9 Reasons Why Yoga is Good for Gym Junkies

I promise this isn’t going to be one of those annoying posts that regurgitates generic reasons why yoga is good for you. I mean, obviously it’s good for you-so are broccoli and fish oil. But we don’t always do things that are good for us, do we? Sometimes it’s because the things that are good for us just…well…they suck. But other times, perhaps we have reasons why that “good thing” doesn’t pertain to us. So today, I want to confidently state two things:

1-Yoga is awesome and so effing good for you.

2-Yes, YOU.

For a long time I neglected my yoga practice in favor of lifting. I made all the excuses in the world, including the cliched “I don’t have time” hogwash, and I rationalized that lifting was better than yoga anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. The further I got from my practice, the more off-center I became. As an entrepreneur spinning multiple plates, I fell deeper into disarray and began to feel terribly encumbered. It took me a long while to realize that there was a giant hole where my yoga practice used to be, and an even longer while to find an instructor and a studio that would properly fill that void.

Now that I’ve resumed my place on the mat, I realize just how valuable yoga can be for gym enthusiasts, and how often it is overlooked. I also found that practicing yoga now, as an advanced lifter, has far more benefits than I had even been aware of 12 years ago when I took my first yoga class. So, if you happen to be a gym-junkie who loves to deadlift, hip thrust and kettlebell swing your glutes into submission, this list is for YOU.

9 Reasons Why Yoga is Good for Gym Junkies

1) active recovery

Yoga is an effective and low impact way to move on your non-lifting days without compromising recovery. Many yoga experts will even go as far to say that hot yoga in particular can stimulate your metabolism and help release toxins from the body. Either way, you will always feel better leaving yoga than when you came in.

2) kinesthetic awareness

Flowing through poses while barefoot and mirror-less requires a great deal of control. Yoga requires you to listen to your body, tapping into your trunk, your feet, your legs-you name it-to enter and sustain postures without visual aid. This increases kinesthetic (or body) awareness and can help when moving through compound lifts at the gym such as squats and pushups. Because yoga carries such an internal focus, it can encourage you to practice more intuition during your lifts.

3) balance

And I don’t mean stability, although you’ll certainly get your fair share of that from yoga. I’m referring to the balance of activity that yoga provides an avid gym goer. Lifting sessions are typically aggressive and weighted, while yoga is intrinsic and uses the body as leverage. This can create a balance between Herculean and Buddha-like activities, which in turn, encourages balance within your life.

4) mobility and flexibility

No matter how many times someone tells us that we need to spend more time stretching our muscles or mobilizing our joints, we would just rather lift, wouldn’t we? I mean, who has time to do all that flexibility work when we have to make sure we snag that open power rack before someone else! But, improving your mobility and flexibility will increase your movement efficiency-benefiting your lifts exponentially. Yoga is a fun way to get bendy that won’t take up valuable gym time.

5) breath control

I cannot tell you how many times I have helped someone out of shoulder pain by teaching them to breathe from their diaphragm or coached a client into a stronger overhead press just by cueing them to BREATHE. Yoga places significant emphasis on the breath, which will keep you aware of your breathing during your training sessions.

6) the goldilocks principle

Understanding when to hold back and when to push through is a delicate dance. You can sometimes set down the weight and think, “I could’ve done more.” Inversely, you might be wishing you hadn’t pushed through that last ugly rep. Yoga teaches you how to feel free within your body, accomplishing challenging poses while fostering ease of movement. You can’t force the poses if you intend to do them correctly, but you are encouraged to look within yourself for what you might be capable of. It’s a beautiful balance of just right that can aid you in your lifting endeavors.

7) bodyweight strength

It wasn’t until I started practicing handstands last year that I discovered my strength training had some critical holes in it. Being able to move heavy iron relative to your bodyweight is awesome, but then discovering that you have little ability to leverage that bodyweight? Well, that was a revelation. Yoga improves bodyweight strength, and puts you in positions that you might not otherwise put yourself in at the gym.

