No matter what other type of fitness or training you are into, Yoga can help to improve your performance. On the flipside, your other passion(s) can enhance your Yoga practice. Let’s take strength training as an example, on the surface they seem to be complete opposites. Yoga is all about flow, flexibility, relaxation and bringing the body, mind and spirit together. Whilst strength training is about fitness, power, strength, force and effort. However they do complement each other, yoga strengthens muscles that are not commonly used in other forms of physical activity which can help your form when doing strength training. Strength training can stop naturally bendy types pushing themselves too far into a pose.
The benefits aren’t just physical they’re mental as well. In Yoga we practice the withdrawing of our senses (Pratyahara), this can help you stay focused and cope better with any type of tough training. Cross training can also reduce your risk of injury, improve your fitness and can help you maintain enthusiasm for regular exercise. Challenging your body with different types of movement helps you develop in ways that sticking to one single method or routine cannot. Let’s look at 5 ways cross training (training in two or more sports in order to improve fitness and performance) can enhance your yoga practice (and vice versa).
1. Balances Flexibility with Strength
Yoga increases flexibility, which is especially important for anyone who performs repetitive motions. Whether that is being hunched in front of a computer, running, riding, doing weights or shooting hoops. If you do another sport you may have built up muscle and tightness in one area, e.g. runners and cyclists have larger thighs, tennis players and weight lifters tend to have overdeveloped upper bodies. The combination of stretching and strengthening in yoga helps to manage those imbalances, and increases general mobility. Yoga also helps to strengthen the muscles that are underutilised, and releases the muscles that are tight from your sport/training. For example, we spend a lot of time in the top push-up position in yoga which enhances scapular stability (serratus anterior, trapezuis, etc) this stability is needed for the upper body pressing and pulling movements in strength training. Conversely, strengthening muscles via other types of training can be an efficient way for overly flexible people to build strength and bolster muscle awareness so that they’re working from a place of integration in the body. That way when you’re practicing yoga you’re working with even amounts of strength and flexibility. Cross training is helpful because strength without flexibility is not particularly healthy, and on the flip side flexibility without strength is out of balance.
2. Body Awareness & Injury Avoidance
A flexible body that is also strong decreases the risk of injury. This is because the more the muscles can stretch and expand, the more movements a body can do without tearing or ripping muscles or tendons. It helps with range of motion in every joint, and keeps the muscles supple but strong. Yoga also strengthens your core (the muscles in your back, belly and hips), a strong core makes you stable, improves the power of your movements and reduces the risk of injury. This not only increases core strength, but also promotes an awareness of the core and its role as a stabiliser. Yogis tend to have a strong mind-body connection and muscular control, which means they have a deeper bio-mechanical awareness in other forms of exercise. You can also develop body awareness from good quality strength and weight training. Body awareness enables you to learn how far you can push, and where you need to take a step back. If you’re super-flexible, you risk getting injured during yoga as you may push yourself too far without realising when your body is saying no. When you have strong muscle around the joints and good body awareness you can have a healthy, injury-free yoga practice.
3. Counteracts Muscle Loss
Countless studies show that a lack of exercise can lead to muscle mass decline beginning at age 40. It is scary to think that by the age of 70, if you stay sedentary, you could lose about 30% of your muscle mass! Yoga is great for maintaining strength as we get older but you may also need a little help from strength training. Training with weights 2 -3 times a week will help build muscle mass and increase bone density. Plus challenging your body in different ways keeps exercise interesting.
4. Builds Endurance & Explosiveness
Combining strength and/or high intensity training and yoga keeps the balance between the two types of fibre in your muscles. When it comes to muscle strength and power, twitchiness is key. In yoga we move slowly and hold the poses for a long time which activates your slow-twitch muscle fibres. This action helps build endurance. Through strength and/or high intensity training (in particular, fast or explosive weight lifts), you work those fast-twitch fibres that help you develop speed, reaction time, and power.
5. Breath Awareness & Mental Clarity
In yoga we practice Pranayama – the control and retention of the breath, this helps improve lung function. More efficient breathing helps to keep a steady stream of oxygen fuelling muscles through tough workouts. Most pranayama is practiced by breathing through the nose only which, calms the mind, reduces blood pressure and reduces stress. Learning proper breathing techniques not only helps in Yoga postures but in daily life as well, leading to relaxation in stressful situations. Yoga is about creating awareness, not only of the breath but of your body’s co-ordination and its location in space. It has the ability to help you become more sensitive to body sensations and to control the busyness of your mind. This can be the key to success for athletes and fitness enthusiasts because doing well in your sport requires mental focus and body consciousness.
How to Cross Train
A word of warning, cross-training should enhance your fitness program, not harm it, so don't push yourself into things that don't feel right. We always recommend getting expert advice from a personal trainer but here are a few tips to get you started. If you’re a dedicated Yogi, think about incorporating full-body compound movements (squats, dead lifts, etc.) and body weight exercises (pull-ups, dips, etc.) into your regime. These exercises, along with yoga, develop your physique uniformly without causing muscle imbalances. As we mentioned previously, muscle imbalance is one of the main causes of injuries. You could also consider taking up running hiking, rock climbing, kayaking or a team sport. If you’re an athlete; runner, cyclist, gymnast, weight lifter, tennis player, cricketer or footy player (whatever) try doing a few downward dogs, planks, chaturangas, warriors, and lunges before you work out. Post-workout, try static stretches like forward bends, hip openers, and deep twists, make sure you go to some Yoga classes so you can learn proper alignment. You can see that combining different types of fitness regimes can help bring perfect harmony to the body. So, if you have never stepped on a yoga mat, why not try a little for well-rounded emotional, spiritual and physical benefits and if you’re a Yogi, why not balance it out with another type of sport. As they say, variety is the spice of life!
Western Wellness Team
(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)