There is well-known opinion that yoga is not a favorable activity for strength athletes. Many well-reputed coaches would have you believe that yoga is inherently bad because there is such a thing as being "too flexible" for strength sports. This belief is reinforced by a 2009 study in which muscular force was measured after static stretching. While it is true the static stretching caused a decrease in rate of force development, it does not suggest static stretching needs to be altogether avoided. It should simply be avoided immediately prior to the activity requiring maximal muscular force as that is how the timeline of the study occurred; static stretching immediately before testing force output.
Static stretching temporarily lengthens the sarcomeres and muscle fibers but also increases range of motion and reduces stiffness. There are several anatomical locations in which powerlifters benefit from greater flexibility. While a regular yoga practice (>3 days/week) would not be recommended for powerlifters, there are several static stretches that would enhance lift techniques for the "Big Three."
Flexibility Benefits for the "Big Three" BACK SQUAT The back squat is a complex lift requiring many technical components. One of the more obvious flexibility requirements is in the hips. Open hips allow for greater range of motion, permitting a greater likelihood of reaching true depth (hip crease parallel to top of knee). Another integral flexibility is dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion is the ability of the toes & foot to flex back toward the shin. As a general rule, lifters with greater dorsiflexion can comfortably squat in flat shoes while those of us with less flexibility prefer a lifted heel. Thoracic extension is the final piece of the squat flexibility puzzle. Drawing the chest forward and shoulders back creates the "shelf" upon which the barbell sits for the back squat. Regardless of high-bar or low-bar, the greater thoracic extension achieved the greater the stability of the barbell on the back (due to the extension of surface area in both the transverse and sagittal planes).
BENCH PRESS It is inarguable that thoracic extension is the most important component to mastering the bench press. The greater your "arch," the smaller the range of motion required for the press. That is to say, that higher your chest & thorax can lift off the bench while maintaining the glutes in contact, the smaller the distance the barbell has to travel between the chest and lockout. To achieve this position, you will stack your weight high onto the shoulder girdle and walk your seat back towards your head.
DEADLIFT The deadlift is another event in which thoracic extension is extremely important. To truly "pack" the lats (latissimus dorsi) one must first find full extension while gripping the bar from the starting position.
Powerlifters who pull sumo would additionally benefit from hip-opening stretches. Having open hips in a sumo deadlift allows the torso to remain upright for the majority of the lift as the knees are able to press further open. Sumo lifters achieve greater activation of the glutes than those who prefer conventional deadlifts (while conventional requires greater hamstring engagement). Static Stretches for Powerlifters DORSIFLEXION
The Wall Facing a wall with your toes pointing forward, feet are parallel and hip-with apart. Step one foot forward a few inches from the wall. The foot that is behind you will do the stretching. Placing your hands on the wall, lean forward and bend your back knee, keeping the heel on the floor. Draw the knee as far toward the wall as you can while the foot maintains full contact with the floor. Hold this stretch for up to 20'.
The Yoga Block/Book This can be completed with a large hardcover book instead of a yoga block. Sit on the floor with your legs out long in front of you. Gripping the yoga block/book by the short edges, extend your arms straight out in front of you with the book straight ahead, like a steering wheel . Bend your knees and lean forward until you can place the block/book behind the ball of your foot. Gently lean back, pulling the foot into dorsiflexion by drawing the toes back toward your shins. Hold this stretch for up to 20'.
The Stairs Begin at the bottom of a set of stairs or a ledge. Facing the stairs, step both of your feet up onto the first step. Using the handrail for support, slide your feet back until onr or both of your heels are hanging off of the stairs and only the balls of the feet are in contact with the step. Bend your knees a small amount to maximize dorsiflexion. Allow your body weight to stretch the ankle, calves, and hamstring for up to 20'.
Chest Expansion Fold Stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Clasp your hands behind you at the base of your spine. Bend your knees a lot as you hip-hinge into a forward fold. Allow your clasped hands to fall forward as a single fist, spilling your body weight forward into your toes. Maximize the stretch by drawing the heels of your palms together and reaching for the floor in front of your toes.
Supine Twist Twists are fantastic for enhancing thoracic mobility when performed correctly. Stay focused on avoiding mobilization of the lumbar spine. Begin lying supine with arms along your sides. Hug your knees into your chest. Lay your arms out to your sides, forming the letter "T" with palms facing into the ground. Slowly allow your knees to fall over to your right side while bringing your gaze to the left. Keep your hips vertically stacked to ensure mobilization of the thoracic spine. Hold for 3 deep breaths and then change direction.
Figure Four The yogic posture "figure four" hails its name from the orientation of the legs, which look like the number "4." To begin, stand with your feet together, toes pointing forward, arms at your sides. Bend your knees a little and lift your right foot off the floor. Bring your right knee up toward your chest until it is parallel with your hip crease. Cross your right ankle onto your left thigh, just above the knee. Bring your hands to your hips and bend your left leg a little bit more as you hinge the hips and lean forward. If your right shin is not parallel with the floor, use your right hand to gently press the right knee open toward the ground. Hold for 3 breaths and repeat on the left side.
Half Pigeon Half pigeon is one of the yummiest yoga postures but can be very challenging for those with tight hips. It would be helpful to have a yoga block or throw pillow handy. Begin in high-plank position. Step your right foot forward in between your hands and walk your right foot to the left as you align your right knee with your right wrist. Your shin should be perpendicular to your arms. Drop to your left knee and sit as low into your right hip as you can while keeping your shin in its original position. Bend your elbows to get deeper into the posture. If your right hip cannot make contact with the floor, place a yoga block or throw pillow underneath the right hip for extra support. Take 3-5 deep breaths before changing sides.
There are some muscle groups that you should definitely avoid overstretching, namely the hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps. Having hyper-flexible hammies/glutes can be dangerous for the back squat as you inhibit the hamstring stretch reflex (the bounce out of the hole), causing greater difficulty starting the ascent to lockout. The quadriceps can be gently stretched AFTER lifting is completed but should not be stretched prior. Static stretching affects the ability to exert maximal contractile force so over-stretching the quads would limit the load for many quad-dominant exercises.
In conclusion, yoga postures are not altogether bad for powerlifters. I'll reiterate that practicing regular yoga (>3 hours/week) is not recommended as there is such a thing as too much static stretching while maximizing performance of the Big Three. Static stretching should be performed at the end of a lifting session and for no more than 3 deep breaths per stretch, repeated 2 times. The stretches listed above will primarily assist the main lifts while preventing injury and stiffness. Areas of focus should include ankle dorisflexion, thoracic extension, and the hip flexors.