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Damien Del Russo 07-20-2009 07:57 PM

CrossFit and/vs Yoga
After CrossFitting pretty faithfully for about 2 years, due to a variety of circumstances, I've been doing yoga for 3 months. During this time I've been doing a lot of mental comparing and contrasting between the workouts. I didn't think these thoughts would be of wider value...until some very interesting results the last couple weeks. I'd like to share my results, and though I don't think they prove anything definitively, I think they are valuable to anyone wondering what effect yoga might have on their health.

First let me stipulate that I was very inflexible during my CrossFit workouts, so my results may have been restricted by my limitations. At 36 yrs, 6' 1" and about 180 lbs throughout, I worked up to the following numbers:

[Before yoga]
Shoulder Press 1RM 117#
Back Squat 1RM 245#
Front Squat 1RM 185#
Deadlift 1RM 300#
Pull-Ups about 21 kipping
Weighted Pull-Up 1RM BW+75#
No L-Sits
No Hand-stand push-ups
No Hand-stands
Fran 10:36 as Rx'ed

So I would be somewhere below Intermediate in general - in good shape for a computer programmer, just mediocre in the CrossFit world.

I started doing yoga with a very tough teacher, Ning Harper in Calgary. I was a complete beginner but brought my CF work ethic and have been attending 4 or 5 1-hour sessions per week.

My flexibility has improved a ton, and I feel quite good overall. I'll present more contrasts below, but the big one for me is that I am never sore. CrossFit makes my muscles hurt! Sometimes I like it...other times it gets old.

Here's where it gets interesting. After about 5 weeks of doing yoga, I decided to do some heavy front squats. During that workout I set a new 1RM PR, jumping from 185# to 225#. I thought, well, I haven't done front squats in almost 12 months, and now I set a new PR by 40 lbs? Wow.

So I continued the experiment. The next week I did Shoulder Press, and set a new PR, from 117# to 122# (with a failure at 127#). Not huge, but nice. The next week my back squat set a new PR, from 245# to 271#. The following week, my DL went from #300 to #311 (with a failure at 316#).

So why did my numbers jump? I wondered, was it the yoga? Or was I just in better overall health after moving from Washington DC to Calgary? Was I stronger, or was it all the flexibility?

So I decided to test the theory that yoga was making me not just more flexible, but stronger. I waited a couple weeks, doing no more CF workouts. Then, the CF Total last week. The result - new PRs in all three exercises, jumping from 122 to 128 on the press, 271 to 275 on the squat, and 311 to 316 on the deadlift. That's about as close to scientific as I can get with one athlete - yoga is improving my CrossFit performance, even in the total absence of any CF workouts.

Even with those results, I wasn't ready to come here and share my results. But then, I thought, let's do one more test: Fran. When I started CF, my Fran time was around 30 minutes. Over 2 years I've improved my Fran time pretty slowly. My best was 3 months ago, when I did it in 10:36 just before starting my yoga regimen. I haven't done any pull-ups or thrusters in 3 months.

Today I did Fran in 6:36. This may still be pretty mediocre in CF terms, but dropping from 10:36 to 6:36 in three months without a single Fran-type workout is enough to get my attention, and to spur me to share with the CF community.

I'll let you all share your thoughts, and then I'll post my thoughts on CF and/vs yoga.


[After yoga]
Shoulder Press 1RM 128#
Back Squat 1RM 275#
Front Squat 1RM 225#
Deadlift 1RM 316#
Pull-Ups about 18 kipping
Weighted Pull-Up 1RM BW+??#
L-Sits (about a 5 second hold in nice form)
No Hand-stand push-ups
Hand-stands for a few seconds hold
Fran 6:36 as Rx'ed

Katherine Derbyshire 07-20-2009 10:50 PM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga
From a fitness point of view, yoga is essentially a gymnastics program. It's great for bodyweight strength, body control and structure, and flexibility, and depending on the style it's not bad for muscular endurance, at least in static holds.

So no, I'm not at all surprised that it's made you more fit in Crossfit terms.


Rachel Y. B. Lindsay 07-21-2009 05:11 AM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga
What kind of yoga are you doing?

Justin Shipley 07-21-2009 05:39 AM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga
Yoga can't make you stronger, it's just bodyweight.
It'll improve flexibility and increase ROM, but not increase strength through the same ROM. It'll definitely reduce post-workout soreness.
But your improvements in your strength and other numbers are all CF, with the yoga just improving your quality of life.:)

Larry Cook 07-21-2009 05:42 AM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga

Really nice improvements in all those numbers - awesome.

