Yoga and Strength Training

It’s no secret that I’m a proponent of bodyweight strength training – pull-ups, push-ups and pistols have been staples of my fitness regimen for many years.

What you might not realize, however, is that yoga is also a style of bodyweight training that I practice regularly. That’s right, when you get down to it, yoga is simply another form of bodyweight training. It’s a great way to build strength, improve flexibility and perhaps more importantly, increase your body awareness.

Here are some yoga basics that can help with your strength training:

Chair Pose (Utkatasana) – The chair pose is basically a squat. While keeping your chest up and your shoulder blades retracted, you reach your arms into the air and sit back from your hips until the tops of your thighs are parallel with the ground. The difference is instead of going up and down for reps, in yoga the objective is simply to hold the chair pose for a given amount of time (or a certain number of breaths).

Chaturanga – Chaturanga is best known as a transitional pose in between the plank and cobra (or updog) poses in a sun salutation (I’ll get to those in a second). It is almost the same as the negative (lowering) phase of a push-up, only the elbows are kept closer to the body and the hips are positioned slightly higher.

Practicing chaturanga is a great way for novices to build towards doing push-ups. It teaches you to control your body while keeping your core muscles engaged on the way down, much in the same way that doing negatives helps when learning to do a pull-up. Chaturanga can also be held isometrically.

Half Monkey Pose – The flat back position in this pose (which has a few different names depending on who you ask) is very similar to the bottom position of a Romanian deadlift. To perform this pose, start in a standing toe touch position, then retract your shoulder blades and flatten your back. It’s a great way to learn what it feels like to bend over from your hips while keeping your vertebrae aligned, like you need to do to properly perform any type of deadlift.

Sun Salutations
The sun salutation strings several fundamental poses together in a smooth-flowing sequence designed to ease your body into your practice. While the sun salutation is often used as a warm-up in yoga, it can be a good warm-up for any type of workout. Sometimes I like to do them first thing in the morning after I get out of bed. You might even throw one into the middle of your day if you find you’ve been sitting for too long. Anytime is a good time for a sun salutation!

There are an infinite number of variations on the sun salutation, but basic poses such as mountain pose, forward fold, half monkey, downward dog, plank, chaturanga and upward dog (or cobra pose) are typically included.

If you’re curious about yoga practice, I recommend going to a class or, even better, getting one-on-one yoga instruction. There are many subtleties to performing these poses, and there’s no substitute for having a skilled professional there to observe and help you.

Check out the video below to see me doing my morning sun salutation.

32 thoughts on “Yoga and Strength Training

  • By Nelly -

    Love this! I’ve gotten into the habit of doing a couple yoga poses (of the very, very few that I know) as a part of my warm-up for CrossFit. It can draw some weird looks from some of the other members, but I love how it’s both stretching and working my muscles at the same time.

    Also, I just realised that there’s actually a yoga studio in the same building as my gym, next room over. I’ll have to see what they have available!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Nelly! I got over people looking at me weird a while ago. :)

      A yoga studio in the same building as the gym, eh? It doesn’t get much more convenient than that!

      • By Nelly -

        I’m gonna take a wild guess and say most of the “weird” looks you get are probably either envy or an attempt to decipher all the tattoos ;P

        There’s also a swing dance club room and a community art space. It’s pretty awesome.

  • By John limpus -

    Here here Al! Love this!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, John!

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  • By Mimi H. -

    So true! I hate how yoga gets labelled as “New Agey” or fluffy. I’ve had power yoga sessions that have tired me out as much as any “traditional” hardcore workout. You’ve reminded me how much I like yoga and that I want to get back into doing it more often. Thanks!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Mimi! I’m hoping to help de-mystify yoga for us regular folk. It’s just a good bodyweight workout, plain and simple.

  • By Diana Renata -

    I really need to start doing this, not only for the physical benefits, but the spiritual. :)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Diana – spiritual benefits can be reaped from other forms of exercise as well – every pull-up brings me closer to god!

  • By Dragonmamma/Naomi -

    I was expecting a “namaste!” at the end.

    Years and years ago I used to watch (and do the exercises with) a show called “Lilias, Yoga and You.” I should look it up on youtube to see how it stacks up with what I do now, because my memory is pretty fuzzy, but I recall that it focused mainly on flexibility, not so much on strength.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Dragonmamma – I never heard of that show, but yoga is definitely about more than just flexibility!

    • By Anonymous -

      Lilias! The lady with the unitards and the enormous braid! Definitely brings back memories of the 70s and PBS (before Al’s time, clearly).

  • By Corwin -

    Thanks for the post. I’m wondering about the best way to learn yoga. I’m assuming there are some great online resources for this sort of stuff.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Corwin – glad you liked this one! If you want to learn yoga, the best way to do that is by finding an instructor to teach you in person, either 1-on-1 or in a group class. An online tutorial can never replace a real, personal experience.

  • By erik -

    Hey Al, Love the blog! Your pull ups inspire me.
    I use Yoga as my main workout, Here’s how we do sun sals.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwWdab5zs54

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Erik! The guy in that video has very impressive strength and control! Is that you?

      • By erik -

        No, Can’t quite get the float as clean as him. Getting close though, Your pull up tips have been helping a lot. =)

    • By Gandalfbeli -

       amazing…never thought of yoga this way… great clip tnx

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  • By Relationship Coaching -

    Yoga helps in losing weight, increase appetite and rejuvenate you body. However, there is more to yoga than just weight loss and body rejuvenation. These poses put moderate weight on the arms and shoulder bones and build good isometric strength in the pectoral muscles (chest), deltoids (cap of shoulder), and triceps (back of upper arm). All of these muscles must be strong for arm balances. The benefits of yoga include spine health and lowers back pain, it will improve muscle tone as well as reduce stress all the while improving sleep.
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  • By Johnson Aaron -

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  • By Rob White -

    Al, you look so happy in this clip, it freaks me out ..

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I get a lot of comments from people who are freaked out by how happy I am.  Frankly, it freaks ME out that happiness is so strange and foreign to so many people.

  • By gandalfbeli -

    love this articles and the energy behind them… pure will power

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!

  • By Rob White -

    Hey Al, after this article i went to my local book store and found a book on Yoga that showed many of the poses. I was amazed to see so many many bodyweight strength skills have existed in Yoga for centuries. For example, handstands, headstands, bridging, close squatting, pushups, plank, side plank, Elbow Levers, 1 leg RDL’s, crow/ frog stand, and some moves that are close to an L-Sit are all in Yoga!

    After realising this, i have sought out some decent Yoga instructors in my area and have been doing it twice a week. I made it very clear i wanted to learn such skills, and these instructors demonstrated in private to me some excellent smooth controlled handbalancing skills, so i’m coninced Yoga could be really good for this stuff! An added bonus is the visualisation, respiratory training, and meditation.

    I realise Yoga is normally quite slow, but there are some styles out there that are more dynamic and flowing between different moves. I actually broke into a sweat!

    Cheers for making me see Yoga in a whole new light.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Right on, Rob!  Glad to have helped expand your horizons!

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