Ashtanga Yoga vs. CrossFit

By Kristen Gilbert

In Sports Applications

August 05, 2011

PDF Article

Kristen Gilbert, A 13-year practitioner of Ashtanga yoga, tries CrossFit for six months and says the two practices complement each other in testing the body and the mind.

On the surface, Ashtanga yoga and CrossFit look like opposites.

Yoga involves incense, OMs, peace and vegetarianism, but CrossFit cultivates explosive power and aggression in utilitarian-style affiliate gyms. But when delving below the surface, these practices are not only startlingly similar but also complement each other.

Previous CrossFit Journal posts have introduced the concept that yoga, breath control and psychological techniques can enhance overall performance. Ashtanga is viewed in the yoga community as the most vigorous branch of yoga, so it’s an ideal fit for CrossFitters who embrace intensity and physical aggression.



17 Comments on “Ashtanga Yoga vs. CrossFit”


wrote …

great article. as a crossfiter and crossfit coach as well as a practicing yogi i agree that one compliments the other.


wrote …

Just started yoga. Never really regarded it as Crossfit VS yoga. learning both can support each other when viewed properly. Only problem is that at 54 and just starting yoga I'm very stiff. The road is very long on both efforts. Feel the pain baby!


wrote …

I also really appreciated this article, and in particular its subtle humor. Very well done. One observation I had recently is that doing lots of deep squats in crossfit actually greatly helped me with hamstring flexibility, in a way that yoga did not. However, I am also really enjoying lately how yoga poses are helping me improve my biggest weaknesses - tight shoulders and tight psoas.


wrote …

how often do you train crossfit? and how often do you practice ashtanga?


wrote …

Kristen - first, in all sincerity, thanks for sharing your experience and insight about how you believe Crossfit and Yoga overlap. Most folks don't take a position either way, you at least had the courage to speak up and make a clearly explained case for why you think Yoga and Crossfit overlap and reinforce each other.

However, I completely disagree with you.

I think that yoga is a scam. A scam that has taken in some intelligent and good hearted people, but a scam nonetheless.

If you need to greater strength at end range then you need to do two things:

1) Get your body to that end range (i.e., stretch)
2) Build strength at that end range (i.e., move your body under load to that end range, repeat as necessary)

The market may prove me wrong on this, but the elite athletes that I see doing yoga I think would be better off doing very basic stretching and the folks that I see on the other end of the curve (beginner to non-existent Crossfitter) need to spend their time doing functional movements at a therapeutic dose, with basic mobility exercises as part of this (see Thomas Kurz work).

I remember a question of mobility coming up in my L1 Cert with Coach Glassman in 2007 that dealt with some minutia of whether to PNF or breath control or yoga, and his answer was "You know what gymnasts do that need to get more flexible? They go into the fucking corner and stretch!"

My experience in this realm has led me to demonstrate time and again that I can take an athlete with relatively terrible flexibility, give them some basic stretches that take 5-10 minutes to perform and dramatically improve not only mobility, but injuries as well.

Athletes that have trained with me who have chosen to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of their time taking yoga classes have seen neither.

Again, I say this with respect to your opinion and thank you for taking the time and submitting your article. As with all my written communication, I add the caveat: "Ut plena mauris".


wrote …

Yoga is definitely not a scam. I began CrossFit workouts in the firehall after a few years of Asthanga yoga practice, which isn't sleepy time yoga. Its work. Not intense, but work. Think sun salutations = low intensity burpees. I had done no weight training for at least 10 years. I was clearly more prepared for CF workouts than guys who had been doing the bodybuilding model of weight training and 20-40 minutes of cardio. These are younger able bodied guys. They'd beat me only if there were pull-ups or overhead presses, my weaknesses. Otherwise I'd finish the work before they did. After a few years of on and off CrossFit I'm still not able to lower my legs held straight from a headstand like I could at my peak in yoga. There is considerable core strength and balance work in a good yoga practice. Is it the most time efficient? Certainly not, but its not the couch and it definitely has value.

