Don’t let a stigma stop your growth.
It may seem strange at first to see the words yoga and bodybuilding together, but the truth is, yoga is so much more than the reputation it has. Often seen as weird, hippy-like, or unnecessary for those who actually “work out”, many lifters shy away from yoga for fear of this stigma, or simply that they believe it’s a waste of time. For anyone who lifts weights, yoga may be the best thing you can do to ultimately see those gains come to life. Not only can yoga help you recover, but it can even aid in new muscle growth.
While yoga can provide an outlet for deep relaxation and meditation, it compliments bodybuilding quite well. Big lifts and extensive circuits shorten and tighten the muscles, while yoga helps to release tight muscles increasing flexibility and balance (1). It also facilitates development and stability of the muscles and joints leading to increased athletic performance. For bodybuilders, who are in a state of constant tension with repetitive movements and serious weight, putting yoga into your routine will relieve that stress and offer the extra benefits that come with this ancient practice.
With the ability to increase mobility, your lower and upper body range of motion will improve (2) and that parallel squat will be easier and easier each and every time. Forcing your body to move in different positions than lifts ensures your body remains in its natural motions and limits restrictions to that of solely lifting exercises. By strengthening your muscles and increasing flexibility, you will notice that your form improves allowing for more solid exercises and the ability to push more weight all while increasing balance for a solid, stable workout. Used as a recovery aid or a workout supplement, yoga is never a bad workout to mix into your routine to get the most out of each and every training session.
Whether you join a group studio, or decide to be alone and follow a video, yoga is something that can really pay off in the long run of your training. If you decide against both those options, at least incorporate some yoga stretches into your post-workout stretch routine to introduce yourself to it and get the most benefits as possible. These 6 great yoga stretches require no equipment and are sure to help you improve all around.
A very common and well-known pose by even those who don’t practice is Downward Dog. It can help get rid of stiffness and back pain, as well as boost circulation to get that blood pumping. Acting as a good check-in pose, you can feel the stretch in your arms, legs and back for that all-in-one stretch.
How to: Start in a kneeling position on the floor with your hands under your shoulders. As you tighten your core, tuck your toes under and push your body off the floor arching at the hips. Press into the ground with both your hands and feet, relax your neck, and continue to breathe. Once in this position, gently alternate with each leg and bend your knee in for a solid calf stretch.
Cat-Cow is a great pose to focus on your breathing. It can release tension in the neck and improves spinal flexibility. As a result of helping with spinal alignment, it improves your posture which is highly beneficial for not only training, but everyday life.
How to: Start on your hands and knees in a neutral position. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders. To enter Cow Pose, inhale as your belly drops towards the floor. Lift your chin and chest to the ceiling. From here, you move to Cat Pose. On the exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back. It should look like a cat stretching, hence Cat Pose. Gently bring your chin to your chest. Repeat the process to return to Cow Pose and switch between the two for the desired amount of reps.
Standing Forward Fold
Standing Forward Fold is a great stretch to lengthen the hamstrings, calves and torso. By strengthening your spine, it can improve posture and stabilize for those heavy lifts. This is a good pose to incorporate after a back or legs workout.
How to: Your knees do not need to be locked out for this, in fact, having a slight bend is better. Stand with your feet just slightly closer than shoulder width apart. Let your torso and arms hang down and you can grab your ankles if you want a deeper stretch. The distance of your hands to the ground does not matter. As long as you comfortably feel the stretch, this will help you.
Warrior 1 is another stretch everyone seems to know, whether in the yoga world or not. Warrior 1 is great for stretching the groin and hip flexors along with the lower leg and ankles. Requiring a decent amount of balance, your stability can improve and you will feel a stretch in the lats, chest, and shoulders.
How to: Choose a side and go into a forward lunge, stacking the knee over the ankle. Once stable, reach your arms overhead lengthening your torso and having your shoulders in line with your hips. Drop your hip back and make sure your torso is in line directly with the hips. Repeat for the other leg.
Dancer can be challenging but will greatly improve your balance and posture. It will work your lower back, hamstrings, quads, chest, and hips for a difficult but all-encompassing stretch. This can strengthen many muscles that may be missed in the gym.
How to: Begin with a simple quad stretch grabbing the top of your foot with the same side hand. When ready, bend at the knee and stretch your free arm extending your body parallel to the ground. If you lose balance, start over and remember to brace your core.
Seated Forward Fold
Seated Forward Fold is perfect for the low back, hamstrings, and hips. It can calm the mind and the body while giving you a great stretch and improving flexibility.
How to: Start in a seated position with your legs out in front. Slowly bend your body over and reach for your toes. It is okay if you don’t reach so only go with your limit. Hold for around 15-20 seconds and slowly release.
While yoga is seen as an interesting pairing for bodybuilders, the benefits can be more than rewarding for seeing those big gains in the gym and supporting a healthy lifestyle out of it. By improving flexibility and mobility, increasing circulation, and aiding in muscle growth, yoga should be incorporated to your workout routine. Whether you go big and join a studio or integrate these stretches into your recovery cycle, you will see growth and be happy with the results that yoga provides.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Polsgrove, Jay M.; Eggleston, Brandon M.; Lockyer, Roch J. (2016). “Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes”. (source)
- Hewett, Zoe L.; Cheema, Birinder S.; Pumpa, Kate L.; Smith, Caroline A. (2015). “The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations” (source)