Yoga and strength training go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Just like peanut butter, strength training is heavy and tough going, but it’s also rich and fortifying. Whereas yoga is fluid, soft and sweet – like jelly.
Consumed on their own, they’re pretty good in their own right. But consumed together? You get something far better.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” said Aristotle, presumably not about PB&J.
The ingredients couldn’t be more different, yet they complement each other perfectly. Strength training and yoga are exactly the same. One builds the body, the other nourishes.
So how do we combine two very different practices?
Read on to find out.
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Combining Yoga and Strength Training
Yoga vs weight lifting, it’s a moot comparison really.
It’s like comparing a Swedish massage to a bungee jump. What do you want from the experience? What change do you want to see?
To their very core, yoga and weight lifting are seemingly conflicting practices. One seeks to transcend the physical body, whereas the other seeks to build it. One stretches muscles and exerts them at peak extension, the other damages muscles and exerts them at peak contraction.
It’s precisely because of the conflicting nature of the practices, that they complement each other so well.
I can certainly see the attraction of a successful fusion of yoga and strength training. A male yoga body that’s as aesthetic as it is healthy. Strong as it is supple. Sounds good to me.
Benefits of Yoga and Strength Training
Even from a health perspective, the results of the two are complementary.
Strength training is great for:
Yoga is fantastic at:
- Building muscle size, density and strength
- Increasing bone density
- Boosting metabolism
- Developing strong, supple muscles
- Improving mobility and flexibility
- Strengthening connective tissues
Develop Functional Strength
If you want to get better at lifting things, lift more things.
Makes sense. It’s progressive overload at its simplest.
Functional strength on the other hand, isn’t that simple. It suggests that you’re able to use your strength in any and all life situations, whether that’s climbing your porch after forgetting your keys or pushing your broken car down the road.
So, how do you best unite the strength of your muscle groups into an effective, functional unit?
Well, lifting bigger and heavier things will only get you so far. Compound lifts are great, but isolation exercises are particularly unnatural and are likely to make it worse. Sure, they help to train your muscles to fire correctly, but only in set, singular ways.
Yoga reconnects you with your natural movement patterns, allowing you to better employ your muscles in more compound and complex movements. Yoga also develops your slow-twitch muscle fibres, which will boost your endurance in the gym.
A Stronger Yoga Practice
Perfect form goes a long way in executing difficult asanas, but you won’t pull off that handstand press through good alignment alone.
Some yoga poses require a certain level of raw strength, and others can greatly benefit from muscular stability and endurance. All of which can be improved through weight training.
- Developing strength in the arms and chest can stabilise your chaturanga and help you achieve the more advanced arm balances in yoga.
- Squats and deadlifts strengthen your legs and core, reinforcing your warrior stances and balances.
- Explosive lifts develop your fast-twitch muscle fibres, boosting your speed and power in yoga.
Yoga is great at building even strength throughout the body, weight training.. not so much.
After all, muscles grow a lot faster than connective tissues. So whilst your bicep might have the strength to curl a 20kg dumbbell, your elbow might not be able to take the strain.
A seasoned lifter can really benefit from a yoga practice through developing those underutilised muscles that pose an injury risk (hello rotator cuff) and reinforcing the ligaments and tendons that might be struggling to keep up with the output of the larger muscles.
However, there is one set of actions that yoga is not effective at strengthening.
That’s pulling movements.
When it’s just you and the mat, there’s nothing to lift or pull – so you can’t effectively activate certain back muscles. There really is not substitute for a solid deadlift or barbell row.
So once again, a combined yoga and strength training practice will maximise strength evenly through the body.
Recover Faster & Stronger
For all its many benefits, weight training is not a perfect practice.
When you think about it, it’s not surprising that a process that involves injuring your muscle in order to stimulate them to grow comes with inherent negative effects.
Fortunately, yoga is the perfect tool to dampen all the damaging effects of the mass building process.
The stretching and elongation of muscles through yoga poses is effective at breaking apart fused muscle tissues and restoring them to health.
Yoga is like a self-driven massage for the body.
Stretching, twisting and pressing the muscles, it brings fresh blood flow and breaks any fused tissues. This process is particularly beneficial in the healing and growing stages following an intense weight training session.
Prevent Disease and Build Resiliance
Nobody likes being stressed, it’s exhausting and unhealthy. Something yoga is great at remedying.
The body however, needs stress in order to grow. Not in the “worried about my bills” kind of way, I’m talking about physical stressors. The kind that weight training can induce.
Pushing your body to lift heavy things causes all kinds of beneficial metabolic changes in the body.
A study in the journal Preventative Medicine found that “resistance exercise training has profound effects on the musculoskeletal system, contributes to the maintenance of functional abilities, and prevents osteoporosis, sarcopenia, lower-back pain, and other disabilities”.
Plus, it “may positively affect risk factors such as insulin resistance, resting metabolic rate, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, body fat, and gastrointestinal transit time”
Pretty good right?
We can be honest here, it’s not like strength is the only reason we want to lift weights.
Yoga aims to transcend the physical body, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with wanting you know… a hot one.
Yoga alone can produce a strong and lean body, but it’s not effective at producing the more muscular body that men often aspire to. There’s no shame in wanting to look good naked, and if it’s a healthy practice that’ll get you there – all the better.
What’s the Catch?
Seems too good to be true right?
Well, there are some potential negatives, but whether you count them as such, depends on your goals.
As a yogi focused entirely on progressing in your practice, you may find the strength achieved from weight training to be of great benefit. But you might also find that it comes at a cost to your flexibility and mobility.
Larger muscles simply get in the way a bit during some poses. For example, you might find making a bind more difficult if you’ve got a big bulging bicep pressing into your back, instead of a lean arm that can wrap around.
Plus, intense workouts can really take their toll.
Good luck doing a strong vinyasa the day after heavy leg day – it’s a real killer.
As for weightlifters starting a yoga practice.. honestly, there’s no catch that I can see. There’s nothing about a yoga practice that would interfere with lifting, unless it’s done just beforehand.
Even then, according to studies, while a static stretch before a workout was shown to negatively affect performance, a dynamic stretch has been shown to improve performance.
So yeah, weightlifters get cracking.
What Have We Learned?
To answer the question of whether yoga and weight training can work together – yes, they can.
In a holistic sense, there is a lot to be gained by the fusion of the two practices.
A combination of both would have superior health benefits than either one. Plus, you may find that it improves performance in both,
Seems worth a try to me.
Happy lifting yogis!