Yoga Before And After A Workout

This month we have talked a lot about yoga and dynamic stretching. While some styles of yoga are a workout in and of themselves, you can prepare sequences that are perfect to mix into your daily routine, before or after a workout.

After A Workout

Yoga for stretching is best done after a workout. This is because you can target all of the areas you just used and really stretch all of the muscles that you just worked. This will help you to recover faster and can also aid in bringing your heart rate back down in order to make you mindful again. This is great especially if you have trouble sleeping after a workout!

Before A Workout

Though yoga does seem to be more beneficial after a workout, or as it’s own workout, you can also use it as a warm-up! In order to take advantage of yoga before a workout, make sure that you are using dynamic stretches like the ones in the video below and not poses like Shavasana which will be more likely to make you want to snooze than to take on the treadmill. Dynamic stretches get your heart pumping and warm up your muscles, preparing you for the workout ahead.

As A Workout

Check out the video below for a sequence that you can use before a workout, after a workout, or even as it’s own workout! All you have to do is continue the poses for a little longer and this little video can take over a whole workout session. Do you love yoga? Let us know your favorite form of practice in the comments below!

Small but mighty is an apt description of yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti. When you see the petite powerhouse effortlessly rock deep backbends and arm balances, it’s hard to imagine that just over a year ago she suffered a shoulder injury that interfered with her regular practice. Clearly, her highly developed body awareness and her consistent yoga practice were important in her healing. But her full recovery, she says, required open-mindedness: After months of trying to heal the injury through yoga, she did what some yogis deem blasphemous—she hired a personal trainer.

She’s more than glad she did. The cross-training healed her injury and gave her the stability to do her favorite poses without pain. “I started to become someone who felt like it was great to bring in other disciplines,” she says. “Not only was I getting toned up again, I was starting to see significant improvement in my injuries. Strengthening my back muscles specifically helped my shoulder.” Although Ippoliti had always believed that her yoga practice could—and should—be a cure-all for everything, she’s now a believer in opening up to different modalities when it serves her. “I can still do my yoga practice traditionally. I’ve been enhanced by going to the gym, and I’m able to do my yoga practice even better.”

Other yogis see the benefits of combining traditional yoga practice with weight training to create a healthy, balanced regimen. Bo Forbes, a therapeutic vinyasa teacher in Boston, has been combining yoga and weight training for more than a decade in her work with professional athletes. Using her method, Functional Integrated Yoga, Forbes teaches athletes traditional yoga classes on the mat and then incorporates aspects of the yoga practice into their routines in the gym. Watching the athletes both on the mat and in their teams’ training rooms has helped Forbes troubleshoot injuries and create more ease and body awareness in her athletes. “For me, weight training isn’t just about building brute strength. It’s about building self-awareness,” she says.

Forbes points out that it’s the students who seem like the yoga “naturals”—those who are flexible to the point of being hypermobile—who become injured. It’s these students who need to build strength and awareness, especially around their joints, so that they don’t unconsciously push themselves too far into a pose and create an injury. Weight training can be an efficient way for bendy types to build strength and bolster muscle awareness so that they’re working from a place of integration in the body, tapping into equal amounts of flexibility and strength in their poses. “I’m always looking for integrated flexibility. I think that flexibility without strength is out of balance, and strength without flexibility is, too.”

Stave Off Muscle Loss

Weight training combined with yoga practice can also be a great way to maintain strength as you age. Countless studies show that a lack of exercise can lead to muscle mass decline beginning at age 40. If you stay sedentary, by the age of 70 you could lose about 30 percent of your muscle mass. Lifting weights two to three times per week builds muscle and bone density and helps with balance. And although doing yoga regularly can bring similar benefits, it’s important to introduce your body to new challenges from time to time to avoid hitting a plateau.

As Ippoliti can attest, adding just a little bit of weight training to your routine will give you extra oomph in your poses, especially if you are naturally flexible and struggle to build strength. “I started to feel extra-powerful in my Chaturangas, and my stamina in standing poses improved,” she says. She also noticed, for the first time, that her hamstrings were weak. All of these factors renewed her motivation to do poses she’d stopped doing and got her out of some of her own home-practice ruts.