I guess my question is do you think yoga has made you absolutely stronger? Or is the improved flexibility allowing you to use your strength better and/or improved your form (essentially making you more efficient). Do you think the mental aspect of yoga has had some positive impact on your CrossFit workouts? (ok, so that's more than 1 question - wait I have 1 more)

Has anything else changed in your life - maybe sleep or nutrition?


Katherine Derbyshire 07-21-2009 09:42 AM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga

Originally Posted by Justin Shipley (Post 628668)
Yoga can't make you stronger, it's just bodyweight.

"Just" bodyweight? Gymnasts and dancers (and yogis) get plenty strong just throwing their bodyweight around. Granted, you won't get to a 600# deadlift that way, but bodyweight resistance is still resistance.


But your improvements in your strength and other numbers are all CF, with the yoga just improving your quality of life.:)
Actually, that's not clear. The OP reported improved strength during a period when he wasn't doing Crossfit at all.


Damien Del Russo 07-21-2009 07:09 PM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga
First I'll address the questions so far. Note that the main point I have above is that my CF performances - including pure strength - all improved while doing only yoga and no CF (except for the stated max lift tests - which are legitimate workouts and do improve health).

The yoga classes I am doing are a mix, I think. Our ab work isn't yoga at all in my view - v-sits, leg lifts, etc. The classes have been with four different instructors so it's hard to say it's a specific trainer, although Ning Harper is the main instructor (she was gone for a month, when three substitute instructors carried the torch).

For Larry, yes, the yoga is making me absolutely stronger. I set PRs in the press, squat, deadlift, front squat, and Fran while only doing yoga. These were the only things I tested - there weren't any exercises I tested that didn't improve.

Nothing else has changed - sleep and nutrition have been consistent. Perhaps I drink slightly less - 2 (shared) bottles of wine per week instead of 3 (shared).

I don't think the mental aspects of yoga are doing much for my CF - I think it's actually the other way around. I really hit my yoga with gusto because CF reinforced my work ethic. I always try hard. If anything my breathing may be improved by yoga.

I do attribute some of the gains to improved flexibility - especially the big jump on the front squat. But improving my deadlift? That seems like pure strength to me.

Thanks for the questions!

Now I'd like to compare and contrast yoga and CF on a variety of criteria.

If going to classes, yoga in my experience (Washington DC and Calgary) is much cheaper than CF per class. However, the dedicated CFer can pretty easily do CF workouts without a coach, therefore completely eliminating fees. I can't see doing yoga well without an instructor. So yoga requires a coach and costs less per class than coached CF, but CF can more easily be done without a coach. Therefore CF is better for those lacking instructors, but yoga is better for those who need constant instruction and have access to a yoga studio. Very situation-dependent.

I heartily recommend CF to friends and associates because I know that pretty much wherever they go they will get a pure CF experience. I am much less likely to recommend yoga because the experience varies so widely from class to class. My instructor Ning has made me stronger, but would *any* yoga classes have the same effect? If I tell my sister to go to yoga in NJ, I have no idea what experience she will have...but if I recommend she goes to her local CF gym, I have a pretty good idea what she'll get (both experience and results). Advantage CF.

Yoga doesn't use any equipment. CF can be done without much equipment, but it requires creativity and you'll still be missing out on some things. Advantage yoga.

Yoga absolutely enhances flexibility, and you never need to stretch after class. CF classes, in my experience, put too much focus on the warm-up and not enough on the post-workout stretch. They give lip service to stretching, but I would very frequently be tight afterwards. I'd like to see much shorter warm-ups (simple KB complex in 3-5 minutes) and dedicated time for stretching. That said, CF does stress stretching in the journal and certainly some coaches do too. Small advantage yoga.

CF hurts, both during and after. Yoga only hurts during the workouts. Advantage yoga.

I really expected a big advantage for CF here, but dropping 4 minutes off my Fran time during yoga-only training leaves me unsure. So either Advantage CF or even - to be determined.

CF clearly has a better community. E.g., there isn't a single yoga board where I can share these thoughts. That said...

There are yoga classes everywhere, including other countries. CF classes can be difficult to locate, although that is very rapidly changing. For now, advantage Yoga. In 5 years? Maybe even.

CrossFit support for nutrition is very strong - the affiliates I've gone to all mentioned diet frequently. Yoga, not so much. Advantage CF.