8) noncompetitive environment

Most of us who lift regularly have an inherent competitive nature. We compete with our previous lifts, with others at the gym, or even in an organized environment such as powerlifting or olympic lifting competitions. This is part of what makes us so ambitious and something that should certainly be fueled. However, even when this competition is friendly, it’s still competition and can sometimes blind us. Yoga is a noncompetitive environment that can bring you back to your center when your hunger for big lifts gets ravenous. You’ll have to learn to accept your progressions and avoid comparing yourself to the person on the mat next to you.

9) bigger lifts

You might not typically think of yoga as something that can make you stronger, but it sneaks up on you like that. Yoga poses can translate to lifting strength by waking up muscles you don’t often use, encouraging cooperative multi-joint movements and giving you wicked upper body strength. I can deadlift over twice my bodyweight and perform multiple sets of 10 pull-ups-but crow pose humbles me. This branch of strength can only serve to make your lifts bigger.

Even after reading these convincing reasons to practice yoga, you might still be skeptical. So, in the video below I talk about some of the reasons why you might avoid yoga and discuss how to overcome those stumbling blocks. The most challenging thing I have encountered when it comes to yoga is finding the right instructor, which is why I implore you to seek out your yoga practicing friends and ask them to take you to class. If someone you trust thinks their instructor is legit, chances are that you will too.

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  • Lulu246

    SO timely right now Neghar. Thank you!

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      You’re welcome! I hope you find a practice you truly enjoy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/steveoshiro Steve Oshiro

        Eat, lift, be happy and do some yoga!

        • neghar

          Hell yeah!

        • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

          EXACTLY.

  • Nellie Santee

    That is very true. I do Yoga almost for the same time I lift, and I can see that I do better in both activities because of that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      Glad to hear it, Nellie. They really are mutually beneficial.

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  • Elephantitis

    What type of yoga do you recommend for weightlifters? There seem to be a lot of different kinds.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      I do a “power vinyasa” style in a heated room and it is by far my favorite type so far. But, if you are just starting out and have limited flexibility, I would recommend A beginner variation of vinyasa that holds poses for a little longer and is slower/gentler.

      • john

        the most stupid thing in the world…stretching muscles, tendons and ligaments on the body suffering from water lack is the worst thing that can be done… stop promoting this medical non sense!

        • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

          John, you are certainly welcome to your opinion. However, any form of exercise can be considered “the worst thing that can be done” if not applied correctly and without the proper instruction. I am going to have to strongly disagree with you here as my body never “suffers from water lack” and yoga has been a great experience from me and many people I know.

          In the future, when you have a difference of opinion, I encourage you to state it in a more diplomatic, eloquent manner.

          • http://www.facebook.com/dush91 Dushyant Patel

            Nice line “In the future, when you have a difference of opinion, I encourage you to state it in a more diplomatic, eloquent manner.” I am going to use that to every rude person on the internet from now!

          • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

            It’s always best to sound educated in your insults :).

        • srichey321

          I’ve been doing Bikram (hot) Yoga for ten years and no problems. Oh, i’m 51 years old and the Bikram practice compliments an intense Kettlebell program. I keep myself well hydrated and eat correctly. Not sure where you are coming from.

          • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

            Some people just like being contrary, is all. Congrats on your successful yoga practice!

    • Ivana Ðurović

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  • Meg

    Great post! I’m an inconsistent yoga attendee, for sure. I’ll go once a week for a few months, then slack off and skip it for a few months straight. It’s so tempting to think that time spent in yoga class would be “better” spent lifting, or running, or something. But I know that’s not true, and this article helped remind me!

    For me, the teacher totally makes or breaks the class. I’ve had trouble finding a teacher and a style of yoga that I like. Any tips on what to look for?

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      I absolutely agree! I think it’s most important to find an instructor whose energy jives with yours. They can’t be too flighty or too strict. There has to be the perfect amount of zen and backbone. I prefer a “power vinyasa” style and an instructor with an athletic background outside of yoga. You also want to see how dedicated a following they have, and how proficient their students are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicholas.english Nicholas James English

    Thanks for this. Used to do yogilates every day but that was before I was lifting. I should add at least one session a week this year. Thanks

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      Never tried yogilates so I can’t speak to that, but congrats on making a decision to add yoga back into your life :). Once you’re doing both you will see how much they benefit each other.