If the idea of going to the gym sounds torturously boring, or if you feel like you’re cheating on your yoga practice, you can try Forbes’s approach by bringing aspects of your yoga practice into the weight room. Conscious Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath) is her No.1 focus. “I integrate the principles of vinyasa into weightlifting,” she says. “There’s a time to inhale and a time to exhale. If you’re doing a biceps curl, you inhale to prepare; then you exhale as you curl your arm toward you. Take another breath in, and then exhale again as you lower your arm slowly.” Along with breathwork, Forbes teaches two of the bandhas, or locks—Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock) and Mula Bandha (Root Lock)—to help awaken the deep core muscles so that they can support the spine. She started incorporating this subtle abdominal work in the weight room after noticing that many weightlifters work on the superficial muscles of the back and abdominals, which can tax the back in the long run. (If you’ve never done the locks, it’s easiest to start with Uddiyana.) Finally, Forbes encourages her students to bring all of their knowledge about bodily alignment with them when they lift weights. Ippoliti agrees that the body awareness that yogis bring to the table helps them at the gym. “Your body awareness as a yogi is really going to be an asset in how you progress,” she says.

Ippoliti still hits the gym regularly with her personal trainer because she believes that weight training keeps her body in balance and enhances her yoga practice. She points out that, these days, yoga is being mixed with all sorts of disciplines, from hooping to golf to music and dance. From her point of view, these are all ways that yoga is evolving and remaining relevant to what’s happening in the world around us. She brings up the point that 5,000 years ago, yogis didn’t sit at computers all day long. In her mind, if there’s a way to address that type of modern physical challenge efficiently and to ensure you’re not bringing bad postural habits to the yoga mat, then what’s to argue about? “We’re cross-pollinating these disciplines. Why not? It adds so much flavor and goodness to the whole practice,” she says. “For me, it’s about how you can find an alignment between staying true to the tradition of yoga while being open and flexible to trying other avenues that can help you improve and evolve.”

Standing Poses: Gain Strength, Get Grounded

If you’re flexible in your hips, hamstrings, and inner groins, you’re able to get into most standing poses readily. But you might “sink into” these poses and strain your feet, knees, and hips as well as your lower back. By adding a few simple leg and core exercises twice a week, you’ll build strength in your core and legs, which will help you create and maintain intelligent alignment.

Lunges With Kettlebells

How to: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), holding a kettlebell in each hand. Inhale fully. On a long exhalation, step your right foot forward into a lunge until your front thigh and shin form a right angle. Keep your front knee in line with the outer edge of your front hip. Your back heel will lift, and you’ll bend your back knee. Inhale fully. Exhale and use your core body to bring the right leg to Tadasana. Repeat with the left leg. That’s 1 rep. Do 10-12 reps to complete a set. Work up to 3 sets.

Target: Quadriceps and hamstrings

Protective Actions: If you feel strain in your knees, try the lunge without weights and see that your knee doesn’t extend beyond your front ankle or lean toward the midline of your body. As you step forward, lift your pubic bone and engage your lower belly to support your lower back.

*For all of these exercises, begin with 2-pound weights and work up to 8 pounds.

Navasana With Free Weights

How to: Sit with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a infree weight in each hand, close to your chest. Cross your ankles and flex your feet. Inhale fully. Exhale, draw your heels toward your buttocks, and squeeze your knees together. Lift your lower back away from the floor and keep your entire spine long. Either stay as you are or lift your heels off the floor. For more of a challenge, reach your arms in front of you. Hold for 8 deep breaths. On an exhalation, change the cross of your ankles and hold for another 8 breaths.

Targets: Rectus abdominus

Protective Actions: If you feel lower-back strain, add blankets under your sitting bones or rest part of your spine against a wall.

Counterpose: Foam Roller on the Quads

A great counterpose for these exercises (and for standing poses) is to relax your quadriceps muscles by rolling them on a foam roller.

How to: Come to Plank on your forearms and place a foam roller underneath the meatiest part of your right leg. Note that muscular development is different for everyone here, so you may want to experiment until you find the placement that feels best to you. Roll up and down, and side to side, breathing slowly and deeply. Use a deep nasal breath and emphasize the exhalation for optimum release.

Target: Quadriceps

Protective Actions: Make sure that the roller is under your quadriceps muscle and not too close to your knee. Press down lightly with your forearms so that your shoulders don’t hunch during the pose. If the pressure is too intense, place a folded towel over the foam roller.

