto a post or the vertical support of a power rack at the gym, step the feet a few inches wider than hip-width apart (the tighter your hips are, the farther apart you should step the feet). Turn the toes out slightly. Slowly descend into a low squat, holding onto the post for support until the core strength and hip flexibility improve. Using your leg muscles, slowly press back up to standing. Repeat 10 times, going a bit lower each time. Once you’re ready to ditch the support post, practice sliding down into a deep squat and hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles. Hands can press together in prayer position or stay on the floor.
2. Happy Baby Pose
How To: Lie on your back on a yoga mat. Bring your feet up into the air and bend your knees alongside your ribs. Grab your right foot with your right hand and your left foot with your left hand for Happy Baby. Hold for 10 breaths.
3. Hip CARs (Controlled Articular Rotation)
How To: Come to hands and knees on your yoga mat (if you have a wrist or neck injury, feel free to come to forearms). Start to gauge your hip mobility by lifting your right leg straight out to the right with the knee still bent (abducting). Circle the right leg around to the back and up through the center as if you were pulling the knee towards the chest. Repeat this direction, trying not to lean to the left, 5 times. Reverse the direction of the circle while hugging the body towards the midline. When you finish all 10 reps on the right side, switch to the left. As you gain mobility, try to squeeze the knee toward the elbow with each rep.
How-To: From all fours, pull your tailbone down towards the floor, lift your low belly up and round your mid-back towards the ceiling, but keep your neck neutral. Once you have this mastered on all fours, try tucking the tail slightly, lifting the belly, and protracting the scapula when in plank. Repeat 8 times slowly. When the movement starts to feel natural, practice exhaling as you round into “cat spine” and inhaling as you come out.
5. Happy Baby Crunches
How To: Lie on your back and start to come into Happy Baby pose, but reach your hands up towards the ceiling instead of grabbing the feet. With the arms straight and inside the knees, crunch up and slowly down. If you want to take your crow crunches to the next level, bend your knees more than you would for Happy Baby and let your heels drop back towards your hamstrings. Keep the knees close to the elbows as you crunch up and down. Do 3 sets of 8 reps, rest between each set.
Phase 2: Wrist Mobility & Position (Weeks 3 and 5)
Directions: Do the following exercises one after another. You can do this as part of a warm-up before another workout.
1. Swaying Wrist Warm Up
How-To: From all fours, turn the right hand so the fingers are pointing out to the right but the palm is still entirely on the mat. Sway over to the right and then back to center, taking the shoulder a little further out over the right fingertips each time. Sway to the right for 7 reps, then repeat on the left.
2. Rocking Wrist Warm Up
How-To: From plank or all fours, rock forward and back keeping the heels of the hands on the ground. Do 3 sets of 10 reps, resting between sets. Try to work towards taking the shoulders past the wrists.
3. Carpal Stretch Wrist Warm Up
How-To: From all fours flip the right hand so the fingernail side of the hand is on the mat. Close all the fingers of the right hand in towards the palm as if you're holding something tiny. Close and open the hand several times with as little bend in the right elbow as possible. Do 3 sets of 3 reps, then repeat on the left.
4. Yogi Push Up A.K.A. Chaturanga Dandasana
How-To: Come into a high plank. Rock your weight forward so that the shoulders are in line with, or slightly past, the tips of the fingers. (Lower the knees to make this more beginner friendly and to avoid shoulder injury from misalignment.) Brace the core and lower the chest until the elbows and shoulders are in line with the triceps hugging in towards the ribs, hold here for a moment or two. Push back up to the starting position. Do 5 sets of 3 reps.
Phase 3: Put It All Together (Weeks 6 to 10)
First, start with this version of Crow Pose that utilizes blankets and yoga blocks to ease you into it:
- Roll out your mat and place a blanket or folded beach towel at the front end (to catch you if you fall). Keep two blocks close by.
- Warm up by doing some of the drills from the first two phases of this program.
- Come into your Deep Yoga Squat and hold for at least 30 seconds. Your feet should be about one arm's length behind your folded towel.
- Grab your blocks and place them on the lowest level just in front of your toes, the blocks can be adjusted so you feel secure, take them a little wider if needed. Step up onto the blocks and continue your squat on the blocks (they create a perch).
- Place your hands on the mat between the blocks and the folded towel, and arch up into a cat spine as you bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Lift your hips a few inches and lean forward. Try to touch your knees to the backs of the upper arms. (If they don't quite get there, go back and work on your core with the Happy Baby Crunches.)
- With your knees on the backs of your upper arms, look forward toward the top of your yoga mat. (If you look back at your feet you may find yourself doing a somersault.)
- Lean forward a little more and play with lifting the right toes off the block. Set the right toes down and try the left. When you are feeling confident, lift all ten toes off the block.
- To come out, slowly step back into squat and lift the hands to rotate wrists and shake out hands.
Once you’ve mastered the above, you can try it without the “perch.” Keep the blanket in place in case you fall and consider adding what Hochheimer calls your Unicorn Horn: Set your yoga block on its highest level just behind the landing pad, this will be extra insurance if you want to place your forehead on the block. Work towards holding Crow Pose for 10 slow breaths, doing 3 to 5 reps a day.