I am a bodybuilder. I cannot even count the number of times that I have walked around in a tank top and people have asked me, “wow, do you do a lot of yoga or something?”
I used to get so offended by this question. I would think to myself, “How in God’s name does anyone think that yoga could have built this hard earned muscle? Stretching doesn’t build muscle!”
Little did I know, yoga is way more than just trying to touch your toes, and I was humbled by discovering this first hand when I decided to give it a try. I thought that a nice little stretch session would be good for my flexibility and recovery after demolishing some weights, but yoga offers a lot more than just that.
I ended up doing two workouts that day. I had no idea that yoga could be such an intensive practice and provide much more for my body than an increase in flexibility. Yoga has made its way into my weekly exercise routine, and it has not only helped my flexibility, but also my muscle building as well.
Benefit: Elongated Muscle Fibers
When lifting weights, the muscles work during the concentric portion of a movement which shortens the muscle fibers. This causes them to grow tighter and more compact, giving them a rounded look of muscles.
During a yoga practice, yes, you get to stretch and increase flexibility, but you are performing the asana poses while supporting your own body weight. A study performed by Jerrold S.Petrofsky,PhD from Linda Loma University actually found that yoga activated more abdominal muscles than performing crunches. The resistance of your body weight through the eccentric portion of a movement lengthens and tones the muscle fibers rather than shorten them. Want a long, lean, toned look? Do yoga.
Benefit: Functional Fitness
Lifting weights typically isolates one muscle group at a time which can lead to muscle imbalances, as well as a less than practical movement pattern of the body during everyday activity. Tell me, when is the last time you performed a bicep curl while going about your day?
Yoga, on the other hand, activates multiple muscles simultaneously. It is a more functional approach that twists, bends, and crouches the body in ways that mirror more of how our bodies are meant to move. Activating multiple muscles at once also works the body harder than one would think, while moving through asanas, which are the poses practiced in yoga.
Benefit: Prevents Injuries
How many times have you actually stretched after your workout? How many times have you had an aching joint, torn muscle, or become overly sore after a workout? Without stretching and warming up the muscles and connective tissues, when we exert force the body is not prepped and primed. Imagine hopping right out of bed and sprinting. That’s how your poor muscles feel when you make them lift weights without a proper warmup.
Yoga opens up the space in between joints to allow for increased blood flow through the connective tissues, and also to the muscle. Elongating the muscle fibers will ensure that you won’t pull any muscles during your next lifting session.
Benefit: Increased Recovery Time
Increasing blood flow and nutrient delivery to the muscle through yoga will help you recover faster from your weight lifting session. After an intense workout, the body will store lactic acid, which is what makes you sore. When you are sore, you can barely walk down the stairs- good luck going in the next day and having an effective workout.
Yoga increases recovery time by releasing the lactic acid, and opening up space in the joints and muscles to allow for increased nutrient delivery to the muscle. More nutrient delivery also means more muscle building capacity.
Benefit: Improves the Mind/Muscle Connection
Yoga emphasizes breathing, and connecting to your body. Entering this meditative state while moving the body through various asana poses gives you a unique opportunity to really connect to your body and the different sensations.
You may discover certain ways that your joints don’t like to move, muscles that you didn’t know were tight, or that the plank position activates many more muscles than you thought.
Breathing through the different postures will also benefit your lifting, as lifting weights with proper breathing is very important.
Connecting to your body in these ways will help you build muscle because when you are in the weight room, you will be more effective as contracting and isolating the body part you are trying to develop rather than just slinging weight around and not really knowing where you should be feeling it.