Put It All Together

The next time you take a standing pose, you can tap into your increased leg strength and core awareness. Think about creating a suctioning action from the soles of the feet to lightly firm your foundation. As you draw deeper into the pose, your quadriceps will engage more readily. You’ll be able to stay longer and monitor your alignment more attentively. Keep lifting your pubic bone up toward your heart and engaging Uddiyana Bandha to protect your lower back and give it length.

Arm Balances: Achieving Power and Lift-Off

In order to truly achieve a sense of power and lift-off in arm balances, you need strength in your core and your arms. If you’re naturally flexible, you might be able to perch easily in an arm balance by stacking your bones. But working this way can put pressure on your joints. The exercises on the next page can help give you the extra oomph you need to feel light and integrated.

Plank With Kettlebells

How to: Come onto hands and knees holding onto two kettlebells. See that your wrists are directly underneath your shoulders and the knees are a few inches behind your hips. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor to come into Plank Pose. (You can also try it with your knees down for the first week or so.) Inhale, and on the exhalation draw the kettlebell up toward the ceiling. Hold at the top for a second. Inhale, and on the next exhalation return to Plank. Repeat with the other arm. That’s 1 rep. Do 8 full reps.

Protective Actions: If you have trouble controlling the ascent or descent of the kettlebells, or if you feel any strain on your joints, try a lighter weight. Avoid lifting your hips too high or overarching your neck. Engage Uddiyana Bandha to protect your lower back. Create a long, straight line from the back of your head all the way down to your heels.

Shoulder Press With Free Weights

How to: Sit tall, either on a weight bench or on the front edge of a chair. Hold a weight in each hand, just above your shoulders, palms facing forward. Inhale fully. Exhale and raise your arms straight up to meet at the top. Inhale and hold. Exhale and slowly lower your arms to the starting position. Repeat this 8-10 times.

Targets: Upper trapezius, deltoids, biceps, and triceps

Protective Actions: Draw your shoulder blades down your back. Engage your abdominal muscles to keep your spine long. Avoid looking up at the weights and keep your gaze straight forward. If you have to arch your back to lift the weight, try a lighter weight. If you’ve had rotator cuff injuries in the past, press your arms straight up toward the ceiling without having them meet at the top.

Counterpose: Scapula Hang

Scapula Hang effectively opens the front of the shoulders, the chest, and the neck. Use it as a counterpose for these exercises and for arm balances.

How to: Lie on a block so that the long bottom edge rests just under your shoulder blades.

If the block creates too much pressure, you can use a folded blanket instead. Otherwise, hold a second block in your hands; then exhale and slowly draw your arms toward the floor behind you. If you move slowly, you’ll be able to sense signals from your rotator cuff muscles that indicate when you’ve gone far enough. Either hold the block in place at that point or rest your forearms on your forehead. Breathe deeply, holding for 2 minutes or more.

When you are ready to come out, release the block, tuck your chin, press your forearms into the mat, and lift your spine off the block. Lie back with your knees bent, giving your body time to absorb the pose.

Targets: Upper thoracic spine, shoulders, and chest

Protective Actions: Make sure that the block is under your upper spine, not your waist. If your neck feels hyperextended, nudge the block a little lower. If the feeling continues, place a folded blanket under your head to lift it up.

The next time you try an arm balance, you can use your newly developed strength to make the pose more integrated and effortless. Take Bakasana (Crane Pose), for example. In Bakasana, press your hands down into the floor; at the same time, create a suctioning action so the energy lifts away from your hands. Round your upper back, and hug your arms in toward each other as you knit your core up and in. As you breathe smoothly, use this new height to see if you can straighten your arms.

Going Up: Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock) is often taught as the action of taking the “navel to the spine.” The secret to true Uddiyana Bandha, however, is found in its name, which translates from Sanskrit as “upward flying seal, or lift.”

To create this upward flying seal, place your hands on your lower abdomen, palm over palm. Draw your pubic bone up toward your heart. (This action will also tuck your tailbone, but initiating it from the pubic bone will help engage your deep, intrinsic abdominal muscles.) Begin Ujjayi breath, inhaling and exhaling for several rounds. The diaphragm lifts when you exhale, making more space for Uddiyana Bandha to engage more strongly. With each successive exhalation, draw your deep, intrinsic abdominals toward your spine a little, but mostly up toward the ceiling, creating the “upward flying” action.

