Yoga and weight training. Two very different practices, two very different results.
Can they work together to form something better? Are they greater than the sum of their parts?
In this article, we'll discuss exactly that, along with tips and methods on how to combine those practices.
Humans have always been good at applying their learnings to something else. To combine the strongest elements of one, with that of another - to form something greater.
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.
I can certainly see the attraction of a successful fusion of the two. Who doesn't want that chiselled, aesthetic look whilst still being able to reach your legs over your head?
Even from a health perspective, the results of the two are complementary.
Weight training is great for:
Yoga is fantastic at:
It's precisely because of the conflicting nature of the practices, that they complement each other so well.
It's all about balance.
The physical yoga asanas are super effective at building strength gently and evenly throughout the body.
But, there's value in stressing your body in different ways. Weight training isn't just mindless brute strength, it's another modality - the other side of the same coin.
The human body doesn't just adapt and evolve under stress, in many ways we thrive under stress.
Just to clarify, I am talking about physiological stressors, not about your daily worries. Weight training has been linked with a host of benefits to wellbeing.
The world used to be a stressful place for our ancestors, and while we may not be ready to run from a sabertooth tiger or brave freezing rivers - our bodies are. Well insofar as to have metabolic pathways capable of responding to those situations.
While we can't (or shouldn't) recreate those dangerous encounters, we can mimic those action on our bodies through practices such as weightlifting, which allow us to tap into our primal energies and activate particular metabolic pathways that bring us tremendous benefit.
Strength is a key component of many yoga poses, and increasing yours through weight training can translate into various parts of your yoga practice:
This sort of training is perfect for yogis who practice the more physical schools of yoga like Ashtanga; where power and intensity are important.
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.
For all its many benefits, weight training is not a perfect practice either.
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.
But yoga isn't just effective for keeping you healthy, it'll help you in the gym too.
Yoga is a full body practice and as discussed earlier, it's very effective at building strength evenly throughout the body. So 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 growth and output of the larger muscles.
It also trains your body how to move effectively through natural movement patterns. Back when humans were hunter-gatherers, our bodies were accustomed to vaulting over rocks to escape predators or bursting off the mark to chase down prey. 21st-century lifestyle has dulled our movement instincts.
Lifting weights helps to train your muscles to fire correctly, but only in predetermined ways. Yoga can help connect you with your natural movement patterns, allowing you to use your strength in any mode, direction or situation. Yoga also develops your slow-twitch muscle fibres, which will boost your endurance in the gym.
Yoga is very effective at maintaining healthy muscles. The physical stretching of the muscle ensures proper blood flow throughout the muscle, keeping it well supplied and able to efficiently expel toxins. This process is particularly important in the healing and growing stages following an intense weight training session.
There are some potential negatives, but whether you count them as such depends on your goals.
To be clear, as a yogi focussed entirely on progressing in your practice, you may find the strength achieved from weight training to be of great benefit. However, it will probably come at a cost to your flexibility and mobility. Also, 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.
As for weightlifters starting a yoga practice, there's no catch that I can see - just a host of benefits.
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.
But whether you should, depends on why you wish to try. If reaching the pinnacles of just one of those practices is your goal, you may find the side-effects to be unacceptable.
For those who decided to try to combine yoga and bodybuilding, I'll be doing a later post on exactly how to implement a strategy to combine the two.
Till then, happy lifting yogis!..or not.. it's up to you.
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