When I was writing my book Namaslay, I knew I wanted to get in better shape for the photoshoot for over 100+ yoga poses I needed to demonstrate. My primary goal was to build strength, and my secondary goal was to tone up. A few months later, I found myself in the best shape of my life. Initially, I hired a personal trainer to help me fine tune my Olympic lifts like the snatch, clean, etc. Then, I hit up my friend, Coach James Keeler, to see if he could help with programming because I found that when I went to workout on my own, I just cherry picked movements with no rhyme or reason behind my workouts. When you are just looking to maintain or you don't really have any fitness goals to meet, that's all fine and good, but when you're looking to improve and make some serious changes, I learned that having a quality program to follow is vital.
James knows his stuff. He is an L-2 certified CrossFit coach who trains and coaches in Miami. His team just made Regionals to make a run in the 2017 CrossFit Games. He is someone who leads by example and his programming is ultimately what got me to where I'd wanted to be. I trust his work, have followed it myself, and know that it works for me.
Anyway, after the photoshoot for my book was over, I just wanted to maintain. I stopped following the programming James had given me as closely, and while now I am happy with how I feel and how I look, I am ready to get back on the horse and see if I can continue to build that overall strength I've been after, and continue to tone up.
I reached out to James to see if he wanted to work together to create a program. He'd do the bulk of it and I would add in yoga practices to complement the program. He agreed, and the end result is probably the most comprehensive program I've seen. Almost every single day includes:
- weight training - to build strength
- hiit style workouts - to burn fat which will help you tone up
- gymnastics elements - to help build overall strength and increase overall athleticism
- core work - to continue to build strength
- cardio - to increase endurance
Active recovery days include yoga from YBC for mobility.
The more time I spend in the yoga sphere - the more classes I teach, workshops I lead, and retreats I do, the more I really believe that all yogis would benefit from incorporating more strength building into their lives. (And the more time I spend in the gym, the more I think all weightlifters will benefit from spending some time on their yoga mats.) Let me explain.
Why Yogis Need to Build Strength
People who solely practice yoga, and this is a generalization, but it is based on my own observations, usually don't have much muscle on them. And that's fine if they're focused on restorative or hatha style yoga practice. But it becomes a problem when they go through rigorously sequenced yoga classes and they rely on their flexibility to get them through the class. The difference between flexibility and mobility is strength.
Flexible people often will fling themselves into any old pose because their joints allow them to. They'll pop right into a deep split or jump right into downward dog, or fly right into a full dancer's pose and their poor joints will take the brunt of the impact. Doing this might not hurt them in the moment, but over time, if they're not careful, the joints may wear down, and cause pain and other major issues.
The best way to improve hyper-flexible joints is to build strength around the surrounding joints and use the muscles, rather than the joints, to get into and out of these poses. As a teacher, I always tell a student who is hyper-extended through the joints to create a "micro-bend" to prevent injury. For example, if a student is in downward dog and they're dumping their weight into their elbow joints, you can clearly see it. I tell them to bend the elbows ever so slightly, and boom! Now their arms are engaged and it's an active pose, rather than a passive pose, and they're using and developing their muscles through the arms.
Someone with good mobility will be able to come in and out of their poses with control. Control equals strength. All of these things - mobility, control, strength - mean that the joints are protected. I always tell my students to go slower than they want to go. Take chaturanga, for instance. How many times do you see students just flying through chaturanga? It's dangerous! It's dangerous for the shoulder joints and the elbow joints, especially over time. If you're a teacher, just as an experiment, put your students in plank pose and then tell them to take ten seconds to move through a chaturanga and into upward facing dog. I bet half the students, if not more, wouldn't be able to do it. This speaks to a lack of strength that is prevalent amongst us yogis and I will argue that building more upper body strength is the key to preventing injury, helping to ensure the alignment for poses like chaturanga is on point, and for growing one's practice.
So, however yogis choose to increase their strength is up to them. Is weightlifting the only way? No. But it's one way that works, and I personally love it, so I'm sharing this program.
Why Weightlifters Need to do Yoga
I can't tell you how many super strong people I see at the gym who have extremely limited mobility. Their squat snatch would be so much more on point if their ankle mobility were increased. And how do we increase ankle mobility? Through hip opening yoga. Or perhaps their push presses would be better if they could just extend through their arms with more ease, and how do we do that? Through chest opening yoga practices. And it's not just about having more beautiful lifts - it's also about preventing injury. If you're snatching a billion pounds and you can't fully extend through your arms, you're liable to tear something because you're extremely tight. Avoid that tightness by practicing various types of yoga (yin yoga, for example, would be excellent) and developing better mobility.