Now, we’ll add a rhythmic interplay, or vinyasa, between Uddiyana Bandha and the breath. As you inhale, keep about 30 percent of Uddiyana Bandha; as you exhale, engage it about 90 percent, and draw those muscles up toward your lower ribs.

Each time you exhale while lifting weights, engage Uddiyana Bandha strongly to support your spine. You’ll build strength faster and with more integrity, and you’ll protect yourself from the most common weightlifter’s ailment: lower-back pain and injury.

At this point, it’s quite evident that Yoga is a great augment to any kind of workout regimen, whether it’s cardio-centric or strength training exercises. But now, the question people ask is: should I do yoga before or after my regular workout?

To answer that question: it depends. In general, if your style of yoga is slow, calm, and more focused on stretching out your muscles rather than building up their strength, then it’s best to do it after your workout. This will help your muscles stretch out and not get tangled, minimizing muscle spasms and aiding it in recovery.

However, if you’re doing a style of yoga that has intense flows and focuses on engaging your core, then it’s best to do yoga before your workout. This type of yoga allows your body to warm up and stretch out without fatiguing your muscle fibers. It also improves your mood and stamina, allowing you to be more mindful when you lift your weights.

Again, it depends on the type of yoga you’ll be doing: slow, calm poses help you relax and unwind after heavy lifting, while fast and flowing yoga allows you to prep for an intensive cardio or strength training workout.

Always tailor-fit the kind of yoga you’ll be doing to the kind of workout regimen you’ll be following. You can also consider doing yoga in your gym off-days: in doing so, you’re allowing your muscles to recover and rest but still engaging them and passively, but continuously, building up their strength and preventing muscle fibers from atrophy.

There are many more benefits to doing yoga before or after workouts. Here are some:

Benefits of Pre-Workout Yoga

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People who do yoga before working out at the gym say that they’re more mindful about their exercise, which minimizes the risk of injuries. They also talk about how yoga builds up their confidence, boosts their mood, and increases their stamina. On a more practical side, doing yoga before a workout session also warms up your body, preparing you for an intense training regimen.

Great Pre-workout Warm-Up

Pre-exercise warm-ups are just as important as your workout routine: it helps your body tissues and muscles to open up and stretch out just enough so it’s not adhering to itself, making you more limber and flexible. Keeping your muscle fibers, tissues, and tendons loose also prevents your muscles from cramping, which, in turn, minimizes injuries.

That’s exactly what certain types of yoga does to a body: it loosens up the muscle fibers and helps stretch out tissues and tendons, making them more supple and strong, a necessity when you’re about to do an intense cardio session.

Mental Boost

Along with some physical benefits, the mental benefits of doing yoga before working out are worth mentioning too. Yoga is all about creating harmony between mind, body, and spirit: by teaching you calm mindfulness, you’re more attuned to your body’s limits and capabilities, allowing you to elevate yourself beyond perceived limitations without injuring or harming yourself.

It also helps boost your confidence and mood: an integral part of Yoga is meditation, which has been proven to lower cortisol (stress hormones) levels in your body and increasing oxytocin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) levels.

Benefits of Post-Workout yoga

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People who do yoga after working out report that their bodies recover faster, their muscles remain limber without straining, and it provides them a general feeling of comfort and calm. Particularly for slow, pose-centric yoga forms, this is one of the best ways to cool down, normalize your breathing, and even get rid of toxins you might have built up during your workout.

Great Post-Workout Cool down

Strenuous and particularly taxing workout routines, like strength training or intense cardio, can make your muscles sore, cramped, and swollen. Doing yoga after your workout helps your body ‘cool down’, i.e. lowers your overall body temperature and allowing your muscle fibers to untangle, relax, and relieve them of soreness. The yoga poses you’ll be doing helps regulate your body temperature so it doesn’t plummet right after an intense workout, which can also be bad for your muscles.

Yoga also helps your mind calm down; more specifically, yoga lowers your adrenaline levels, which helps your body relax completely. During workouts, your body releases a large amount of adrenaline to help your muscles lift the weights it needs to. However, once your workout is done, adrenaline tends to linger, which can increase the recovery time for your muscles. Yoga regulates this by expelling the adrenaline and replacing it with oxytocin.