  • Ann

    This is a great post and topic, but something I also struggle with a lot. I LOVE Bikram yoga and try to do it twice a week in addition to aggressive lifting. I would like to think of it as truly active recovery and just do it whenever (e.g., same day after doing legs or the next day). But I generally find that so tiring, especially with awkward pose, which is a real challenge for me. So I have to schedule it very carefully around the lifting. And my trainer has been critical of me doing it, saying I’m overtraining. Do you believe even Bikram yoga can be active recovery? Thanks!

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      Hi Ann, I have never actually taken Bikram and have heard that it is very different from the type of hot yoga that I take. I will say that when I take yoga it is indeed, exhausting but I always leave invigorated. It’s sort of like active recovery in the sense that a massage is-no one wants to lifts after a massage! I never feel as though it effects my next day training sessions either.

      But, I encourage you to explore different types of yoga that perhaps won’t interrupt your training schedule.

      This is the studio I go to:

      http://www.sidyoga.com

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  • http://twitter.com/flowjunkie Renita Kalhorn

    You’re right, Neghar, these are not your typical generic reasons — thanks for pointing out the less obvious benefits (especially your take on the Goldilocks principle ;-). I’ll definitely remember them the next time I’m about to talk myself out of going to yoga class. :-)

    p.s. Love your writing style.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      Happy that I was able to offer some perspective and thank you, thank you, thank you for that very sweet compliment :).

  • elizabeth

    Do you have any suggestions for a yoga DVD or such? I am not located near a studio and would like to try to incorporate yoga. Just thought I’d see if you had any suggestions. Thank you for all the wonderful information you provide.

    • http://www.facebook.com/josephst.angelo Joseph St. Angelo

      Tara Stiles has a strong following on YouTube, and you can research her DVD’s from her website that is linked from there. Her instruction has been very helpful to me.

      I also appreciate Rodney Yee’s teaching style. I have several of his DVD’s, which are beginner friendly but still challenging.

      I have Shiva Rea’s ‘Yoga Shakti’ DVD, too. Her routines are crafted beautifully, but some of them can be very difficult for beginners… and for guys. I injured my back while following one the routines on this DVD.

      • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

        Tara is GREAT!

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      My instructor actually has a whole line of DVDs: http://www.sidyoga.com/shop/

    • http://seasonofrain.tumblr.com restinginlove

      Suuuuper late, but chiming in to add that Daily Dose of Dharma (with Danica McKellar) is great. I love the pacing and instruction, and there’s even a form explanation video with how to avoid common mistakes in Downward Dog and Bridge that I found really helpful, since I know I make some of those errors, and it’s hard to know what “wrong” feels like when you don’t have a live teacher to come over and adjust you. Ekhart yoga/Yogatic on youtube is great too.

      I do like Tara Stiles’ This Is Yoga dvd series as well (actually just did one of the routines, haha), but she goes very quickly through her routines, often explaining what she’s doing on screen not as she’s doing it but actually after she does it in the voiceover and since I’m still a newbie, it can be really hard to follow. Some routines on it are more beginner-friendly than others, and I totally lost confidence at some points during her 50 minute PM routine the first time I did it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Markkoch5 Mark Koch

    Neghar – great post and some very well though out and convincing reasons. I too prioritize on lifting weights and used to take a class with my wife. This will probably inspire me to go back at least 1x per week on a recovery day. Luckily there are two very good instructors at our health club that are suitable for all levels. I read some concerns by strength coaches on other blogs that yoga could make one too flexible, and could lead to injury – especially in the lumbar spine. I think your “goldilocks principal” and “non-competitive nature” comments may address this, but was curious if you think there are any poses that should be avoided, or handled with care – especially for lifters.

    • http://www.facebook.com/josephst.angelo Joseph St. Angelo

      I hope I’m not imposing by responding to your question, Mark. No doubt Neghar can offer a more authoritative response.