Further, the mindfulness aspect of yoga can play a huge role in improving lifts and increasing gains. Learning to breathe better and utilize your lungs to their fullest capacity during the workouts are lessons one would get from yoga and pranayama (breathing) practices.
Ultimately, it's all about balance. We can't power through in beast mode throwing weights around the gym and have this yang mentality without the gentleness of the yin factor that comes with the yoga practice. In that same sense, I believe a lot of yogis find that their practice plateaus when they solely practice yoga without a focus on strength building. Add some muscle to the mix and now you've increased your likelihood of being able to do fun transitions like crow pose to handstand to flying pigeon. Want to be able to do a handstand press up? Work on those pull ups in the gym. Want to be able to hold a forearm stand for ten breaths? Work on your shoulder presses or snatches in the gym. Further, the increased endurance that comes from the hiit workouts will help with more athletic practices like vinyasa flows. At the end of the day, in order to be more well rounded yogis and more well rounded weightlifters, we need both practices to come together.
The six week training program is a competitor's program. What this means is that it is seriously intense. It's for people who are looking to make major changes. James has followed this type of training to meet his own fitness goals, which is to make the CrossFit Games, and it's gotten him pretty far (his team just made Regionals). I choose to follow this style of working out because for the longest time, I was the girl who did long cardio (45+ mins on the elliptical or treadmill), and light weights because I "didn't want to bulk up." I did this for about fifteen or so years, and I never, ever liked how I looked or how I felt. When I switched to this style of working out (a little bit of heavy lifting followed by short hiit workouts), I was skeptical that it'd help me meet my goals which were to build strength and burn fat. I mean, how could a 12 minute AMRAP workout be more effective than a FORTY FIVE MINUTE RUN?! You'd think the longer workout would yield the most results, right? Wrong.
While I have put on muscle, I do not think I've "bulked up" (but you can be the judge - here are two pictures of me above). Or rather, maybe I have bulked up a bit, but that's not, in my opinion, a bad thing. I always had this fear that I would lift one heavy weight and suddenly, boom. I'd look like a body builder. Hahaha. Uh, no. Once I realized how hard it is to put on muscle, I realized that kind of growth does not happen overnight.
On the left, I was doing very long cardio and light weights. Forget how I looked, I was unquestionably unhealthy. My gut was in poor shape. I'd just finished my longterm antibiotic course for Lyme disease and knew my gut was messed up but wasn't sure what to do about it (I hadn't discovered GAPS yet). I was exhausted most of the day, my skin was a wreck, my digestion was poor, my hormones were off kilter, and I was under-eating. Not intentionally, but just because I wasn't sure what to eat, and everything made me feel awful, so I pretty much barely ate. I survived on "vegan" chicken nuggets and zucchini "noodles". It was such a joke, looking back at it. And it really makes me feel grateful for how far I've come. I also had very little endurance. At 5'1'', I weighed under 105 pounds.
On the right, this picture is from this past summer, when I was feeling excellent. I weighed around 115 pounds or so. I was thrilled with how I looked. It's essentially how I wanted to look my whole life. But most importantly, I felt my best on the right. I recovered fast. I was eating a lot and my digestion was great. My hormones were finally balanced. My skin had calmed down. I was sleeping well. And I was happy.
The difference was in what I was eating (more on that below) and how I was working out.
So this six week training program is a competitor's program. But if you're not a competitor, that doesn't mean you can't use it. It just means you have to shift your thinking about it. When I received the program, I thought to myself, "Uh, there is no way I can do the weight or intensity that is written." I knew that given the fact that I've really only been working on my Olympic lifts for a year or so, I should modify. I also knew I didn't have the strength (yet!) to do the prescribed weight load. Instead of getting down on myself about it, I looked at it as a loose guide and decided I would just follow what I could, and make safe tweaks so that I could make progress.
This is where the yoga lessons come into play. No ego allowed. Know yourself and your capabilities. Trust yourself. Follow in your heart what you know to be right for you. These are all things we are taught on the yoga mat and in the yoga practice and now this is an opportunity to apply these lessons to our lives off the yoga mat.
