If you’re trying to build muscle or increase muscle strength, you might think you should spend most of your time strength training. Yoga might seem too “slow” for you, and you’re not sure whether it offers enough benefit for the goals you’re trying to achieve. After all, you’re trying to get stronger and more defined. Don’t be too quick to dismiss yoga though! It can be the perfect complement to strength training. Engaging in yoga can even help you make greater gains. Here are the reasons yoga and my new Perfect Flow workouts should be part of your training program, even if your overriding goal is to build muscle size or strength.
Yoga Helps with Muscle Recovery
You never want to strength train the same muscle group until at least 48 hours have elapsed. This gives your muscles time to recover from the stress you placed on them. Muscles grow not while you’re training them, but in the recovery period between workouts. That’s why a balance between workout and recovery is so important.
After a tough training session, a relaxing yoga session on the following day gives your muscles a chance to recuperate and rebuild. A series of yoga poses are the perfect way to balance out an intense strength training. So balance a day where you work your muscles against heavy resistance with a day where you stretch the muscles you just worked. Think of it as the “yin and yang” of training.
Following this sequence helps with muscle recovery and reduces the risk of over-training. Yoga also helps lower the stress hormone cortisol, a hormone that can trigger muscle breakdown. So, the stress-relieving effects of yoga helps keep your body out of a catabolic state, so you can preserve muscle tissue.
Yoga Builds Flexibility and Mobility
Yoga also enhances flexibility, and that’s important for getting the most out of strength training. Yoga poses are ideal for improving hip and shoulder flexibility and flexibility of the spine. Just as we lose muscle mass and strength with age, we become less flexible too. Many people don’t focus enough on stretching out the muscles they work through strength training. Some yoga poses also enhance hip mobility and that will help you perform better on exercises like a deep squat where hip mobility can be limiting. By improving range-of-motion, yoga helps you get the most out of your strength workouts.
You’ll Make Smarter Dietary Decisions
Yoga is a mindfulness-based practice, so it teaches you to be more mindful of what you eat. Good nutrition is vital for getting the most out of strength training. People who strength train and eat a junk diet rarely see the gains they aim for. Exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand in sculpting a strong, lean physique. The mindfulness aspects of yoga can make you more aware of what you eat, whether you’re eating too much junk, getting enough protein, etc.
Yoga also helps you stay in the moment when you eat food and to eat in a less distracted manner. It teaches you to appreciate that site, aroma, and texture of each bite you take, so you’re less likely to overeat. It also helps you get in touch with your true hunger signals. One reason people gain weight is they eat when they aren’t physiologically hungry. Instead, they’re stressed out or using food as a way to feel better for a short time. Yoga creates awareness, fosters mindfulness, and helps you better listen to your body and what it’s telling you.
You’ll Sleep Better
You don’t strength train in a vacuum; other lifestyle habits affect your training gains, too. Beyond adequate recovery time and good nutrition, you also need quality sleep and enough of it. It’s during deep sleep that your body releases the most growth hormone, a hormone that helps with fat loss and muscle gains. If you don’t get enough sleep or have poor quality sleep, you spend less time in the deep stages of sleep. So, addressing sleep issues will help maximize the benefits you get from strength training.
How effective is yoga for improving sleep quality? In one study, researchers asked a group of 69 older individuals to practice yoga, take an herb that promotes sleep, or do neither. The last group served as a control. The study showed that those who practiced yoga suffered less insomnia, fell asleep faster, and enjoyed higher quality sleep. It’s not clear how yoga improves sleep. It may boost the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Plus, it helps ease stress and anxiety that makes it harder to fall asleep.
Practicing yoga teaches awareness of how to breathe. In fact, the term for yogic breathing is called pranayama or controlled breathing. That’s important for strength training, too. It’s not uncommon for people to hold their breath or forget to breathe when they’re lifting.
Breath-holding when lifting a heavy weight can be dangerous, especially if you have high blood pressure. When you take a deep breath and hold it, the pressure in your pelvic cavity rises. The added pressure reduces the return of blood back to the heart and also the brain. This can lead to lightheadedness or even fainting. If you have a dilated blood vessel, called an aneurysm, the added pressure could even cause it to rupture.
Now you know why it’s so important to master the art of breathing and yoga can help you do that by increasing awareness of your breath. You may have heard that you should inhale during the eccentric portion of a strength exercise and exhale on the concentric, but that’s not as important as simply remembering to breathe consistently throughout an exercise.
The Bottom Line
Yoga is the perfect complement to strength training because of its mind-body benefits. Twice a week yoga sessions could be just what your strength-training program needs for optimal gains.
- com. “How Yoga Can Complement Weight Training”
- J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016 Jan-Feb; 6(1): 7–14.doi: 10.4103/2231-0762.175404.
- Indian J Med Res. 2005 May;121(5):683-90.
- com. “Holding Your Breath? It Could Be Harming Your Health and Weightlifting Form”
- Medicine and Exercise in Sport and Exercise. 2003;35(1):65-68.
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