      My experience with yoga has been entirely positive to the extent that I did not push myself past the point of natural flexibility. With consistent practice, focusing on breath control and relaxing into poses, that innate flexibility will improve.

      I injured my lower back a while ago while following an advanced routine on a DVD. I entered an inverted position with shoulders on the floor, chin into my chest, with feet overhead, arms on lower back for stability. The instructor said to drop the knees to the ears, and this resulted in a significant strain to my lower back. Had my lumbar muscles been stronger, and if I had been thinner at the waist, the injury probably wouldn’t have happened.

      One bad experience hasn’t stopped me from practicing yoga. I’m sure that live instruction will probably alleviate any risk of injury. Sign up for those classes and have a good time.

      • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

        Great response! Thank you for chiming in.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      I am so glad that you have found your way back to yoga. Personally, I tend to avoid anything that requires extreme back extension (such as wheel, which is a back bend) because quite honestly, my hips just aren’t mobile enough to support the pose. The inverted position should not place stress on the back if done correctly, but if you can’t access your hips for mobility, the body will find it somewhere else. So I stay in bridge when the rest of the class goes to wheel, so that I can improve my hip extension without compromising my lumbar. I hope that helps!

  • Faris Moad

    She’s a Ravens fan too! Anywho, always surprised when I work out so much (especially with all the soccer I play) that yoga will still kick my a**. Thanks for the tips.

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  • http://seasonofrain.tumblr.com restinginlove

    Hi Neghar! I was wondering if you incorporate yoga only on rest days, or also on lifting days? The more beginner-friendly variation of yoga (hatha) is only offered at my local rec center on lifting days, and I could do my lifting right before it, but I’m not sure if that’s a good idea.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      If it’s not a really intense form of yoga, then absolutely on lifting days! My yoga class is pretty tough, so I could never imagine doing both on the same day, but I would consider taking a more restorative form of yoga on lifting days.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joni.stimpson Joni Poppitz Stimpson

    You’ve inspired me to resume my yoga practice — I drifted away for exactly the same reasons as you! But I am on track this year to strengthen my stabilizer muscles and improve my mobility, so getting back to yoga makes a lot of sense. I live in Columbia too. Any recommendations on a studio?

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      So happy for you! I have yet to find a good studio in Columbia, unfortunately. The one I go to is Towson: http://www.sidyoga.com

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  • KT

    I really need to get into Yoga. I’m such a typical jock, completely incapable of touching my own toes..terrible.

    • neghar

      Just go into it with the full knowledge that you might be the most bendy person in the class :). You have to be okay with being new to something and less than stellar. I have a hard time with being the “new girl” as well, but whenever I step out of my comfort zone it always pays off.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neghar.fonooni Neghar Fonooni

      Make it happen, yo!

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  • http://E-mpire.com/ Omnistalgic

    I do love the idea of yoga, and I’ve done a few routines with DVD instrutor Rodney Yee. I just don’t like some of the poses and what feels like worshiping stances. I’m kinda big on not giving praises to Gods I don’t believe in, and many instructors just give me that vibe of this class is “half exercise, half spiritual enlightenment” Nothing against them, but I truly do have my own form of spirituality. That’s been my biggest turn off to taking Yoga seriously…

    • Kristin Rogers

      Yoga is about the connection between your mind, spirit, and body. I even know atheists who practice regularly. It has nothing to do with the worship of any gods or God unless that is what you want it to be about. Plenty of Christians practice yoga.

      • http://www.negharfonooni.com neghar

        Great point!

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  • Kathleen

    I used to like yoga very much. But I have spiritual reasons for not practicing it. Each asana worships a different god in Hinduism; as a Christian this is antithetical to my spiritual practice. There are “Christian Yoga” programs but they are uninspiring so far…..maybe that will improve. Thanks for a great website.

