Get Down With The Dog

I get a lot of questions about stretching. I assume this is because I am yoga teacher and because I am more flexible than most of the people I come in contact with through Crossfit. Apparently, many people find stretching to be boring and painful and something to be avoided. Unfortunately, without a daily dose of stretching many Crossfitters out there will never be able to perform some of the basic moves in the Crossfit lexicon competently. Crossfit involves a lot of squatting, overhead lifting and some basic gymnastics moves. If you are tight in the shoulders, hips and hamstrings, then most of these moves will present a problem for you unless you stretch regularly.

Most people ask me for one or two stretches they can do that will fix them. Here is THE high pay-off move that will address the most common problems associated with crossfitters and provide lots of other benefits as well: Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit).

This is a list of reasons why you should do downward facing dog everyday:

  • It stretches your shoulders, hamstrings, calves and ankles;
  • It prepares your body to be upside down for handstands:
  • It helps you develop midline stabilization;
  • It is peaceful and relaxing;
  • It builds heat in the body and warms you up; and
  • It is a starting point for more advanced moves.

Here is how you start. Hit the deck and get into a top-of-the-pushup or plank position: your heels over your toes and your shoulders over your wrists. Without moving your hands and feet, start to stretch your heels back and down while lifting your butt high in the air. Push with your arms and let your shoulders open up as the arms come up by your ears.

You are going to want to develop enough endurance to stay in this position for at least a minute or two. The way to do that is to breathe deeply and audibly through your nose, like Darth Vader meditating. If you get bored, then come back into plank pose and do 15 pushups and then press back to Downward Facing Dog.

In order for this to have any functional benefit to your overall fitness, you must learn to focus and develop the same things that we work on in Crossfit, for example, Midline Stabilization.

Maintaining a neutral spine with some lordotic arch is key. The hamstrings will be fighting you but that is the point. Keeping the spine strong against the pull of the hamstrings will force the hamstrings to stretch and is good practice for everything else you do in Crossfit.

Carefully observe the two photos below. The girl in the first photo has a horrible back position. You wouldn’t squat like that and you shouldn’t do your downdog like that. It does not help that her hands and feet are too close together. If you brought her into a plank position her shoulders would be about a foot forward of her wrists. The girl in the second photo has a beautiful, long straight back position. That’s what yours should look like.

Bad dog! (via) Notice the rounded lower back. Do not do that.

Good dog! (via) Notice the long straight back. Have a treat.

I was planning on writing a lot more about the details of this pose but while researching realized there is a wealth of good information already out there. Please read this basic primer and also this article on maintaining a straight spine. My next article will give you some ideas how to incorporate downward facing dog into a warmup or a cool down that is Crossfit specific.

Natasha Rizopoulos shows you how to fix your downward facing dog.

Was this article helpful? Do you have any questions about downward facing dog? Please let me know in the comments.

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