Possibly you’re constantly slouching over your computer and started feeling funny in the lower back, shoulders, and neck area. Or perhaps you’re thinking of losing some weight. Or maybe you just want to become stronger by gaining muscle. No matter the reason, getting fit is always an excellent lifestyle choice. Which comes with the pain of choosing.
Gym or yoga? What is better and more efficient?
I’ve been practicing yoga myself for years and not that long time ago started weightlifting in the gym nearby. And I wish someone would have given me this piece of advice sooner.
If you’re choosing between yoga and gym… choose BOTH.
Gym and yoga are completely different kinds of sport, but they complement each other in the most unique way and make your physical practice well-rounded and as effective as ever.
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Both yoga and gym will involve different muscles during the workout and help you with different ‘definitions’ of being fit. Since strength training is generally explosive, it activates your fast-twitch muscle fibers contrary to classic yoga asanas, which require you holding poses for a lasting period and activate slow-twitch muscle fibers. As a result, gym-based resistance training provides improved cardiovascular health, boosts speed, strength, and stamina while yoga promotes flexibility and muscle endurance.
The muscles stretching promoted by yoga is proved to improve a range of motion, alignment of bones and joints, and strengthen the connective tissues – all of which boost performance. Those with tight and weak hip flexors will see a world of difference when squatting after a yoga practice.
And the great thing is that it works both ways.
Strength training at the gym will help you increase muscle mass and make you considerably stronger.
When I just started yoga, it took me almost 4 months (!) of regular yoga practice to finally get good at bakasana (the crow pose), which involves balancing the weight of your body on your arms. The long-awaiting result may be demotivating and requires tons of persistence. Gymming will improve pretty much every yoga pose you do, especially those which include inversions and arm balances, in a shorter term. If I had known that and alternated bakasana with bench press and overhead press, for example, I would have achieved the progress much sooner.
There is also a big difference in how you engage your muscles. Lifting weights often means isolating certain muscles, which is great if you want to focus on a specific problem area. But in yoga, you’ll be using your own body instead of weights. It will tone all your muscles at the same time and most importantly in balance with each other. After some classes, you may also feel the muscles in your body which you didn’t even know existed in the first place.
Gym and yoga will provide you with a completely opposite effect on the nervous system and your mood. Lifting will give you that adrenaline rush (which, let’s admit, we all crave for sometimes) by activating your fight-or-flight response. You will grunt, push harder, tone up faster, and release emotions. Yoga, on the contrary, is an entirely different experience. It activates your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which will help you calm the mind, escape from the hustle-bustle of the world and relax. One research even states that a single video-instructed session of hatha yoga reduced stress response and improved recovery from an acute stress task in healthy individuals.
And while gymming will mostly focus on improving your fitness and muscle toning, by adding yoga to your routine, you will get some spiritual benefits as well and get to understand your body more in order to grow it.
Gym-based resistance training provides improved cardiovascular health, boosts speed, strength, and stamina while yoga promotes flexibility and muscle endurance.
But is it healthy to do both gym and yoga together (and maybe sometimes on the same day)? You may wonder.
It is, but keep in mind several things.
If you happen to do both on the same day, then consider lifting first and then honing your asanas. Stretching and warming up before exercise is recommended. But in case your yoga practice is challenging, it may deplete your blood glucose, which your muscles need for the energy. You don’t want to get tired before lifting heavy weights since the effort you put is much greater than those with yoga. This is exactly why you close your training with cardio exercises, not start with them.
Generally, you need one or two days of rest between your intensive training, depending on your fitness level. Some types of yoga (such as hatha/ restorative yoga) can be practiced during the restorative days whereas you wouldn't want to schedule physically challenging and superfast Power or Ashtanga yoga for the day after the gym training and vice versa to avoid over-training and exhaustion.
When practicing yoga after lifting, try to focus on the muscle groups you conditioned during lifting. Stretching these muscles will improve their function, and increase blood flow during their subsequent exercise.
In case you do want to choose between the gym or yoga then ask yourself these questions:
1) What result are you looking for – power and speed, or flexibility and endurance?
2) What muscles are you trying to grow – bulky or lean?
3) Are you looking for a metabolism boost to lose weight or tone your core?
4) Do you like competitive sports when you count your achievement in kilos or do you want to avoid injury as much as possible and improve mind control over the body?
5) Do you like the atmosphere of the gym with bright lights, loud music and people clenching their teeth or do you need something more relaxing?
Read about the difference between yoga and Pilates here.
Both gym and yoga will provide you with immense health benefits but will provide you with different results. Whatever training is more suitable for you, remember that there’s no need to reach your aims through pain and tears. Make sure your fitness practice brings you enjoyment. Smooth and joyful exercise will keep you more motivated and persistent on the way to your ideal.
What type of exercise do you prefer?
Share your story in the comments!