Time Commitment:
I attend 4-5 hours of yoga per week, with good results. CF classes are almost always substantially less than an hour, so CF requires less time even with 5 classes per week. I think CF can deliver quite impressive results in only 3-4 sessions per week (not as RX'ed, I know). So yoga requires more time. If you are trying to save time, advantage CF. If you have lots of time, no difference.

In my experience, both yoga and CF have a ton of variety. From what I understand, some yoga classes (Ashtanga) are pretty much the same every time - but I haven't been to those classes. Nonetheless, you can't have more variety than CF, so advantage CF. In my experience, even.

For those who enjoy seeing buff guys, advantage CF. As much as I like CF girls - and boy I do (my wife is one) - most CF classes are helmet fests. So for those who enjoy seeing hot girls, advantage yoga. CF girls are more buff, though :-)

Personally I don't like working out in cotton. CF practically requires cotton t-shirts (usually graphic, usually CF-themed). Yoga is dominated by Lululemon. Personally I like the tech fibres and Lulu clothes. Small advantage yoga (unless you like cotton, in which case advantage CF).

One thing that drives me crazy about yoga is how difficult it is to get honest feedback. Yoga is very non-measurement-oriented. Working "within your practice" is the main theme, and comparison amongst practitioners is completely absent. CF couldn't be more opposite - most everything is measured, you are constantly encouraged to break through limits (even if you work alone, you have your old time and the Internet postings to compete with), and direct competition is very frequent. There are even benchmark workouts and official CF games! BIG advantage CF.

There are lots of professional CF coaches, but very few yoga instructors can make a good living only teaching yoga. While I am not an instructor, my feel is that as a career being a CF coach is more promising than being a yoga instructor. [Suspected] Advantage CF.

Well 15 criteria probably covers it. Let me know what you think.


Katherine Derbyshire 07-21-2009 09:48 PM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga

Originally Posted by Damien Del Russo (Post 629332)
Time Commitment:
I attend 4-5 hours of yoga per week, with good results. CF classes are almost always substantially less than an hour, so CF requires less time even with 5 classes per week. I think CF can deliver quite impressive results in only 3-4 sessions per week (not as RX'ed, I know). So yoga requires more time. If you are trying to save time, advantage CF. If you have lots of time, no difference.

Except that you've already said your CF classes are too short, since they should include stretching and don't. My affiliate's classes hit the 60 minute mark pretty consistently, so this one depends on where you go.

While yoga is certainly very good at improving flexibility, I hope your CF experience is NOT the norm. IMO, if you're constantly sore and so stiff that your ability to do CF workouts is impeded, you've got some programming and/or scaling issues. Makes me almost wonder if some of your gains were simply because yoga let your body finally recover from all that Crossfit.


Justin Shipley 07-22-2009 01:26 AM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga
Not knocking yoga, been there and done that, and if that's all you do, exercise-wise, then you will get stronger than you were before you did yoga, throughout the awesome variety of moves available. But it's still bodyweight and gravity providing resistance, and you'll plateau in the strength department, with your focus from that point on being flexibility and balance.

My guess is that the time spent doing yoga increased proprioception and flexibility, and improved movement sequencing, which, when applied to the CF stuff mentioned, resulted in what appeared to be a strength increase in the heavy lifts.
But I propose the OP 'always had it in him', strength-wise....probably more so, prior to beginning the yoga... but the yoga allowed the expression of that strength to a greater degree than was possible before.
We all know that overall strength is slow to drop off, even after three months away from the lifts, so that's my better-explained suggestion as to why the numbers went up:)

Rachel Y. B. Lindsay 07-22-2009 04:00 AM

Re: CrossFit and/vs Yoga
I have to partially disagree with Justin. There's absolutely no need to plateau, strength-wise, in yoga. The continual advancement of more and more difficult poses should prevent that. I'm speaking from a background of Ashtanga yoga, though, and without a whole lot of experience with other styles. Maybe you'd plateau after reaching the Advanced D stage of Ashtanga, but please! Show me somebody who's gotten that far. Then ask them if their strength has plateaued. I bet it hasn't.

On the other hand, I suggest that if the CF workouts were shredding you that bad, taking a break with Yoga might have helped because it was active recovery, allowing you to fully realize the strength you've been building with CF.

I don't really consider Yoga a good replacement for anything. It's good for strength and flexibility, yes. But it's more good for getting better at Yoga. I still think CF fills a different need.

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