What do you think about yoga? people ask me all the time. It gives me a chuckle. It’s like asking, What about hiking? Is that good for you?
My sole purpose for this blog and for teaching fitness is to help people get the results they want as efficiently as possible. Yoga has many benefits including increase of circulation and increase of muscle flexibility. Yoga’s focus on breathing and meditation have a great effect on calming the mind.
I went through a yoga phase, practicing an intense form of Ashtanga Yoga for a year and a half. I got really flexible and much thinner than I’m used to being (my heroin chic phase). It was cool for awhile, but I definitely lost some strength. Then I noticed my left knee was very unstable and painful at times. An MRI revealed I had a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).
Did the intense stretching in yoga class tear my ACL? I’ll never know for sure. My suspicion is that I had a partially torn ACL from my years of playing football and baseball and the ligament finally tore completely during my yoga phase. How’s that for irony? After years of bone crushing hits in football, my ACL tears in yoga class. Let me be clear, I am not blaming yoga for tearing my ACL. I believe the injury was already there and the intense stretching exacerbated it. It happens.
I am not one of those gym rats who hates yoga. However, I do believe that some yoga poses place heavy strain on the joints and that most people should not be attempting some of those poses. Yoga can be an excellent compliment to a 3-day per week strength training routine. But it should only be a part of a balanced fitness routine, not the main activity.
People tell me all the time that they just want to tone up. In scientific terms that means adding lean muscle tissue and losing fat tissue. Yoga is simply not as effective as strength training when it comes to changing body composition. Yoga emphasizes the elongation of the muscle. Elongated muscles = loose muscles = weak while contracted muscles = tight muscles = strong. I am all about functionality. What’s the point of being able to wrap your legs around your head if it makes you run slower? (fast runners have a very fast rate of contraction of their muscle fibers. That is, they are able to elongate and contract their muscles very quickly. If you only train your muscles to be flexible then they won’t be able to contract quickly.)
Do you ever notice that most women who practice a lot of yoga have a kind of saggy butt? (I call it yoga butt). I believe it is because so much emphasis is placed on lengthening the hamstrings and glutes (downward dog). Remember, loose muscles = weak muscles.
I’m also against doing all muscle contraction work and looking like a muscle-bound buffoon. What’s the point of being so tight that you can’t create the stride length to cover more ground, hence slowing you down? It’s about balance. You want to be strong and flexible. Most people mention gymnasts as having the ideal body type. Gymnasts very effectively balance strength, flexibility, and agility. They are amazingly functional athletes. Think there might be a connection?
Strength training, when done properly, can also enhance muscle flexibility. I take special care to emphasize the eccentric phase (elongation of muscle) on all exercises. So, from an efficiency standpoint, you get more bang for your buck (based on results most people say they want) strength training.
So, let me clarify. I am not anti-yoga. But the FOUNDATION of your workout should be strength training, with yoga (and other activities) as a supplement on the days in between. Yoga can be a great compliment to a workout program, but should not, in my opinion, be the mainstay.