I used to say that if you only have time for one thing do yoga. I'd say CrossFit now. With more time, ideally, I would do the mobility wod, mainsite wod, gymnastics wod, & some yoga.


wrote …


I'm with you on Yoga. I would never make a move to 100% yoga without Crossfit, but I wish there were more hours/days in the week to do both. It definitely has value as a supplement to any training program.


wrote …

Brian, Have you ever tried a 90 minute Ashtanga yoga class? I had the same opinion that you did about yoga, then I decided to attend an Ashtanga class with my wife. I have been a serious crossfitter for over 3 years now, and the class kicked my butt. Believe me, Ashtanga yoga is not your standard yoga. I now have to admit, it is helping me improve my crossfit workouts.


wrote …

So excited that someone finally feels the same about Ashtanga and Crossfit! I did Ashtanga for about 2 solid years before starting CrossFIt and only stopped Ashtanga because life got crazy owning a gym and having kids. Really miss the mysore style of Ashtanga and do not have a teacher in our new town (Bishop, CA). Thank you for writing this article, it is motivating me to start back with Ashtanga and attempt to balance the two. Molly Broadwater


Dane Thomas wrote …

Brian, I can see that evaluating Yoga solely as a method of gaining strength at end range might very well lead one to believe that it is a scam, but that is hardly what Ashtanga is all about, and Ashtanga is only one little part of Yoga as a whole.

Kristen was very wise to identify Ashtanga as being particularly good for type-A people in that it provides relatively clear goals and progressions and thus a structure of reasonably objective physical mileposts by which to measure progress. That having been established, I have been told that many who focus on other areas of yoga point out that the physical changes that can addressed and brought about through Ashtanga are merely supportive of the mental and spiritual benefits that are approached through the meditative process that is made possible by the physical progress. Variants such as Bikram and competitive yoga seem very strange to those who practice yoga for the full range of mental and spiritual benefits.

A more CF-centric analogy might be that if CF were to be evaluated solely as a method of losing weight that might very well lead one to believe that CF is a scam, but that is hardly what CF is all about.


wrote …

I love to practice Ashtanga.

I love Crossfitting.

To me, they are different paths up the same mountain.


replied to comment from brian wilson

I'm not sure what gymnasts that Coach Glassman hangs out with, but most of the gymnasts I know do yoga or at least yoga-inspired stretching even when their stertching by themselves "in the corner."


wrote …

This is an interesting article, and some of it dovetails with an article my friend published on July 19 about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Crossfit.

He has practiced Ashtanga for 15 years, and practiced Crossfit for about 2 years before pursuing more specific physical interests.


wrote …

Yoga is no more a scam than Crossfit itself.

Saying that people who need to strech and build core strength need to do that instead of practicing yoga is like saying someone who wants to learn how to puch effectively needs to go learn that rather than studying boxing, or people who need to build strength and endurance need to go out and do that rather than practicing Crossfit.

It's true: You can take an inflexible person, give them some basic streching exercises and improve their flexibility. You can also take someone off a couch and give them some basic weight lifting and endurance exercises and, if they stick with it, greatly improve their strength and endurance. Does that make Crossfit irrelevant?

I practice Bikram yoga, because I like the consistency and the ability to gauge my progress. Ashtanga offers a similar advantage.


wrote …

Yoga = active recovery and as I've heard before you . You don't overtrain you under recover. And everyone recovers differently.
I like what Phillip said " different paths up the same mountain". We all know that trails cross and overlap eh.


wrote …

Kristen, or any other experienced ashtanga practitioners that may read this: are you doing heavy squats and deadlifts? If so, do you feel that is negatively affecting your Yoga practice? What's your 1RM squat in relation to your BW? Thanks!


wrote …

hey guys, appreciate all of the comments and you've made my day just knowing that there are more of us yogis-crossfitters out there.

I've been practicing Ashtanga for 7 years, and i teach Ashtanga Led and mysore classes regularly. I've been doing CrossFit for 7 months (5 times a week) and i find that CrossFit is as big as a mental & physical challenge as Ashtanga. Since I've been training more intensively in CF, I've had less time to practice yoga and I find that I've lost the balanced feeling I once had in my body. The type of core training we get from Ashtanga is completely different from the core training we get from OH squats or sit-ups. We would never feel a "lightness" in our body during WODs, whereas you may find you become as light as a bird when you do your sun-salutes. Imagine this: "L-sit" and lifting up then jumping back into your Chaturanga in your vinyasa... they are essentially the same muscles that we are engaging and yet because of the enviroment and breath awareness, the two can look and feel very different. Yoga has a more subtle and precise way of describing the engagement of the muslce, where CF is more gross and generalized when it comes to that i.e. "tighen your mid-line!" compared to "lock your uddiyana bandha".

It is interesting to explore the similarities and differences between CrossFit and yoga. But I do find that deep stretching post WOD is essential in the recovery of your body and it also brings your mind back to a more balanced state as well. As I feel training CF can elevate your mind and stimulate it in such an intense way that we need to calm it down with a lot of yoga and breathing exercise afterwards.

To answer Fernandez Luis' question: my body weight is 49kg. my 1RM backsquat is 62.5 KG. 1RM deadlift is 77.5 kg.

Leave a comment

Comments (You may use HTML tags for style)