Are you one of those people who believe that bodybuilding is the only suitable physical activity for the tough alpha guys who want to build some serious mass and deadlift trucks, while yoga only serves the purpose of stretching the body and relaxing the mind?
If the answer is yes, you’re in for a great surprise. Here’s the secret: bodybuilding and yoga are the perfect fitness formula for building a lean, powerful body, with the added bonus of developing an extraordinary mental fortitude.
This unexpected combination can help you add a new quality to your physique and overall strength and set you apart from the average stiff bodybuilder. On top of that, it will make you feel great. Read the rest of this article to find out how you can enrich your bodybuilding routine with yoga poses.
The general perception by bodybuilders seems to be that yoga is a means of achieving deep relaxation, rather than providing a “real” workout for muscular growth and strength. While people may bodybuild or practice yoga for a variety of mental and physical gains, the two disciplines actually complement one another quite well.
Yoga for real men
If you ask the average bodybuilder, he’ll tell you that yoga doesn’t provide a real workout and doesn’t affect muscular growth and strength, which is a common misconception mostly based on the stereotypical less-than-favorable image bodybuilders have for those who practice yoga.
Believe it or not, as a holistic approach that targets the whole body, yoga can actually be a bodybuilder’s best friend. How? By doing wonders for your performance, endurance and perhaps most important of all, mobility. Bodybuilders are constantly placing a great deal of stress on their muscles and joints through repetitive movements and this practice tends to take its toll even in the case of experienced lifters with flawless form.
Because of this, bodybuilders typically suffer from reduced flexibility in the shoulders, lower back and hips, which makes their bodies tight and stiff and more often than not, unable to bend enough to pick something up from the floor, not to mention that having tight muscles increases the risk of injury while performing dynamic movements even further.
In addition, such rigidness contributes to a reduced range of motion, which can greatly diminish the effectiveness of any exercise, and it’s also linked to a number of potential injuries such as joint problems, muscle tears and back pain.
Many lifters forget that their bodies need to be perfectly healthy and functional in order to perform at their best, and the lack of understanding for this fact usually leads to limited results and long-term injuries. If you constantly perform exercises with a short range of motion in a single plane of motion, your muscles will be shortened, your joints will be less than optimally mobile and functional, and eventually your performance will suffer. In this case, yoga poses are of vital importance because they will help you improve body composition and realign and correct any muscle imbalances or joint dysfunctions.
The top benefits of yoga for bodybuilders
Here is a deeper exploration of the benefits of yoga that can be especially useful for bodybuilders.
#1. Correct posture
One of the most fundamental elements in yoga is correct body posture, which is attained by aligning the body in anatomically correct positions and creating muscle balance. And so is in bodybuilding. Therefore, a crucial benefit from practicing yoga postures is that by helping you fix posture and form problems it can significantly improve your performance in the gym.
#2. Isometric training
In bodybuilding, isometric training is a highly efficient method for creating an optimal pump and encouraging greater muscle growth. Yoga poses are based on functional movements that include isometric contractions, essentially making up an endurance workout that can be highly effective in improving a lifters’ posing endurance, mind-muscle connection and ability to develop balanced strength, thereby leading to better gains.
#3. Improved range of motion
Practicing yoga will help you restore and increase your range of motion and muscle elasticity by opening up your body with its many forms of stretching (mostly passive, active, passive-active and PNF stretching) and improving the mobility of your joints. A healthy range of motion facilitates the development of muscle strength and enhances athletic performance.
#4. Reduced levels of stress
Stress is one of the biggest enemies of muscle gains because the hormonal changes associated with it harm the anabolic environment required for muscle growth. Many studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety and relax the body and the mind. One 2007 study even found that yoga has a direct positive effect on hormonal levels of GABA (brain gamma-aminobutyric), which means that it can be used to successfully combat anxiety disorders and depression.
#5. Improved back health and functionality
Since lower back pain is usually associated with having a sedentary lifestyle, it seems contradictory that athletes often suffer from back problems. The reason for this is that any weight-bearing sport or physical activity that involves repeating of rapid dynamic movements produces tension on the lower back, and without proper stretching, these overused muscles become very tight and increasingly prone to injury in the long run. Research has repeatedly shown that yoga can substantially improve lower back health and reduce any pain in the entire back area by improving spine health, releasing muscle tightness and improving muscle balance.
#6. Stronger stabilizing muscles
Yoga can help you strengthen the smaller intrinsic muscles that are responsible for stabilizing the body and holding it in an optimal alignment but are usually weak in most people. Needless to say, weak muscles are at a higher risk of tearing when faced with a heavy load, so strengthening them will ultimately improve your balance, allow you to work with more weight and reduce your risk of injury.
#7. Injury-free rotator cuff
The rotator cuff muscles have the reputation of being one of the most vulnerable areas in the body that needs to be adequately strengthened in order to prevent injury that could stall bodybuilding progress. Any lifter who disregards this fact is at high risk of shoulder injuries which typically take a very long time to heal properly. Adding yoga poses to your routine can help you solve this issue and keep your shoulder strong and healthy, thereby boosting your performance in all major lifts.
