Yoga and Weight Training: Can They Work Together?
Yoga and weight training go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Weight training is definitely the peanut butter here. It's heavy and hard to eat, but still healthy and satisfying. Add some jelly to that bad boy and it's a whole lot easier to eat – and far more delicious.
Yoga is the jelly of the physical world. It's a delight to experience, and it make everything else better.
They couldn't be more different, yet they complement each other perfectly. Weight 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.
Why Combine Yoga + Weight Training?
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.
Why Start Weight-Training?
It's Great for Health (Even for Yogis)
Yoga is incredibly beneficial for the body for many reasons, but there are some things you can't do with body weight alone.
Where yoga tends to work with the body, keeping you fluid and free. Weight training is a powerful stressor for the body – and there's value in stressing your body in different ways.
Pushing your body to lift heavy things causes all kinds of metabolic changes in the body.
It's like hitting the panic button in a hotel.
Pressure increases, and everything inside starts moving faster and harder. Emergency protocols initiate and substances are released.
Sure, it sounds bad (and it probably feels it at the time), but afterwords it's a stronger and more effective process.
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?
It Strengthens Something Yoga Can't
There's 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.
Greater Strength Makes for a Stronger Yoga Practice
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.
You Want to Look Sexy?
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.
Why Start Yoga?
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.
Strengthen Your Entire Body
Yoga is a full body practice and it's very effective at building strength evenly throughout the body.
Something that weight-lifters can often struggle with.
All because 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.
Develop 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, and lifting weights can exacerbate the problem.
Isolation exercises are particularly unnatural.
Sure, they help 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.
Recover Faster & Stronger
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.
It's worth noting, the type of yoga you practice is important for the purposes of recovery, because yoga can be a powerful workout unto itself.
A Yin yoga practice is particularly effective at releasing muscle tissue and aiding recovery. Something like this:
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!