I used to do yoga once a week. When I would, I didn’t sustain a single injury at the gym and my overall muscle movement was pretty good. Since I stopped, I’ve hurt a shoulder, torn my glute tie-in, and become ridiculously inflexible. Of course, I couldn’t say that stopping the yoga is what caused my injuries, but I can say that they were caused by a lack of proper stretching. The rotator cuff in my left shoulder has been bothering me for several weeks, and so I decided to do a yoga class yesterday to stretch it out a bit. Since the class, I have had relatively no pain in my shoulder and a little more range of motion.
This got me thinking about how important stretching is when we’re working out. We spend so much time lifting and tightening the muscles, that unless we focus on stretching them back the other way, we can have huge range of motion issues. Yoga is a great way to stretch those muscles, and pull them back the other way. Many bodybuilders don’t think yoga is ‘manly’ enough, or that yoga will get in the way of their muscle building routine, but follow the break for several reasons why every fitness enthusiast should give it a try.
Stretching. I mentioned the importance of stretching, and any newbie at the gym can tell you how important it is, but do you really do it properly? Yoga is a great way to stretch first of all because it’s not just a quick 5 minute pre or post-workout hurry-up-and-get-it-done, but you very deliberately stretch each of the muscles in various parts of your body and hold the stretch for up to a minute at times. Yoga consists of all 3 types of stretching: passive, active, and dynamic. The best deep stretches are performed on your muscles after they’re warmed up, not before your workout. Yoga will make you sweat, because of how intense it is. So don’t think that it’s just for old men trying to find their zen, and hippies who make their own granola- one of the hardest leg workouts I’ve ever done was in a yoga class.
Controlled breathing. Any time you’re working out, you want to make sure that you’re controlling your breathing, but in no workout is this more important and more stressed than in yoga. When doing any yoga movements, you breathe out when moving toward the ground and you breathe in when moving to the sky. If you lose your focus and stop controlling your breath, you lose. This is a great habit for anyone lifting weights because of how important the breathing is for your workout. Controlled breathing keeps lactic acid from building up in your muscles, and helps you to finish a great workout with appropriate levels of energy.
Sequence. There’s one thing that yoga teaches you that many people forget about their normal workout routines and that is how important sequence is. When stretching your hips for example, you must first stretch your hamstrings, your quads, your lower back, and all the other muscles that surround your hips to loosen up those muscles so you can even get to your hip muscles. Many times when training a client, we’ll do things in a specific order for that very reason. It’s called pre-exhausting a muscle, and you do it so that whatever muscle you’ve pre-exhausted will assist less in the movement of whatever the main muscle you’re trying to hit. Want to work on your rhomboids? Try not using your lats and lower traps by exhausting them before even trying to get to your rhomboids and see what that does.
Form. In yoga, you never compromise the position of your spine. Many avid weight-lifters could learn a thing or two from that teaching. I can’t tell you how many times I see really great exercises done wrong because people aren’t in proper form, and in essence they’re wasting their time doing the exercise. In yoga, you do the pose again and again and again and really solidify not just the form, but the movement that got you there.
Tone and shape. We went and saw Cirque du Soleil’s show, OVO, last week and one of the girls who had the best bodies in the entire show was the contortionist. I think a lot of body builders think that if they focus too much on stretching out their muscle that it will become droopy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Doing yoga and stretching your muscle back the other way will actually help you create tone and form in the muscle, and increase your range of motion in the process.
Cut out the static. The most important thing that yoga can teach anyone is to focus on the here and now. Everything else that’s going on in the outside world doesn’t matter, and it in no way affects you when you’re doing yoga. Take that same approach to your workout and see where it gets you. Don’t stop to talk to your gym buddies. Leave your phone in your locker. Work out your stress from work in a positive way and see how far it gets you!