Why Yoga is Essential to Any Weight-Lifting Routine

Man holding a yoga pose

Source: iStock

Though your weight-lifting routine may involve copious reps, large dumbbells, and lengthy, repetitive sessions at your local gym, you may want to start rethinking your idea of how you build muscle by taking a look at all that yoga has to offer. While yoga may appear to be nothing more than long stretches on floor mats accompanied with breathing techniques and the occasional lunge or inverted stance, this physical practice might actually be the perfect ticket for a stronger and better toned physique.

Many yoga instructors look as if they must be lifting weights on the side because of how muscular and strong they appear, and in fact, they are — they’re lifting their own body weight while incorporating proper breathing techniques to push their physical ability to the limit. Though you may think you need the heavy gym equipment to build your muscles to their maximum capability, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that learning to lift and balance your own body through various yoga poses can be just as effective at sculpting the muscles as your typical gym routine.

Mindful Muscle discusses how yoga could be the ticket you’re looking for when it comes to building strength even though its approach defies the very definition of what strength training is. The American Council on Exercise claims that strength training is exercising while progressively building resistance for the purpose of gradually strengthening the body — classic weight training that’s often performed in a gym setting fits this idea, as resistance is built through the use of heavier weights. In order for your muscles and bones to grow in strength, they must be constantly overloaded, and weight training allows you to build more and more weight over time to achieve this. So, in this sense, weight training technically may give you better results when it comes down to just building pure muscle.

Though yoga utilizes just your body weight and technically does not give you an opportunity to build resistance through adding more weight over time, yoga offers a more balanced approach to the idea of strength training. Gaiam Life describes how yoga can actually help reduce your risk of injury for other exercises you may be engaging in, and it also helps you better perform everyday tasks like walking, sitting, twisting, and lifting. Yoga assists your body in performing daily physical undertakings, no matter how small or simple they may appear, with greater ease and comfort, giving it a more functional purpose than the repeated bicep curls or leg raises that you have planned during an average weight-lifting routine.

Also, yoga is much more efficient at strengthening multiple muscle groups compared to most other exercises that are practiced on a one-dimensional plane. Yoga utilizes both large and small muscle groups at the same time while you get into poses that sometimes require twisting, arching, or pressing, and this works those muscles much harder than strength exercises that use only one motion and work one major muscle group at a time. For example, if you’re considering doing continuous tricep dips to work your triceps alone, take a look at some inverted yoga poses that force your shoulders, triceps, and deltoids to lift and balance your body weight — you may even find yourself so focused on balancing your body that you won’t even realize you’re lifting such a heavy weight and challenging multiple large muscle groups at once. You’ll also find that many yoga routines ask you to repeat the same poses throughout the entirety of the workout, and this will increase muscle endurance as you learn to hold these poses for longer each time.

Body Building discusses how yoga also helps with building muscle because of its ability to aid in the overall recovery and repair of the muscles you may have worked out that week. Certain resting yoga postures allow the muscles to stretch and relax, thus increasing blood flow to the worked areas of the body. This increase in blood flow also brings an increase in oxygen, which assists the muscles in healing and growing stronger. The breathing techniques taught in yoga can help bring more oxygen in your body and better control the way you move from pose to pose, and this is not something commonly taught for typical weight-lifting routines.

man in a blue shirt and black shorts practicing child's pose

Man in child’s pose | Source: iStock

You can also use yoga to increase your flexibility, as this assists in the muscle building process. Increasing your range of motion allows you to reach higher and squat lower, and you can then use this to your advantage when weight training by putting more power behind your moves.

If you are thinking of switching up your typical lifting routine with a bit of yoga, you shouldn’t expect to physically “bulk up” like you might if you were lifting extremely heavy weights — however, you will build more strength that you’ll be able to use in practical ways. Livestrong explains that the amount of muscle control necessary for certain poses that require balance, focus, and flexibility will build your muscles in a way that differs from the way they are built by repeating the same isolated position in a gym setting. Lifting weights and certain cardiovascular activities tighten and shorten the muscles, whereas yoga uses eccentric contraction where the muscle stretches and contracts all at once, giving your body an overall sleeker look while your flexibility and strength increase. When you don’t properly stretch, the muscle fibers heal closer together, making your muscles appear more compact and bulgier overall.

Replacing some of your weight lifting with a few good yoga sessions can be great for both your mind and body, but you don’t need to throw your entire gym routine aside. There are plenty of benefits to isolating specific muscle groups and strengthening each muscle group individually, as yoga focuses more on the bigger picture than working one area of the body at a time. Just be mindful of increasing your flexibility as well to avoid rigidity in the body.

Interested in learning some yoga poses to incorporate into your strength training? Breaking Muscle describes 10 great yoga postures that can increase your flexibility and lengthen certain areas where most athletes feel limited in their movements. These poses can also help you decompress and recover after any intense strength training that you’ve done. If you’re interested in performing postures that increase your strength overall, try performing inverted poses like the headstand or plow pose, or try different arm balances like the scorpion or crow variation poses.

More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: