March 4, 2021

Join Freya on Easter Monday for this strength based workshop, designed to target your whole body and get those muscles fired up in the upcoming ‘STRENGTH & CONDITIONING FOR YOGA’. For more information, click here.

The benefits of strength training

As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I often get asked the question ‘How often do you practice?’ A lot of the time I feel as though my answer may seem confusing as my answer is normally ‘Whenever I feel like it’.

I don’t practice yoga every day, and I am definitely not someone who rolls out their mat every morning without fail. But I do move every day, it just takes many different forms.

Whilst I love the practice of Yoga, I don’t feel that it gives me all the movement quality that my body needs to stay healthy. It keeps my joints supple and draws me into my breath, helps me to be creative, builds balance and coordination and feels good for my mental health. But does it make me stronger?

To build muscular strength we need to generate new levels of stress that our body is not used to. This causes small amounts of damage to the tissues which then repair and become thicker or more abundant and make us stronger. Within the realms of your average yoga class we do lots of movement with our bodies: flowing from standing to seated, balancing on one leg and placing a fair amount of weight through our wrists. What yoga cannot provide for us though are ‘pulling power’ and ‘progressive overload’.

Let’s look at pulling first. In our yoga practice we tend to recruit the ‘push’ muscles of the upper body (think plank pose, chaturanga, down dog, dolphin, forearm stand, handstand) these are all postures which require us to ‘push’ the mat away from us. Through these poses we are mainly using our chest, delts, and triceps to stabilize. There are very few postures in yoga that engage our ‘pull’ muscles (Lats, biceps, rhomboids and traps) unless we actively modify our practice with the use of props or take part in other forms of training which recruit these muscles more efficiently. A great example is climbing, and if you know me then you’ll know that I’m a keen climber! It probably makes up 60% of my movement patterns and in my opinion makes a great compliment to a yoga practice; especially if, like me, you don’t enjoy wandering around a gym lifting weights all the time.

Now let’s look at progressive overload. This is a term used a lot in strength training and it refers to how we challenge the body by gradually increasing the weight, frequency or number of repetitions we do of a particular exercise. For example, if we were performing bicep curls with the same weight over a set period, we would eventually reach our plateau where the weight is no longer difficult, at this point we would increase that weight to increase the stress on the body leading to further strength gains over time. This is something that can be difficult to replicate in our yoga practice as we only ever have our own body weight to work with. Meaning, that load will never dramatically increase. The aspect we can modify though is the number of repetitions for each exercise, but this style of class doesn’t tend to feature heavily in the yoga world, though it can be found more commonly in a Pilates practice.

Strength training has lots of benefits. When we place stress on our tissues they respond and become stronger. This happens in our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. When we have more muscle mass we have a stronger metabolism which helps to keep us healthy, and placing stresses our bones helps them to increase their density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

So, what’s the takeaway? Well in a nutshell our bodies like variation, they like to move and be challenged in various ways and movement patterns. So, if you’re finding that you’ve hit that plateau in your yoga practice it might be time to start shaking things up. That could be simple things like

taking those more challenging options in class or adding in some light weights when you’re in your warrior 3 to increase that overall load. But it could be adding in new movement styles too.

I’ll be teaching a 90 minute strength and conditioning workshop on Monday 5th April where we will focus on that progressive overload and a little bit of pulling power. It’s a mat based class and only a few props will be required, so come and join me so we can build that muscular strength!