DO THIS TO GET MASSIVE: Could Yoga get you stronger and more muscular?
How many times have we seen videos with titles like, ‘Try this one weird thing to increase your [insert lift here]’ or ‘do this one hack for maximum [insert muscle group] growth’?
If you’ve been into your lifting for a good while now, you’ve probably been offered some weird unsolicited advice from your resident gym bro. For example, I once overheard a fellow gym bro say that he doesn’t do squats because they make your waist thick. Anyone? Yeah, I didn’t quite get that one either.
In today’s blog post, I want to offer you my well-built gentlemen one weird thing that could actually, genuinely boost your strength and help you gain more muscle. That is yoga. Now, of course, to anyone who does do yoga and the whole Indian subcontinent, this will definitely not be ground-breaking news. Like, 5000 BC called. They want their news back. I get it. It’s not new. What I do want to discuss though, is something that I couldn’t find much information on and that is yoga’s direct applicability to strength training, or at least my own experience with yoga and how I’m finding direct benefits to my powerlifting and bodybuilding.
Why yoga in particular, though? Yes of course there are other disciplines that could benefit strength athletes. I’ve chosen yoga in particular because, as someone who’s been big into his lifting for nearly a decade, consumes fitness content and goes to the gym on a near daily basis, I’m truly surprised by how there aren’t more gym bros talking about. Probably because most gym bros consider yoga to be reserved for skinny vegans with dreads or some other hippie stereotype. I subscribe to the school of thought that one should adopt practices from different disciplines to expand and enhance one’s your own physical goals.
Having done yoga now for little over 6 weeks now, I have found myself improve greatly in two particular departments directly benefitting my strength training: flexibility/mobility and core strength/stability. Furthermore, these are two areas that definitely do not get enough attention. Working on these areas definitely help prevent injuries, provides a stronger, more stable foundation for all lifts and allows you greater range of motion, to name but a few benefits.
Let’s break these benefits down, shall we:
- Increased range of motion.
Why does this matter? So glad you asked. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in the gym, seeing people performing half-reps or even worse, quarter reps. If gaining muscle is your goal then you need to be going through the full range of motion with each and every lift. We all know that the more the muscle is stretched, the more stress you’re putting it under. Therefore, the greater the range of motion, the more muscle fibres you’re activating and, therefore, the more muscle damage you’ll be creating, leading to more muscle growth! How can certain yoga poses help with this, then?
For example, do you struggle to go past parallel on the squat and go arse-to-grass? Chances are you have super tight hips and poor ankle dorsal flexion. Performing a pose such as the Lizard could really help open out those hips, and keeping that foot flat on the floor whilst doing the Lizard could loosen up your ankles, which in turn, could seriously allow you to squat deeper and therefore, beef up those kwaaards.
- A stronger, more stable core/foundation
What is the core? What is your posterior chain? The former being a cool buzzword constantly thrown about in fitness and the latter being something only real hardcore lifting nerds know/ give a monkey’s about; both of which most don’t fully understand.
The core is in fact not just your abs in the middle i.e. your six pack, but all of the muscles in that mid-section of your body, as in the your obliques, the lower lats, your diaphragm and all the other layers of muscles in that part of the body. The posterior chain is the group of muscles that run down from your lower back to your ankles, hence, your posterior, i.e. lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
So why is it important to strengthen these two things? Well, the core is the foundation of the body’s strength. Think of it as the foundation of the building. If it were weak, the building would tumble down like Jenga blocks. The same goes for the body. Try squatting without tensing your core and then try with. You’ll be amazed how much more you’ll be able to squat whilst tensing your core. The same goes for any lift. Want to be able to bicep curl more, try tensing your core. Trust me. The easiest way to imagine it is to imagine your body as a bit of cooked noodle, (not tensing your core), or a rigid steel beam, (tensing your core). Clearly, the steel beam is going to be stronger.
Performing yoga poses and being able to hold these poses, especially one-legged/ balancing poses requires the body to recruit so many stabilising and core muscles, which in turn will strengthen these muscles. For example, if you’ve ever seen anyone or experienced yourself, shaking like a leaf whilst performing a lift so much so that it gives you anxiety issues, chances are they have poor core strength/ poor stability. As for why strengthening the posterior chain is important, it again goes back to having a strong stable foundation. Apart from the aesthetic benefits, having a strong, well-developed posterior chain can help reduce lower back pain and again give a more stable foundation. Therefore, stronger core and posterior chain=stronger lifts.
Performing pretty much any yoga poses will work the core but the ones I’ve found to really test it and your posterior chain are the balancing ones, and even more so, the one-legged stuff.
For example, the standing split and warrior III. You really need to have strong glutes, hammies and stiff core to perform these properly, otherwise you’ll just be falling over the place.
- Help prevent injuries
This benefit is more of an indirect benefit as a result of the previous two mentioned already. Common injuries whilst lifting weights are over-extension of joints and ligaments, usually as a result of poor stability and/or poor mobility/flexibility. For example, spraining your shoulder whilst performing the dumbbell bench press. You’re on your last rep and suddenly you feel the need to bail and drop the weights, but you drop it too fast and your shoulder rotates outwards too quickly and beyond what it’s normally capable of and then suddenly you’re clutching shoulder in agony, screaming profanities to yourself. Having greater shoulder mobility may have prevented that.
Another example, if you’re badass enough to perform front squats you might know this one (although this goes for any standing lift really). You’re in the clean position and you’re just about to perform you’re last rep. You drop down to squat and then suddenly as you try to get back up, you suddenly feel the bar slip out of the clean grip, you feel your core collapse in on itself, your chest drop forward towards your knees and your back hunch over like quasimodo’s. If you’re lucky, you’ve just embarrassed yourself as you drop the bar on the floor, but if you’re not, you may have blown out lower back.
The thing here is that your problem may not have been that your quads were too weak to get you back up, but rather your core was too weak to maintain that upright position. Having a stronger core may have prevented you from folding in yourself like a book and blowing out your lower back. I’ll say it again: ‘Stronger core= stronger lifts’
I almost didn’t want to write this blog, as I really enjoy the fact that not many strength athletes, or at least as far as I’m aware, understand how yoga can seriously benefit their strength training. However, at Hornbilly, we aim to enhance and seamlessly fit into the life of the well-built gentleman so I felt obliged to. Aside from the functional strength benefits of yoga, the poses make for some pretty sweet party tricks. With that said, I shall end this post with a series of gratuitous photos of myself showing off what I’ve learnt in yoga. Namaste.
Lift, learn, live and dress to kill,
Disclaimer: I have worked super hard on my core strength and flexibility for literally years, well before I took up yoga 6 weeks ago. That doesn’t mean all of the benefits I’ve described won’t apply to you, nor does it mean you can’t eventually develop the ability to do so if you can’t at the moment.