Only I know my own capabilities, you know what I mean? It's like when someone comes to my yoga class and says, "Am I ready for a headstand?" I have no idea! I sometimes want to say, "Why are you asking me? Ask yourself that question!" Sure, there is some semblance of progression you should follow (ie if you can do crow pose then you probably have enough strength to do a headstand), but only you are the one who truly knows what you're capable of. The yoga teacher is just a guide. The same thing applies here.
Before You Start
Some things you definitely do have to know before starting this program:
- A basic understanding of Olympic lifts like the clean, snatch, and jerks. If you don't have this, I would suggest seeking out a one to one training with someone who can teach you. These types of lifts are excellent for full body strength building. Unless you have a background in fitness and weightlifting, I would not recommend teaching yourself, although looking at videos on YouTube and on instagram (@hookgrip is great) can be great supplementary learning tools as you continue to progress.
- A basic understanding of Hiit terms like AMRAP (as many reps as possible).
- To get the most out of the program, you will need access to a rowing machine, assault bike, jump rope, barbell and plates, box jump and dumb bells. You can modify, however, if you're just missing one or two things. For example, I don't have an assault bike at my regular gym, so I will substitute treadmill sprints or rowing sprints for days when it calls for assault bikes. I'm not going to let not having one or two things I need prevent me from doing the entire program, you know? I just make do, and let that be enough.
Who is the program for?
We primarily designed the program for two types of people:
- Experienced athletes who are looking to compete and who want comprehensive, elite level programming that they can follow on their own.
- People who prefer CrossFit style workouts but don't want to pay CrossFit style prices to be a member at a box (our local one costs $150/mo, but my regular gym costs $20/mo!). This program would be for people who are familiar with this style of working out, and who feel comfortable modifying the intensive program for their needs and fitness goals.
A Sample Day
A sample day of the 6 week program looks like this below. A week has one full rest day, one yoga practice from YBC, and five workouts much like the one you see below.
30 Double Unders
25 Kettlebell Swings
15 Hand release push ups
Power Clean - establish a 3 rep touch and go max in a 12 minute window
E2MOM (every 2 minutes on the minute)
14 minute AMRAP
60 Cal Row
50 Toes to Bar
40 Wall Balls 20lbs for males / 14lbs for females
30 Cleans 135lbs for males / 90lbs for females
20 Muscle Ups or Burpee Pull-ups
15 ab wheels
20 alternative v-up scissor kicks
30 tuck crunches
To note: This is a lot to do in one setting. Remember, this is a competitor's program, so unless you're training to compete, you should use it as a loose guide. Sometimes, for example, I don't have time to do the cardio, so I will skip it. Or, I'll do the cardio in the morning since I have a treadmill at home, and when I go to the gym in the afternoon, I'll do the rest. Feel free to break it up (James actually recommends that), and make it work for you and fit into your schedule, not the other way around. At the end of the day, the program is meant to cause less stress, not more, so remember: it's a loose guide, unless you're training for a competition.
Modifying for your needs
The 6 week program, James warns, is a competitor's program, meaning that it's meant for high level athletes. What this means is that you have to apply the lessons of yoga to the workout. That is:
1. Set your ego aside
2. Get real with yourself as to what's feasible for you
3. Modify as needed.
The same lessons of yoga apply - there is no one to impress, you know? So figure out what will work for you and do that.
For example, the other day, the hiit component was 30 rounds of 1 squat snatch at 95 pounds, 2 handstand push ups and 3 burpees. Well, I know that I am relatively new to Olympic weightlifting and one 95 pound snatch is not even on my radar, never mind 30 rounds! However, I don't let that get me down. Truly, who gives AF where I'm at with my squat snatch?! I am comfortable at 65 pounds, so I started with that on the bar.
Guess what? About round 15, I could feel my technique was starting to go, so I took off 5 pounds on each side and went down to 55 pounds. And I still didn't care!
Something else happened. At round 20, I really felt like I was dying and 30 rounds would be too much for me to try to do, so I modified and wound up doing 21 rounds, and I was good with that. I was proud of that. I reminded myself I am new to this stuff - only about a year and a half in of this style of working out. And plus, I had nothing to prove to anyone. I know my limits, and I push myself to that limit, but once that threshold has been hit, I know when to stop. We all have to start somewhere, you know? So push yourself, but keep your head about you. Do what you can and let that be enough.
