Yoga. After reading just that one little word, I bet you’re probably thinking of a person dressed in spandex and…
One of my favorite things to say is, “everything you do, you must undo.”
I like to think of my strength training as doing and my yoga as undoing. I seek balance when comes to strength and flexibility.
When our strength overpowers our flexibility, tension is the result. When our flexibility surpasses our strength, instability remains. Both tension and instability are weak links, which limit your ultimate potential.
When I was first introduced to yoga almost 10 years ago, it was a Power Vinyasa flow, full of intensity. I loved every second of it. As a kettlebell-lovin’ girl, I instantly saw the way the two schools of thought could complement one another: moving through my full range of motion, developing flexibility, mobility and isometric strength.
I saw how my yoga practice could actually cut down on my warm-up time at the gym. This newly found ankle and thoracic mobility, shoulder stability, as well as hip flexibility was definitely a win-win.
I dove into practicing this vigorous yoga three days a week, and strength trained 3-4 days a week. Unfortunately this combination wreaked havoc on my adrenals. Not exactly what you want when your goal is to get stronger!
What I really needed was something to balance me out, a practice that would complement my lifting and make me stronger than ever, something to further connect my breath and body and allow me to relax instead of always going, going, going!
Remember, yoga should complement, not compete with, your existing training.
The following are three types of yoga for the Girl Gone Strong:
In learning through my own mistakes I encourage avid strength trainees to begin with a Yin Yoga/ Restorative Yoga class. By definition, Yin is the complement of Yang, just as Yoga is to Strength Training.
Restorative can mean many things depending upon which studio you find yourself in. Don’t let the numerous props turn you off to these classes. Bolsters, blocks, straps, and (if you are lucky enough) lacrosse balls, are used to release and relax your body as much as possible.
Strength training can leave you strong in some areas and inflexible and weak in others. You may find that these stiff muscles start to actually stall your lifting progress. For this very reason Yin and Restorative classes focus on commonly stiff areas, such as the chest, shoulders, hips as well as legs.
Warning: some poses are held for upwards of six minutes, so get your mind right!
Hatha is an umbrella term that is used to blanket several different types of gentle yoga. Hatha is composed of basic stretching and simple yoga poses with no flow in between. Breathing and seated meditation are emphasized as well.
Iyengar yoga, a form of Hatha yoga would be the best yoga for athletes, but alas it is probably the least popular in the active population. Iyengar Yoga is slow and extremely specific. Again, it uses many props and gives the student opportunity to repeatedly practice alignment in order to figure out their own unique asymmetries.
As a trainer I see many injuries that could have been prevented had the individual had a bit more awareness of their bodies when lifting. Unfortunately, most students discover Iyengar when they have already had issues with their lower back.
My third recommendation given my experience would be a Power/Vinyasa Yoga class. Most likely you will use it as a form of exercise, as opposed to relaxation, as you will find yourself loving how sweaty you get, and how you feel after class. This type of yoga is far from boring, that’s for sure!
That being said I do want you to recognize that in traditional Vinyasa or Power Yoga classes there can be way too many chaturangas. As strength trainees, we are most likely already performing weighted horizontal and overhead pressing movements within our lifting routine. The overuse of chaturangas can do more harm than good to the rotators of the shoulder, and to the low back, if done too quickly and or too often!
Here are two quick demos of safe and smart modifications. One involves a temporary child’s pose and the other a hand release pushup:
As you begin to explore yoga, or deepen your practice, here are a few thinks to keep in mind:
The bottom line is: almost any form of yoga will help your strength training, and I strongly believe that some yoga is better than no yoga at all.
Yin/Restorative Yoga is my number one choice. Hatha yoga is also a great choice, and the subsets beneath it (especially Iyengar) would be another great option for lifters looking to complement their strength work. Lastly, a Vinyasa or Power Yoga class would be great if you find that the others move too slowly for your preference.
Yoga and strength training can give you the power to better understand your body and take it to levels you never thought possible. Remember it’s about progress not perfection.
As you’ve just learned, yoga can be a great complement to (or an integral part of) your training program. And if you’re not sure how to structure a balanced and efficient training program, we’ve got your back!
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