Yoga for Weightlifters: Maximize Strength with Flexibility
Weightlifters are a group of individuals who love to move heavy things in the gym—pick it up, put it down, rinse and repeat. All that strenuous lifting can leave you with tight muscles and reduced mobility. Having a good amount of muscle mass is great when you allow for rest and recovery and use proper nutritional strategies to ensure growth and physiological adaptation from all the hard work in the gym. However, stretching, flexibility training, and mobility are also a huge part of the process.
Flexibility—The Missing Link
Flexibility training defines a deliberate program of exercises and movements that increases range of motion (ROM) of a joint or set of joints over time. Flexibility focuses on the muscles and tissues surrounding the joints of the body by holding end ROM stretches or poses for 15-30 seconds at a time.
Stretching can be static or dynamic and is a piece of programming that many weightlifters neglect regularly. Static stretching is holding the stretch in a stationary position while dynamic stretches move a joint or joints through their full range of motion to mimic the upcoming activity or sport. For weightlifters and athletes of all sports, dynamic stretching is the more effective warm-up strategy while static stretching is far more effective post-workout as a cool down. (1)
The major benefit missed from stretching is with the length-tension relationship of muscle fibers. Basically, this scientific observation states that muscle fibers at different lengths will produce different amounts of force and there is an ideal length. (2) When a weightlifter is sore and tight from a previous training session, it is difficult to move efficiently. Small tasks like bending over to tie your shoes is a challenge when you have tight muscles. This occurs because the muscle fibers are in a shortened state. Flexibility training on a regular basis can and will address this. It ensures the muscle fibers are at ideal lengths to effectively contract during your next training session.
One fun and engaging way to add flexibility training is to add yoga to your regular training schedule! Yoga will help to increase flexibility, improve balance, provide stress relief for many participants, and promote better posture and body control. All these yoga benefits are an advantage for those who love to lift and are seeking improved athletic performance!
Read more about including yoga in the ISSA blog post: Adding Yoga to Your Strength Training Routine
Effective Yoga Postures for Weightlifters
Taking yoga classes or simply adding a few poses to your daily workouts is a great way to introduce the body to a new flexibility routine. Yoga workouts like Bikram (hot yoga), Yin (relaxation), and Vinyasa (flow) will move you through the poses under the instruction of a yoga teacher. An experienced personal trainer can also help you add yoga stretches to your workout. If you are a personal trainer interested in yoga, check out the NEW ISSA Yoga Instructor course today!
Yoga poses require a good deal of core strength, but most of the poses will help to open the hips, shoulders, spine, chest, and leg. This creates better mobility and more efficient movement patterns. Not only does this practice stretch the upper body and lower body but holding and transitioning into yoga poses can serve to strengthen the major muscle groups at the same time. So, grab your yoga mat and let’s get to work! Here are some of the most effective yoga postures for weightlifters:
Downward dog is a common forward bend yoga pose that stretches the hamstring, shoulder, calf, and foot.
Begin on your yoga mat on all fours with the knees under the hips and the hands under the shoulders. Flex the ankle and plant the toes on the floor. Drive through the balls of the feet, brace the core, and extend the arms, driving the hips up and back. Be sure to press through the pinky and thumb on each hand and press the hips back, driving the heels towards the floor.
This dynamic yoga pose focuses on thoracic spinal flexion and extension and stretches the spinal stabilizers and neck while requiring active core engagement.
From all fours, start with a neutral spine with the shoulders over the wrists and knees under the hips. With an inhale, roll the shoulder blades down the back and drop the bellybutton down towards the floor. The hips will tilt to the anterior and create thoracic spinal extension. Exhale and draw in the abdominals, pulling the belly button and ribs up towards the ceiling, tilting the hips to the posterior creating spinal flexion. Alternate between the two poses using the tempo of inhales and exhales to move.
Warrior 1 Pose
The warrior poses are a series of yoga poses, but, for newbies, let’s focus on warrior 1. This pose stretches the abdominals, hip flexors, psoas, shoulder, calf, and quadriceps.
Start in a standing position at the front of your yoga mat. Take a large lunge step back with the left leg. Bend the right knee and shift the hips back while driving the left heel into the floor. Inhale and reach the arms up overhead and drop the shoulder blades down the back. Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds before exhaling, dropping the arms, and stepping the left leg back to the front of the mat. Repeat the sequence with the right leg.
Triangle pose is a standing pose that stretches the hip, knee, spinal stabilizers, glutes, hamstring, calf, and shoulder.
Start standing with both feet on the floor. Take a step out to the side with the left foot. Keep your weight in the midfoot with the toes spread and turn the left foot out to about 90-degrees. Keep the legs straight. Extend both arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Keeping the arms level, inhale and shift the hips to the right and laterally bend from the hips to bring the left hand down towards the floor. Depending on mobility, the left hand can rest on the left knee, left shin, a yoga block by the left foot, or the floor by the left foot. Keep the core engaged and the torso as elongated as possible. Exhale and reverse out of the pose.
The upward-facing dog pose is also known as a cobra and it stretches the abdominals, spine, shoulders, and chest. This is a great pose for weightlifters who are commonly in hip flexion with exercises like the squat and deadlift.
Begin lying face down on your yoga mat with the hands at chest level, the elbows tight to the body, and the legs extended, feet relaxed. Inhale and press through the pinky and thumb on each hand to extend the arms and press the chest up while keeping the hips on or near the floor. You can also prop up on the elbows if spinal mobility is lacking. Squeeze the glutes and relax the shoulder blades down the back. Hold the pose for 10 -15 seconds, then exhale and flex the arms to lower the chest back to the floor.
More Than Just a Stretch!
Give these yoga poses a try before your next strength training session and see how you feel! One attempt at them is not enough to see huge results, so work these poses into your lifting routine on a regular basis. The list of applicable yoga postures for weightlifters and athletes is endless—check out a local yoga class or get yourself yoga certified to grow your repertoire! The more you know the better you will understand all the components of a well-rounded and effective training program!
1. Page, Phil. “CURRENT CONCEPTS IN MUSCLE STRETCHING FOR EXERCISE AND REHABILITATION.” International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 7, no. 1 (February 2012): 109–19.
2. Allen, D. G., and H. Westerblad. “Understanding Muscle from Its Length.” The Journal of Physiology 583, no. 1 (2007): 3–4. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2007.137067.
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