Saturday, October 6, 2012

Should Weight Lifters Stretch? How About Do Yoga?

Have you ever had to scratch your back on a doorframe because you can't reach your back? I have.
Does getting big and muscular require you to pay the price of losing flexibility? For many lifters, yes it does... but that's because they don't stretch. For years I was big, but stiff as a board.
I've read a ton of weight lifting workouts and done a ton of them. Very rarely is there any mention or inclusion of a stretching regimen.
I understand the lack of interest among the weight lifting crowd in stretching (let alone yoga). For years while I lifted weights hard, I had no interest in stretching. The only stretching I did was a little chest stretch before a heavy bench press session.
Somewhere along the way I learned about Power Yoga. I was interested in it as a weight lifter. I thought it would improve my physique. I didn't really care about the flexibility aspect, but if I could tone my muscles with some Power Yoga, I thought that was cool.
I bought the Power Yoga book and got to work. It was tough. In fact, I couldn't do much of it at all - both the flexibility moves nor many of the strength moves. I figured there must be something to the yoga.
I continued lifting and incorporated Power Yoga sessions into my regimen. I liked the results... not any physique results to speak of, but I couldn't believe how good it felt to be flexible. I was so tight from working out for years, that being flexible felt amazing. In order to do the rigorous Power Yoga routine, I cut back quite a bit on my lifting (I've resumed my heaving lifting regimen, so I do more gentle yoga every week).
Ways to incorporate stretching into your weight lifting regimen
1. Stretch in between sets
This is easy to do and it's something I still do. While resting in between lifting sets, do some gentle stretches (forward bends, easy backbends, twists and simple inversions). They require very little energy. By the end of a 20 set workout, you'll have done 20 minutes of stretching, which will inevitably improve your flexibility.
2. Do 2 mini-stretch sessions throughout the day
Some days I do 10 minutes of stretching first thing in the morning. I then do another 10 to 20 minutes after my workout as a wind-down. Other times I'll stretch in between my sets.
3. Attend a yoga class at your gym or elsewhere
Seriously, give a class a try. Mini-sessions are great, but a full 60 to 90 minute session is something else. I feel amazingly fluid, serene and relaxed after a full yoga class. It's definitely worth trying. It's not hard to fit in one class during the week.
If you lift hard, you'll probably want to do a yoga class on an off day... and make it a gentler style of yoga. Don't do a full Power Yoga session because that's taxing and if you're lifting hard, it may be too much.
4. Change focus for 4 to 6 weeks
If you've been lifting hard for months on end, consider taking a 4 to 6 week hiatus (or ease back on the lifting throttle) and do 2 to 4 yoga sessions per week. It's a totally different workout, that does work out your muscles, but also improves flexibility. It could be just the mix-up your body is looking for.
Do real athletes do yoga?
You bet. More and more professional athletes are incorporating yoga/stretching into their regimen. From football players to runners. It's growing and growing fast for a reason - it improves performance.
Basketball pros, football pros, Olympians, top runners, golfers, boxers, hockey players, tennis stars... you name it, some top performing athletes in pretty much every sport do yoga.
Yoga is more than stretching and getting flexible
Breathing ability
A lot of yoga is breathing. You'll learn a ton about breathing and improve your breathing ability, which will help with lifting.
Build strength
You can build up strength doing yoga. No, you won't build huge amounts of muscle mass, but you can increase your strength through strength poses.
Many yoga positions require balance, which improves as you do more balancing positions.
Mental Clarity
Many people do yoga more for the mental and emotional benefits than physical benefits. You can improve your weight lifting with improved focus and clarity. In fact, improving clarity and focus improves any sport.
How does yoga help bodybuilders?
For competitive bodybuilders, yoga can help with posing and movement big time. I can also help prevent injury, clear the mind and improve focus. All of these benefits are important to competitive bodybuilders (and non-pros).

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