Gym Training for Yogis

Why Yogis Should Be Training In The Gym, by Chris Bamber

So, for those of you that don’t know in January of this year the Core studio relocated from its original location on Hewitt Street, Manchester, into one of the studios at the Yoga Lounge.

When we moved we thought that there would be lots of crossover with our clients wanting to give yoga a try and vice versa. What we actually found was that our clients were keen to try the yoga experience, but the same could not be said for the clients.

We offered free taster sessions and reduced rates for members, but still very few took us up on the offer. This got us thinking, why are people who are love yoga not interested in doing cardio or strength training?

Now I am aware that I am making a rather sweeping statement here and there are plenty of yogi’s who are also gym bunnies, I am just giving you my take on my own experiences.

When it became apparent that the transfer of clients was not going to be as fluid as expected we started to ask people who were here to do yoga what their thoughts were on gym training and why they weren’t interested in giving it a try.

Popular reasons

  • Strength training will reduce my flexibility
  • I get all the fitness I need from yoga
  • Don’t like the gym environment
  • I get everything I need from yoga why should I do anything else
  • Can’t afford to do both

So these are the most popular answers I was given and I only agree with one of them – can’t afford to do both. If this is the case then do what makes you most happy. Yoga wouldn’t be my choice but if it is yours then fair play to you.

It’s time to get down to the business of explaining why none of these are legitimate reasons.

1 – Improved strength

This may seem like a no-brainer that strength training will increase your strength, but why will this improve yoga practice? When you look at some of the balances, especially when you first start to practice, strength can be the determining factor between holding the pose and falling flat on your face!

Contrary to the belief of many this increase in strength through weight training will not decrease your flexibility. Decreases in flexibility only occur due to prolonged periods without stretching, meaning if your yoga continues your flexibility will remain.

2 – Speed of movement

Yoga is in essence a very slow and controlled discipline. It involves holding poses for a long period of time and getting into these positions slowly. So what does this mean for the muscles? I’m not going to give you a boring physiology lesson but the muscles are made up of fast twitch or slow twitch fibres. The more you use one sort of fibre, the more the muscles shift towards that fibre.

The long and short of it is, the more yoga you do, the slower your muscles are able to contract. By performing powerful compound movements in the gym the fibres will not switch one way or the other, allowing a balance enabling both quick and slow movements.

3 – Muscular balance

Having seen quite a few yogi’s over the past few months, it became apparent that when injuries did occur there was a definite pattern. Knee pain and lower back pain meaning they struggled when running or in some cases even walking.

After doing some digging and looking into the mechanics of most yoga classes I noticed that the hamstrings and glutes spend a lot of time being stretched and not a lot of time working, whereas the quads spend a lot of time working with minimal stretching. These are all really common identifiers of both knee and lower back issues. By incorporating some posterior chain exercises into a workout schedule (hamstring, glute, lower back) couple with some sports massage on particularly the quads and in many cases the issues will be removed!

4 – Muscle shape

Without the progressive loading of strength training the hypertrophic effect cannot happen. What this means is that your muscles won’t get any larger, or rounder or change shape at all really. This isn’t the goal for all, but if you are wanting to increase your butt size, or give your back a better shape then weight training is the way to do it.

Now I also hear from plenty of women that they are scared to lift weights as they think it will make them look bulky and masculine, and I can assure you that that won’t happen. In order to build considerable muscle mass there needs to be large amounts of testosterone, which unless you are taking steroids you probably wont have!

5 – Fitness

In order for improvements in fitness the heart rate needs to be considerably raised for prolonged periods of time. In most yoga classes due to the nature of the activity this simply doesn’t happen. I am aware that in certain classes, such as the hot yoga, due to the increase in temperature there will be an increase in heart rate, however the fitness benefits pale in comparison to those who go to HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training).

So these are just 5 of the reasons why even if you are a dedicated Yogi you should be doing some sort of gym work. If you don’t believe me why not listen to one of your own! Amy had been a dedicated yogi for years and she has now added gym bunny to her regular workout schedule.

It was completely by chance that I started personal training with Chris. I was discussing an ongoing knee problem with the yoga teachers at reception, where my knee was giving way if I’d been sat down for a period of time, and was in pain when bent/held a certain way.

It was affecting my yoga practice and my walking. Chris suggested the cause may actually be my yoga practice itself- or, the fact that yoga is the only exercise I do- loose hamstrings and glutes and tight quads were affecting my knees. He was confident if he got me in to the gym for a few PT sessions I would start to notice some relief.

I was slightly apprehensive about doing anything other than yoga, due to the belief that my yoga practice would be affected. That belief that tells you lifting weights and working out will leave you stiff and not as flexible as you once were! I was also worried about ‘bulking up’ and any female with a history of/lingering body issues will understand where I am coming from.

I committed to ten sessions. We started with an intense sports massage to loosen off my quads, then it was in the gym to focus on my main issue- strengthening my loose glutes and hamstrings! My glutes just weren’t firing up at all – I realised I never used them in yoga. My body, ironically, was completely out of balance despite a 2 year yoga practice.

I can honestly say within 5 sessions my knee had stopped hurting. within 10 sessions I could fully bend it without pain and practice my yoga at 100% again. Something else happened that I wasn’t expecting- my yoga practice

IMPROVED over the 10 sessions with Chris. I felt stronger, and my flexibility hadn’t decreased at all. I can run again, hike mountains and bike ride without my knee playing up. The sessions themselves- they are ALL completely different. You can’t get bored because Chris challenges you and keeps it fresh each time. I’ve continued to train with Chris, and have no intention of stopping now!

I’m officially in the best shape of my life.

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