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I guess for some of you, it’s pretty hard to believe that at the turn of the century, yoga was seen as a form of bodybuilding. All that chanting and bending can’t be good for anything, right? Not quite…
Consistent yoga practice and its benefits do not seem to sit well with bodybuilding as partners in crime. To some it seems counterintuitive: if the aim is to make gains, to shorten and build muscle, why you would include a protocol associated with muscle lengthening?
Here’s the scoop. Adding a daily yoga practice to your bodybuilding regimen could actually help increase your muscle mass, improve the overall aesthetic by improving your posture, increase your ROM (range of motion) and help you when competing, as yoga poses can be both theatrical and graceful.
In addition to this list, yoga techniques help to condition the mind to reach harder and more difficult goals as well as helping you manage the effect of growth limiting stress hormones.
Let’s take a look at the unlikely but successful marriage between yoga and bodybuilding and how you can use it to your competitive advantage.
Increasing Muscle Mass
Yoga asanas or poses require us to use the largest muscle groups in our bodies. It is these muscles, deep in our thighs, our core and our shoulders that will be stressed, strained and – over time – built.
Yoga shifts the focus from the more superficial “show muscles” and instead provides the very foundation for which they rely on. This “inner strength” from yoga practice will give extra strength during workouts allowing for more intense gym sessions and the ability to lift heavier weights.
Yoga creates a level of body awareness unseen in other sports or stretching routines. Why is yoga good for this? Whilst it engages large groups of muscles it also utilizes smaller supporting muscles that are often neglected during repetitive weight training.
Isometric stretching requires mindful attention and it allows the practitioner to understand whether weight is being distributed safely on a muscle or if it is putting dangerous pressure on a joint. This heightened awareness can help minimize common bodybuilding related joint injuries.
Flexibility And Balance
Flexibility and bodybuilding? Really? Well, yes.
A wider range of motion means an ability to carry out a larger variety of exercises, allowing you to reach higher, swing further or dip lower.
Therefore, bodybuilders may find themselves able to push out explosive moves where they were once unable to continue. This means training to failure may take longer than it used to. Which means you can choose to do more reps or more weight. Or maybe both.
Muscle Burn For V Tapering And Definition
The lengthening effect on muscles created by yoga poses may be extremely beneficial for bodybuilding, especially when a quick muscle burn is needed before a competition.
Additionally, if you are looking to sculpt or trim down particular areas – such as that illusive but highly desirable V taper – it may be more fruitful to focus on lengthening exercises rather than bulking.
The belly area can be notoriously difficult to slim down for many but poses such as Vasisthasana (side plank) that focus heavily on the core, may help in lengthening and tapering corresponding muscles.
Alternatively, a more cardio focused yoga regime. For example, any of the sun salutations can help attack fat deposits without compromising on muscle gains or slowing muscle growth.
Hormone Balancing And Mood
Heavy lifting puts stress on your body. This is a necessary evil to break down and then rebuild muscle. The only problem is that the body sees this stress as a threat.
As a result of this perceived threat, levels of cortisol the ‘stress hormone’ are increased. Cortisol then tries to aid the body by suppressing the growth process thus restricting your gains.
This stress response returns to normal only when the perceived threat has passed. This is where pranayama ( yogic breathing exercises) can play a pivotal role.
When breathing slowly and deeply, the vagus nerve is stimulated; which directly sends a signal to your body to stabilize the heart rate and blood pressure and to let calmness ensue. This takes your body out of a state of stress and back into normal functioning and naturally minimizes the release of cortisol. Leaving you good to gain, again.
Posture And Posing
The focus for bodybuilders is intense or extreme strength. They propel weights from the rack or the floor, using intense strength, with the aim of creating very small tears that lead to muscle growth, but not necessarily endurance.
Yoga is an alternative strength training, isometric holds rather than sharp repetitions. This type of exercise requires endurance.
Where is the most obvious – and most critical – place these worlds collide? On stage, doing justice to the physique you have built.
Competitions in bodybuilding require the individual to hold various difficult postures and poses to display the muscles and all their definition. Yoga asana can actually provide the perfect way to train for the competition stage, building stamina.
Yoga in isolation will not be responsible for all your bulk muscle gains and definition. However, it is a superb addition to your bodybuilding arsenal. Yoga can help lay an unparalleled foundation of strength, flexibility, and endurance while helping you perfect your posture and mindset. To what end? To help you smash your bodybuilding goals.
Author Bio: Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali). Also be sure to connect with her on Facebook – Twitter – LinkedIn