For the longest time, weightlifting and yoga have been confined to separate spheres. Weightlifting involves strength and power, whereas yoga involves balance and flexibility. This is a false dichotomy, though.
According to certified yoga instructor and personal trainer Georgia Bennett-Ramseur, weightlifting and yoga are both “smart and effective forms of movement” which “bring us closer to ourselves and our bodies.”
To experienced registered yoga teacher and certified personal trainer Nick Palladino (AKA The Big Yogi), weightlifting actually fits into the yogic tradition. He says, “If you look at it from the yoga model of the Koshas,” you see yoga and lifting “as the same and not even different from each other.” According to the Koshas, yogis need proper nutrition and posture, proper breathing, and a properly trained mind. Weightlifters and yogis alike work to sharpen all three.
Many yoga practitioners avoid weightlifting, though, worried it will decrease their flexibility or result in injury. But many yogis and yoginis benefit greatly from lifting. Here are 5 reasons why.
1. Weightlifting increases your body's balance.
One key focus in yoga is balance. Yet yoga doesn’t always hit every muscle that your body needs to work out, and this can actually result in serious imbalances. One muscle in particular that many yoga practitioners neglect is the biceps brachii. This upper-arm muscle group is strengthened by lifting or pulling a weight toward the body, but this is an action yogis rarely perform.
According to Michelle Linane, certified yoga instructor and creator of Love Teaching Yoga, “We do lots of pushing away from the body, for example Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose) which strengthens the triceps brachii, but no action of pulling toward us. Thus, it's important that we supplement our practice with weightlifting movements that target the biceps brachii, such as bicep curls, to ensure balanced strength.” Without this balanced strength, many yoga practitioners overdevelop certain muscles and under-develop others, resulting in instability, pain, and even dysfunction and injury.
2. Weightlifting increases strength while yoga increases flexibility.
Yogis need both strength and flexibility. One issue Palladino sees in many yoga classes is “an overemphasis on flexibility and stretching over the strength aspects of it … As a result, many practitioners don’t have the appropriate amount of strength to balance out their flexibility.” When this imbalance occurs, yogis fall too deeply into poses and risk injury.
If done using correct form, lifting weights comes with little risk of injury and may reduce the risk of yoga-related injuries by increasing your strength alongside your flexibility.
3. Weightlifting challenges your muscles in a way that yoga doesn’t.
Weightlifting and yoga work out the body’s muscles in ways that are different yet equally important. According to Bennett-Ramseur, yogis regularly activate "slow twitch muscle fibers which improve our endurance but cannot generate significant force, while quick explosive movements found in weight training activate more type 2 muscle fibers, which improve our explosiveness, strength, and power, but cannot sustain activity for long periods of time.”
4. Weightlifting improves your body’s stability.
Stability is of the utmost importance in yoga. Yet weak or undeveloped muscles can lead to serious joint instability. As Linane notes, “if muscular control does not compensate for ligament laxity and hypermobility, joint instability may result, rendering the joint unable to support itself in the range of motion that yoga puts us through.” In other words, you need strong muscles to be able to practice yoga in a way that is too loose and damaging to your joints. Weightlifting builds the muscular strength you need for strong and healthy joints that can handle frequent yogic movement.
5. Weightlifting makes you a better yogi - and faster.
While yoga teaches us to slow down and go at our own pace, that doesn’t mean you can’t supplement your practice to improve more quickly. Adding weightlifting to yoga will allow you to build the muscular strength required for certain poses much faster than without it. As Palladino notes, “Weightlifting develops the proper strength and also mobility to hold poses longer, more steadily, and with more ease.”
If you’re interested in adding lifting to your practice, check out The Big Yogi's guide and workout schedule.
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