September was National Yoga Month (yes, we were late to the celebration). But for all the benefits this ancient art form can provide for nearly everyone walking the Earth — from flexibility to mindfulness — more attention should be given to yoga the other 11 months.
All it takes is 90 minutes a week of sun salutations and downward dogs — whether following at home or at a studio for its health benefits to kick in, studies say. Yoga can help increase antioxidants levels in the blood while also helping your immune system. From there, yoga helps you maintain a healthier heart (lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar), improve your mental clarity, while also helping reduce back pain and increase flexibility.
But can it help you set a new deadlift PR? Maybe not, but a few yoga moves may go a long way toward preventing a lower-body injury from derailing your training sessions for an extended period. Studies have shown lower back, knee, and hamstring injuries are some of the the most common deadlift injuries.
Where to start an what to avoid
According to Alo Moves instructor Josh Kramer, all it takes is about five to 10 minutes for a good and effective warmup before you begin piling on plates. When it comes to deadlifting, especially heavy lifts, Kramer says you need maximum muscle contraction, especially along the hamstring muscles to complete each lift. It’s also why he says it’s wise to actually stay away overstretching, which does just the opposite.
“Avoid doing that before your lifting,” Kramer says. “It’s important to warm up to make sure your muscles are elastic and your joints mobile, but this is not the time to focus on long-term muscle elongation and flexibility work.”
All It takes, he says, is a quick warmup just to encourage limberness in your muscles, ligaments, joints and connecting tissue.
He suggests these four yoga stretches to get your lower body ready for deadlift day:
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Head to Knee Pose (Janu sirsasana):
How to do it: Sit with your legs extended in front of you, hands next to glutes, flexing your toes and contracting your quads. Lift your lower abs and sides of your waist. Bend one knee, placing that foot against opposite inner thigh and heel below pubic bone. Turn knee away from opposite foot. Fold forward over leg without arching your back. Reach your arm to hold foot, continuing to push deeper into the fold. Take about 8 to 10 breaths, then lift, switch sides, and repeat.
Why this works: “This posture will help lengthen your hamstrings, stretch your back body, as well as warm up your hip mobility,” Kramer says. “This posture can be made more or less intense, so it is perfect to do as a warmup, or even after your deadlift session to cool down.”
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Half Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
How to do it: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet parallel and about hip-distance apart. Move feet toward your glutes, then press into the mat to raise hips. Try lifting with your pubic bone instead of your lower abs.
Grab your hands under your back, and beginning positioning yourself on top of your shoulders. Roll thighs toward you. Take a deep breath, exhale, then lower. Repeat.
Why these work: “These postures will contract your back body, and build isometric strength into the muscles of your back,” Kramer says. “Muscle activation is an important part of weightlifting, so it can be helpful to stimulate those same muscles during a warmup so they are ready to work with heavy weight.”
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Full Bridge (urdhva Dhanurasana):
How to do it: Lying on the floor, bend knees and set feet on the floor, with your heels as close to your glutes as possible. Bend elbows and spread the palms of your hands near your head, fingers pointing toward shoulders. Focusing on your breathing, press feet into floor, then push your tailbone toward your pubic bone, and lift glutes off floor. Keep thighs parallel, take a few breaths, then press hands into floor while lifting shoulder blades of the floor — hold for several breaths. Then, pressing hands and feet into floor, lift your head off the floor while straightening your arms, then hanging your head. Hold for several additional breaths, lower, then repeat.
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Rag Doll or Forward Fold (Uttanasana):
How to do it: Stand tall, with hands alongside hips. Bend knees slightly, then, using your hips (not lower back), fold forward, placing hands near your feet. Take a breath before beginning to straighten legs. With your next breath, continue folding your torso without rounding your back.
Why these work: “Not only do these postures stretch your hamstrings, but they also decompress and stretch your back body,” Kramer says. “An added benefit is that with your head hanging down, blood flow is stimulated, and it can give you an extra boost before beginning your workout.”