How to Modify
For Days: If you go to a vigorous yoga class every Tuesday and you have a workout from our plan you need to do that day, skip the workout and just go to your yoga class. Then do the workout from our plan the next day. Make the schedule fit your life, not the other way around. Remember, unless you're an elite level athlete training for a competition, you can just use our plan as a loose guide to help whip yourself into shape. No need to get hung up on little things.
For Rounds: When the rounds are simply just too many, and you're a total beginner, shoot for a third of the rounds, or half the rounds.
For Time: If you don't have enough time in your day to get everything done, skip one component. Remember, this is meant to make your life easier, not harder, so feel free to take the liberty of making it fit into your schedule. If you're going to skip one component, I would suggest skipping either the cardio or the hiit workout. Both are essentially cardio, one is just more traditional cardio than the other.
For Weight: I always modify for the weight. Always. Whatever it says for women for the hiit workout portion, I usually completely ignore it and go with 55 or 65 pounds. That's just where I am at, and I'm cool with it. It's better to be safe than sorry, so I recommend modifying as well unless you are a high level athlete.
For Rest: Sometimes there are two mini workouts separated by a short rest. It might be, for example, a six minute AMRAP followed by a three minute rest, followed by another six minute AMRAP. If you need a longer rest, take five minutes, or even ten. You want to get your heart rate down a little bit, but not so much that you're completely rested.
For Equipment: My regular gym doesn't have an assault bike. On days when it calls for assault bike work, I'll just replace it with regular running sprints or a calorie row. Just figure out how to make it work for you. If you don't have a kettle bell for kettle bell goblet squats, just use a dumb bell. Look around the room and see what you could use instead. Get creative.
For Movements: First things first, you do need to know how to do basic Olympic lifts. I highly recommend enlisting the help of a personal trainer who has knowledge of Oly lifts. Be sure to inquire about their know-how ahead of time, because your run of the mill trainer may not know how to do them. If you're new to them, and the barbell intimidates you, you could replace the barbell version with the dumb bell version. You can work on the dumb bell version with your trainer, and you can also do a search on YouTube for more key points. For the aforementioned 30 Round workout, I considered switching the 1 snatch squat to one dumb bell snatch in each arm because one of my shoulders is weaker than the other and can be finicky with snatches. I wound up not doing it, but I considered it. Never be afraid to modify it to fit your body's needs. If you see something on the workout plan that you don't recognize, just google it. Google is the best resource! If the google article isn't helping you, YouTube it to see it in motion.
Below are some recommendations for how to modify various movements:
Handstand Push Ups - handstand holds against a wall, regular push ups, dumb bell press, ring rows.
Push Jerks: Push presses
Handstand Walks - handstand holds against a wall
Toes to Bar - Knees to elbows
Chest to Bar - Kipping pull ups
Double Unders - single unders at double the amount. So if it called for 50 double unders, do 100 singles.
Bar Facing Burpees - Regular burpees
I mentioned above and I've mentioned in the past that there were two major components to getting in the best shape of my life. One was switching up the way I was working out, and the other was taking a good look at my diet.
James had helped me by letting me know how much I should be eating in terms of macros (fats, carbs, proteins), and once I tracked a normal day via the MyFitnessPal app, I realized I was seriously under eating. Once I got my macros on point, I felt so much better, and it helped to further even out my hormones. I also recovered much faster, slept better, and had more even energy throughout the day. If you're interested in working with James in figuring out how much you should be eating, he charges $60 for one month or $100 for two (sometimes the numbers should be tweaked after a month for optimal results). I would suggest that once you start figuring out how many fats, proteins and carbs to eat, you should take a look at your micronutrient intake as well. This is a really great way to fix those last straggler problems that sometimes won't go away. For that, I think the micronutrient book I wrote about here is highly informative without being dry. If you'd like to work with James on macros, fill out the form below and he will be in touch.
Purchase the 6 Week Program
If you'd like to purchase our 6 week program, it is $59.99 and you can buy it here. It's a digital download, so after you purchase, you'll get a link where you can download the program for the next 24 hours. I am hopeful you guys will love it as much as I do, and in a few months perhaps we can all do one big program together. In the meantime, if you do the program, use the hashtag #YBC6weekprogram. I'm so excited about this and can't wait to hear your thoughts.