Gives You Room to Breathe

Oxygen is one of the main catalysts of recovery for your muscles. Maximize this by doing different yoga poses that are centered on slow, rhythmic breathing. Yoga helps expand your lungs, giving you more oxygen with every inhale and expels more carbon dioxide with every exhale. More oxygen also means less chances of cramps.

Having more oxygen in your body also helps your sympathetic nervous system kick in. This system helps repair the micro-tears in your muscles. With every exertion, your muscle fibers develop small ruptures on its surface called micro-tears. These micro-tears are repaired and develop scar tissue, which is the ‘bulging muscles’ we see. Oxygen stimulates the growth of scar tissue on micro-tears, which, in turn, help you recover faster and have less soreness.

Cleanses Your Body of Toxins

Any strenuous physical activity will encourage your body to purge itself of toxins; this is usually expelled through your sweat or by natural body processes. Yoga enhances this process with certain poses that encourage blood flow to different organs and speeds up toxin purging. These yoga poses will also help clear out muscles of any lactic acid buildup, which can alleviate soreness and pain.

Yoga Poses for Before and After Workouts

The beauty of yoga is in its simplicity and effectiveness: you don’t have to do complex flows or hour-long routines. In fact, doing just a few poses before or after workouts can already give someone all the benefits they need to maximize their workouts. More than the physical, yoga is about creating harmony and mindfulness, and helps people be in touch with their bodies, allowing them to know their limits and elevate themselves from it. Of course, the physical part of yoga is extremely helpful too! Here are some yoga poses for you to try:

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

One of the most basic yoga poses, the Tadasana or Mountain Pose is deceptively simple, yet difficult to maintain. The Tadasana is all about alignment: it asks you to simply stand straight and firm, creating a straight line from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet.

A simple premise, but it can get difficult, especially if you have to maintain it for a minute or so. By being mindful of how your heels are rooted to the ground, how your bones realign and stack themselves on top of each other, your muscles also start adjusting and engaging, helping you stand straighter. Couple this with shallow, but regulated, breathing, the Tadasana is a great pre-workout yoga pose that helps you align your body and mind with what needs to be done.

Urdhva Hastansana (Raised Arms Pose)

If you’ve ever woken up in bed and raised your arms out to stretch, then you’ve already accomplished the Urdhva Hastansana, or the raised arms pose. To do this more effectively, inhale deeply as you raise your arms high above your head. Once they’re at the top, raise your chin slightly so your eyes can see the tips of your fingers.

This is a full body stretch that is, again, simple to do yet difficult to maintain. Pay attention to how every muscle in your back and legs are stretching; don’t over-exert them, just stretch to the point of comfortability, hold for a few seconds, and then gently lower your arms and head. This is one of the best post-workout yoga poses you can do as it helps you cool your body down and allows your muscles to stretch and spring back gently.

Q&A – ”SHOULD I DO YOGA BEFORE OR AFTER MY WORKOUT?’

A popular question I’m often asked by my clients and students who live active lifestyles is whether they should schedule their yoga practice before or after their workout session. Here’s my answer:

The answer is – You should do it AFTER (or on a different day than) your workout. From the perspective of the fascia, muscles and tissues, our tissues are weaker after a yoga session (especially if your yoga practice is a lot of deep stretches and sustained poses). Think about it, one factor that makes us strong is our muscles ability to contract. When you stretch your muscles they take on a new length, and their ability to contract is not as efficient as it was before the yoga session. Although you will of course regain your strength as your body adapts to the new length of your muscles, but this process takes at least a few hours. Your tissues need some time after a yoga session to properly rebound back into shape and regain their strength in their new length.

So if you are an athlete, a runner, gym-go’er or a weekend warrior but you love practicing yoga here are some suggestions on how to proceed (and what I myself do):

1) IDEALLY: To get the most out of your yoga practice, practice yoga on a different day than your athletic training and follow your training session with some gentle stretches rather than a full on deep and dynamic yoga session. This way you give your muscles time to recover post-workout before putting excess stretch on them, and you give your muscles time to rebound back into healthy shape after yoga before demanding that they contract right after they’ve been asked to deeply stretch.

2) If time is limited, practice yoga AFTER your athletic training but please be mindful, kind and gentle to your probably already fatigued muscles.

3) If you must practice yoga before your training try to wait at least a few hours after your yoga practice before hitting the gym and be sure to start your workout training in a very slow and controlled manner instead of going all out guns blazing.