#8. Proper breathing
Breathing exercises are at the very core of yoga practice, and proper breathing is an important element of any muscle building routine – some would even go as far as to say that effective breathing is just as important to your training as the exercise itself.
This is because proper oxygen delivery to the tissues enables optimal performance by battling fatigue and increasing the duration of the workout. By helping you correct your breathing pattern, yoga can beneficially influence the effectiveness of your training sessions.
The list of reasons why yoga can help you unlock your full muscle growth potential and protect your health could really go on forever. But if you’re still looking for a proof that bodybuilding and yoga are two complementary activities, add these 4 basic yoga poses to your routine and experience the countless muscle building benefits of yoga for yourself:
The plank contributes to abdominal strength and a stronger core by teaching you to hold your whole body together like it is a hefty wooden plank. It’s also great for strengthening the arms and spine stabilizers, improving wrist health and correcting upper back and neck posture. Performing planks regularly will help you build isometric strength in the entire posterior chain and condition the small muscles around the shoulder blades and collarbones.
- Start in a push-up position and line up your shoulders directly over your hands and your hips directly over your knees.
- Brace your core, bend your elbows and lower down onto your forearms, making sure that your entire body forms one long line from head to feet.
- Keeping your abdominals tight, hold the position for 30 seconds. Return to the starting position and complete 5 reps. When you get more comfortable with the position, gradually increase your hold time until it reaches up to two minutes.
You can also perform side planks by lying on one side and keeping your legs straight and fully extended and resting on your forearm with the elbow directly under the shoulder, then bracing your core and lifting your body up so that it forms a straight line. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then lower down and repeat on the other side.
2. Opposite arm and leg extension
This yoga movement, also known as the bird dog pose, is a great way to warm up your muscles and joints before strenuous exercise and it involves stretching the hamstrings, opening the shoulder and hip joint and strengthening the core.
- Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Your hands and knees should be shoulder-width apart and the back should be neutral.
- Untuck your toes so that the tops of your feet are pressing against the floor.
- As you inhale, draw your belly button toward the spine and engage your lower abs, then extend your right arm and left leg and lift them off the floor until they form a straight line with the rest of your body, keeping the spine neutral.
- Hold for a count of five, then as you exhale, release back to the starting position. Repeat with the left arm and right leg. Complete 10 reps on each side.
3. Standing forward bend
This calming pose lengthens your hamstrings and activates the inner legs and works great for releasing the tension that builds up during training so it can be used as a resting pose between exercises.
- Begin by standing tall with your feet together, firmly planted on the floor.
- As you exhale, slowly bend forward from the hip joints (as opposed to bending from the waist), keeping both legs extended and emphasize the lengthening of the front torso.
- Go as low as you can. If possible, brig your palms to the floor in front of you or beside your feet. If you are not able to touch the floor, cross your forearms and hold your elbows and let your head hang from the root of the neck.
- Hold the pose for one minute, breathing normally. With each inhalation, slightly lift and lengthen the torso, and with each exhalation extend your torso and try to bring it a little bit closer to the legs without rounding your back. Also avoid rolling your shoulders forward.
- To come out of the pose, exhale and bend your knees slightly and slide your hands up onto your shins as you raise your torso. Make sure to avoid rolling up the torso – keep your spine elongated as you rise up to the standing position.
4. Cobra pose
In yoga, the cobra pose (name derived from its resemblance to a cobra with a raised head) is a beginner’s level backbend that helps prepare the body for deeper backbends. Best known for its ability to strengthen the spine and increase its flexibility, this stress-reducing pose also provides a great stretch for the chest and the front of the shoulders, helps release tension from the back muscles and stimulates the abdominal organs.
When performed correctly, it counteracts the slouch created by sitting in front of a computer for long hours and gradually increases the flexibility of the entire back.
- Begin by lying on the floor on your stomach with extend legs, tops of the feet on the floor.
- Place your hands directly under your shoulders with fingers pointing forward, keeping the elbows as close to the torso as possible. Press the tops of your feet and thighs firmly into the floor.
- As you inhale, slowly straighten your arms while keeping the shoulders back and lift your chest off the floor, keeping your hands, hips, thighs and tops of the feet on the ground. The lift should come from your back as a natural extension of the spine and almost no weight is placed on your hands.
- Press your shoulder blades into your upper back and open your chest as much as possible. Your lower ribs should remain on the floor, your head should be in line with your spine and your shoulders should be drawn back and dropped away from your ears.
- Make sure to lift the upper torso only to the height at which you can maintain a connection of your pubic bone and your legs with the floor and don’t push your body into a deeper backbend if it feels too uncomfortable. If your flexibility allows it, straighten your arms all the way while maintaining the connection of the pubic bone and legs with the floor.
- Hold the final position for 30 seconds, breathing normally, then as you exhale, slowly lower the chest down and return to the original position. Take a few moments to relax by turning your head to the right and allowing the entire body to stretch and loosen up. Complete a total of 5 reps.