Note from Ariana: This article was sparked by a conversation I had with Noam Tamir (owner of TS Fitness NYC) about the value of movement variety – balancing out strength work with mobility work and vice versa is one example of that. As Gray Cook says: “We all know that the strong guys hit the weight room and the flexible guys hit the yoga mats. If we could just get the strength guys on the yoga mats a little bit and the yoga guys in the weight room a little bit, everybody would move better.” Stay tuned for part two of this article – Yoga for People Who Do Strength Training
by Personal Trainer, Sydney Stargatt of TS Fitness NYC
When it comes to exercise, many of us find a passion for one particular activity that becomes our “go-to” when we decide to workout. You have your die-hard runners, heavy lifters, yogis, cyclists, and sports players. Rarely do we mingle between interests. However, whatever your passion may be, it’s important to understand the physical strengths and weaknesses that are associated with your favorite workout.
Since yoga asana classes have a particularly strong following, I want to discuss some of its limitations regarding total body fitness. Don’t get me wrong; yoga is a great physical and mental practice. However, its enthusiasts all tend to have some of the same physical limitations. Some of the most common issues we see include: excessive flexibility, poor hand grip, limited upper body pulling strength, raised ribs, and weak glute/hamstrings.
With some simple strength training, however, you can supplement your yoga practice with the perfect exercises to mitigate these limitations. Complementing yoga with strength training will give you a more balanced body, and in turn, allow you to safely prolong your practice for years to come.
Let’s address each limitation one-by-one:
Increasing flexibility is a well known benefit of Yoga. However, too much flexibility can be just as dangerous as not having enough. For a balanced body, you also need strength and stability. The following exercises, and strength training with weights in general, will help to develop your muscles and protect your joints.
Poor Hand Grip:
Many yoga poses emphasize flat hands and spread fingers on the yoga mat, which can lead to a weak hand grip. A strong grip can make everyday activities, like carrying groceries, a little easier. Some of the best exercises to improve your grip are variations of “the carry”. The Farmer Carry and the Suitcase Carry are both great kettlebell exercises for grip. Try walking for 20 yards with a kettlebell in each hand (farmer carry) or just one kettle bell (suitcase carry) and switching hands after 20 yards. If you don’t have access to kettlebells, other weights or household items can be used – get creative! This will work you core AND your grip.
Weak Pulling Motion: The typical yoga Asana class contains a lot of bodyweight movements without any resistance or pulling motion with the arms. Learning to pull with weights will not only make everyday activities more efficient, but it will also improve your stamina for your yoga practice. You can even practice pulling your bodyweight with a TRX or a pull up bar. Other exercises with weights include Lat Pull Downs and Dumbell Rows.
Yoga classes include a lot of “open chest”, “open heart” backbends and stretches. The constant pushing out of your chest puts you at risk for future back pain and it also disengages your core. Practicing some strength training while pulling your ribs down will activate your core and help protect the spine from excessive extension. Dead bugs, dying bugs, and pullovers are all great exercises to practice pulling your rib cage down. Make sure to keep your back pressed firmly against the ground through the movements. Check out this Dying Bug instructional video by Noam Tamir, CSCS:
A lot of yoga students are told not to engage their glutes during Bridge Pose and other poses. I’m not sure why this is, because glute strength is so important for proper body function. The glutes are the largest muscle in the body and we use them for everything. Complementing your yoga practice with glute strengthening exercises is ideal to create a more fit, properly functioning body. Single leg bridging, hip thrusts and donkey kicks are specific exercises that will target your glutes. Squats and Deadlifts will also work your glutes when done correctly, and they simultaneously activate your quads and hamstrings. Since yoga students tend to have weak hamstrings as well (due to the large number of poses that stretch the hamstrings), Deadlifts are a great way to target both areas.
Don’t be discouraged if you have a passion for just one particular way of exercising. It’s one more than many people in our society have today. You owe it to yourself to ensure that you will be able to participate in your passion for the long run. By taking your practice a step further and incorporating movements that help fill in the gaps of your normal routine, you are giving your body the opportunity to reach its full potential.