Many of us want to jam in as much as we can into one day. But remember that the real yoga practice is not about learning how to ”do it all”, but rather it’s about becoming more in-tuned and in harmony with your self on all levels mind, body and heart. When you do so on one level the others will surely benefit in some way.

Why Yoga is Essential to Any Weight-Lifting Routine

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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.

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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.

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If you’re like most guys, you probably don’t associate yoga with the weight room.

But you may be surprised how much a few simple yoga poses can seriously improve your overhead lifting technique, improve your postural alignment, and protect your shoulders and back from injury.

Yoga began in India circa 3000 B.C. as a practice to find harmony between mind and body. In the thousands of years since then, the exercise has evolved and branched into many new styles that can benefit just about every person and every body — and be applied in even more areas outside of just the studio.

The many health benefits of yoga go way beyond the common misconception that it’s just a glorified stretching routine. Regular practice can help to improve the strength and flexibility of the musculoskeletal system, while also targeting the cardiovascular system, and helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. A vinyasa flow class, for example, will work all of your muscles — including those essential for posture and movement in your core, hips, and shoulders — while also increasing circulation and challenging your balance and flexibility.

Why Yoga Makes Sense for Weightlifters

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How does this apply to lifting heavy weights? Overhead lifting requires multiple muscles in the shoulders and surrounding area to be strong and functional. It also requires good mobility of the thoracic spine.

To raise your arms overhead, you want your shoulder blades (or scapulae) to rotate upward, allowing your arm at the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) to rotate smoothly and without pain. Multiple structures, such as the biceps tendons, can get pinched and inflamed if this movement is impaired.

Adding exercises that challenge the muscles of the upper back and shoulders while also improving postural alignment is critical to healthy and safe movement — especially as more weight is added to those power lifts.

So before you think you’re too manly to do a sun salutations, get yourself to a yoga class and see how tough you feel after a few warm up sequences. You’ll be surprise what using only your body weight and a yoga mat can do for your body. If you need a mat, check out this smart option that rolls itself up and is 4 inches longer than most anything else you’ll find in a yoga studio. (We’re affiliated with Backslash Fit, the company that makes the mat.)

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The Overhead Lifter’s Yoga Series

If you’re not sure where to begin, try incorporating these 5 classic poses (no flexibility required) into your strength training plan for a better shot at safe lifting.

Chair pose

This is a great yoga poses for activating the thoracic extensors and lower trapezius muscles — all important for postural alignment and shoulder stability. It also incorporates a squat, targeting the all important muscles of the hips. If you look carefully, it might remind you of the position you get into when performing a snatch or a clean and jerk.

The reason this pose is so beneficial is because it activates multiple scapular muscles while focusing on improved thoracic extension all while grounding your body through your feet and stabilizing at the hips. Try holding a chair post for 30 seconds (without any weight) and you’ll see why you need this one.

Downward Facing Dog

Possibly the most well-known yoga pose, downward dog is a classic for good reasons. This position also requires the arms to be up overhead activating those overhead lifting muscles such as the serratus anterior and lower traps.

Unlike chair pose, which is an open kinetic chain upper extremity exercise, down dog is a closed kinetic chair, creating a neuromuscular component for increased stability at the joint.

Upward Facing Dog

Up dog, performed with hands on the floor and head and chest facing upward, requires a lot of scapular retraction and depression — in other words, bringing the shoulder blades back and sliding them down towards your hips, away from your ears.

By pressing the hands into the floor and lifting from the chest while keeping the shoulder blades down and back, you are essentially unfolding your shoulders from the position they are in all day. This simple movement activates the muscles that will help stabilize the shoulder joint and improve postural alignment when heavy weight is added.

Cobra pose

Cobra pose is another great move for opening up and stretching the abdominal and pec muscles while mobilizing the thoracic spine. It is slightly more grounded than upward facing dog, but hits all the same muscles in a position that can potentially be held a little longer.

Warrior 3 pose

Warrior 3 pose works the shoulders and core while incorporating the added challenge of unilateral balance.

Even though you will most likely be standing on both feet while lifting, having that unilateral stability can further improve your foundation as you prep to lift more — and any heavy upper body lifting routine requires a good, strong foundation. This pose also incorporates the reach and activation of the thoracic extensors that is critical for healthy and strong overhead lifting.

Yoga after weight lifting

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