Chances are, you don’t come to ProSource to read up on the latest trends in spiritual growth and the mind-body connection. And yet, yoga — one of the foundational disciplines of Far Eastern spiritualism and philosophy — has much to offer the serious fitness enthusiast.
That’s why some of the most famously buff Hollywood actors and professional athletes — from Robert Downey Jr to Aaron Rodgers to LeBron James — swear by it. Indeed, whole sports teams, including the NFL’s New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, have incorporated yoga into their arduous training camp programs.
Why? Well, it turns out there are a lot of reasons for adding some basic yoga techniques to your routine, and they all have to do with improving form, function, and eventually workout productivity and strength. Let’s take a look at a few.
1. Yoga is bodyweight-bearing exercise.
So you've spread your yoga mat on the floor, been greeted by your instructor, and now you're engaged in a series of gentle stretches while being encouraged to clear your mind of extraneous thoughts. And you're thinking, wait, this is it? How is this going to help me build strength and muscle? Rest assured, your false sense of security will be short-lived.
Yoga is hard work. It's not just flexibility and meditation (although those factors do come into play). It's a series of escalating bodyweight-bearing postures, many of which are held statically or isometrically for significant lengths of time.
These movements, by their very nature, are compound movements, enlisting multiple muscle groups and stabilizers to overcome resistance (in this case, your own bodyweight). Where standard weight-training tends to isolate and work one muscle group at a time, yoga works muscles all over your body in balance with each other, facilitating enhancement of functional fitness, or the capacity to perform real-world tasks and functions.
Practically speaking, staff poses (Chaturanga Dandasana) are great for arm strength, while working your shoulders, back and core, and the Half Moon Pose will make you long for the straightforward challenges of the squat rack. Have we mentioned handstands?
Oh, and don't count on using momentum as a cheat as you might sometimes with bicep curls or bench presses. Everything in yoga is s-l-o-w, with lengthy extensions and holds. If you're doing it right, you'll feel both vulnerable and challenged. You'll also get stronger.
2. Yoga is ideal for strengthening your core.
So much of yoga emanates from -- and strengthens -- your core. Planks, cobra poses, warrior poses, upward and downward facing dog are postures that all focus with laser precision on your back, abdominal and oblique muscles, making them stronger and more flexible.
Core strength is the firm foundation upon which increased workout productivity is based. Yoga emphasizes knee, hip and sacrum alignment during static poses, which promotes healthy hip hinge movement. Hip hinge movement, in turn, is the pattern of flexion, contraction, and extension throughout the hip joint.
Fluid, controlled movements through the hip are essential for maintaining proper form in all kinds of gym-based compound movements from squats to deadlifts to shoulder presses and leg presses. A strong, healthy core will make you a better runner, swimmer, and help you excel in competitive sports. And it will help you build strength.
3. Yoga will help improve balance and posture.
Balance is everything in weight training, especially with free weights. It's an indispensable factor in maintaining proper form, which will help you increase training productivity and avoid injury.
But what is balance? Balance is actually two things, a delicate interplay of flexibility and stability. It requires a firm, steady base, but also enlists flexibility to maintain the equilibrium necessary to remain upright and in control during successive movements. Yoga, obviously, is all about getting these two opposing forces to work together in perfect tandem.
Improved balance leads to better posture. Yoga's strict focus on proper alignment and gradually strengthening muscle groups promotes more synchronized body movements. It's no accident that numerous professional bodybuilders, Arnold Schwarzenegger among them, have utilized the basic tenets of yoga to enhance their stage posing and make the transitions between poses more fluid, organic and elegant.
4. Yoga will improve focus and body awareness.
Okay, here's where we get into the mind-body connection. Successful athletes have long understood that the mental aspect of competition is as important as the physical aspect. Teams of all sorts employ sports psychologists who are experts at instilling mental discipline in players.
Players are taught the value of dismissing entirely all distractions and focusing on the competition-based challenges at hand. They are taught to immediately "forget" mistakes and forge on to the next task. Before competitions, they are encouraged to visualize success in the game or match ahead and to proceed as if that visualized success is already a reality.
Sports psychologists are certainly not the only means of conveying this powerful mental discipline. Yoga's underlying philosophy involves emptying the mind of stress and distractions, and becoming conscious of the body and its movements. This enhanced body awareness and focus is a key competitive edge that athletes and performing actors use to their advantage.
This is just as true on the gym floor. The ability to concentrate exclusively on form and movement during exercise enhances workout pace, endurance and productivity. No one in a yoga class is checking their phone between poses and chatting up their neighbors. They're focused on the task at hand, and you should be too.
5. Yoga builds endurance.
Many gym-trained fitness enthusiasts come to yoga with a great deal of strength, but lesser flexibility and endurance. Maintaining proper balance and form over longer intervals, they find, requires a different kind of strength that in turn, makes them better athletes.
So much of gym-based weight training is about fast-twitch muscles firing again and again to facilitate the explosions of power required to perform heavy lifts. Yoga is all about slow-twitch muscles. When you hold poses for significant periods of time, you are activating your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which helps build endurance and, by extension, strength.
Maintaining a balance between fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers will help you increase overall workout volume, which leads to greater gains.
6. Yoga will help you avoid injury.
This almost goes without saying at this point, but put everything we stated above together and you’ve got an ideal recipe for avoiding injuries. Flexibility, core strength, mindfulness, and balance are the pillars of injury-free training. Likewise, body awareness includes sensing and learning how far you can safely push your body, while staying safe.
7. Yoga is an ideal training change of pace.
Let's face it, doing the same lifts in the same rep patterns in the same routines every day gets stale. So does working out in the same area of the gym with the same people every day.
Whether you're looking for something healthy and invigorating to do on a rest day, or marking the end of a training cycle with a week or two off and seeking something to do, yoga is a great choice.
Yoga is a terrific mood enhancer that will also help you stay active and toned during rest times. It will refresh you in mind and body, and you'll even get to meet some new people.
Is yoga going to replace your five-days-a-week weight training regimen? Actually, no. But yoga — with its emphasis on focused, organic, weight-bearing movements — can help you grow strength and maybe even grow as a person.
The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.