Yoga: Lifting's New Best Friend

When it comes to fitness there are some pretty big lines drawn. Weight training. Crossfit. Yoga. Running. Zumba. Most people will pick their "thing" and stick with it. Which I can totally respect, why not do what you love?

The big downside to choosing only one training method is that you miss out on the benefits of crosstraining. In the short term this isn't always a bad thing- if you're getting ready for a powerlifting meet then doing hours of cardio isn't going to help you reach your goal. But from a long term health and fitness perspective ideally you should be strength training AND doing cardio AND a bit of stretching/balance work. 

You can actually get the best of all worlds! Here's why lifting and yoga are a match made in fitness heaven: 

1. Improve your flexibility


If you're a lifter then I'm going to bet my morning cup of coffee that you probably don't stretch. One of my patients recently said this during a session: "Well I think the problem is that I don't hold my stretches long enough. Actually I probably don't stretch often enough. Ok I don't stretch." Pretty common right?

Yoga is an excellent way to improve your flexibility because you move through the full range of motion of all parts of your body. This is why yogi's are so flexible.  When it comes to flexibility the old saying rings true: use it or lose it! 

Yoga gives you the benefit of moving in ALL directions. How often during your day do you rotate your hips? Bend your neck and back, back? Just watch a 2 year old move compared to a 40 year old... those babies move all sorts of ways but as we grow up most of us limit the different ways we move and so we lose the flexibility. 

2. Get more in tune with your body

Ok, before you roll your eyes calling me a hippie, hear me out. During yoga you focus on how your body feels in different poses and modify them as you need to for that day. Some days you surprise yourself on the mat, the poses feel fabulous and you can work through progressions. Some days you end up regressing a little. And that's okay! 

This is very different from lifting in which the focus is on hitting a rep or weight range instead of how the lift feels. Bringing over this focus to your lifts can help with injury prevention. Some days you might need to make a change.  Making modifications during an exercise/set/workout is a GOOD thing. It won't take away your gains. Promise. 

3. Improve your movement awareness

Your brain can detect the position of your body in space and how you are moving through space using vision, inner ear organs which sense movement, and sensory nerves in your body. If one of these systems is not working properly, your brain can be trained to rely more heavily on the others.

Some of us are just better at this body awareness stuff than others. Are you a self proclaimed klutz? The good news is that you can become more coordinated by moving. 

Yoga makes you move in new ways which creates new inputs for your brain to learn about movement. As the teacher talks you through getting into and transitioning through poses your brain has to work hard to integrate all the info so that you can follow those instructions. Some yoga studios don't have any mirrors in the room which means you can't rely on vision (which is harder to do!). 

Improving this sense may help you to fine tune your form when lifting, especially when you're lifting alone or don't have the perfect mirror view.

4. Improve your breathing patterns

Isn't it funny how we stop breathing when we do a new or difficult exercise? It goes to show how much brain power is devoted to learning a new movement pattern. 

Yoga places significant emphasis on breathing, especially on deep breathing through tough poses. This is a great method to apply to lifting! So many people hold their breath while lifting, especially with heavier weights. Holding your breath and straining (like bearing down and trying to force out a bowel movement) puts extra strain on your heart and pelvic floor, neither of which need to be weakened!

In case those aren't good enough reasons, you should know that yoga has been shown to decrease stress, improve fitness, and help to manage chronic health conditions like heart disease and depression. 

Consider adding yoga into your routine once or twice a week. Most gyms/studios have drop in rates so you can try a class before you sign up. 

Don't be afraid to try different classes and find a teacher you like! I love power yoga because I feel like I'm getting a real workout. You can also find youtube videos to follow along with at home. 

Have you added yoga to your workouts? What changes have you noticed?