    • cls614

      Do you buy a Christmas tree at Christmas? Historically speaking, the origin for that tradition lies in pre-Christian Germanic pagan winter solstice rituals. Christiandom decided to adopt the symbol in an effort to convert more pagans during the 16th century. Technically, the evergreen is a symbol of nature/earth worship and has nothing to do with Christian doctrine. So, if you can accept that level of heresy in your life, I don’t understand why a little exercise is so blasphemous that you can’t participate in it.

      At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in your heart and what it means to YOU. If all you’re doing is going through the poses and breathing exercises, you are not violating your Christianity in any way. Whatever yoga positions may have meant at one time, like the Christmas tree, they have taken on an entirely new meaining in our day and culture and you can choose to interpret them however you wish. Now, if you were in fact giving praise to Hindu gods throughout your session, that would be a different story. But to the extent a benevolent god exists, s/he wouldn’t fault you for exercising–only, perhaps, for actual prayer to someone else.

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  • RedPanda

    Great post!

    One of the things I love about yoga is the way it promotes self-acceptance – that your body, and your yoga practice, are fine just the way they are.

  • krishna

    This is really nice Neghar! and I appreciate it i am a doctor and I watched many cases due to benefit of yoga and also I am personally a fan of it the main thing is yoga improves our natural healing capacity which is very important for any one of us because we cannot keep ourselves from damage now a days due to pollution or food.Human life span had been reduced due nowadays due to our polluted environment and only through yoga we can rejuvinte it.

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  • Rob Za

    What’s your weekly workout/yoga schedule? Do you alternate everyday 3x/week each…

    • Neghar Fonooni

      I usually alternate training days with yoga days.

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  • Анна

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  • CodieD

    I loved this post too!! How do you decide what to practice at home? I have tried a couple of online courses and they are nothing like going to a yoga studio (mine has a yoga for athletes class that works on all those tight spots we have and focuses on strengthening the core). When I practice by myself I feel like I forget all of the cool things I learned at the studio and it feels unproductive. I wish I could keep my yoga membership going, but I would much rather train with my personal trainer to keep working on imbalances. I can tell I need yoga to help with the tight spots and I miss the mental balance it brings. Please help!

    • Neghar Fonooni

      Hi Codie! I was an instructor for many years, so practicing at home is not difficult for me. I am working on releasing a yoga dvd later this year so stay posted! xo

  • Biggie McLarge

    That was the most spot on, truest article I’ve read. I was a big bad Marine for over. Decade. Very strong, super endurance, walking wreck of joint problems, back aches, neck knots, etc… Etc….

    Some revelations in your article I’d like to reinforce.

    **Breathing.** If you’re a bad breather in general, you are in for such an awakening. Now, add hot. Now add positions you’ve never had your body in. Now add all the crap you bring into the room up in your head, all the insignificant BS, resentment, anger, sadness, loneliness… Mixtures of all things which makes us human, but rob us of each precious moment. And now there’s not enough room in the room for all of it. So etching has to go. Became if it doesn’t you won’t make it to 90 minutes. The heat is your fierce ally, no matter how much it feels like a wolf hunting you down. The heat takes you to your endurance limit, the exercises (poses) taking you well beyond. If you do not settle into (surrender to) meditative, diaphragmatic, nose breathing, which I find only a clear mind will abide you will be tempted to hyperventilate through your mouth, trigger your fight or flight reflect, and you’ll fall out. Either to your mat or worse, the locker room.

    If you learn one thing well, learn to breath (again). It will change your life! It will generate and vibrantly maintain a calm space around you. Others will notice. You’ll want to share it ;)

    And the kicker? The real gift of your breathing/meditative practice? The two should start to develop now on separate tracks ;). Because hot yoga forces you into varsity meditation… Clearing, and seeking nothing. Emptiness. Balancing against a background of complete imbalance.

    And feeling so grateful you can touch such a place, and float there.

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  • cls614

    I have a 6-day/week split (back, chest & abs, legs #1, bis/tris & abs, shoulders & forearms, legs #2) but also would like to do bikram 3-4 days/week as my schedule allows. Which days should I add in the bikram?

    Originally I thought, every day but leg days. But then I realized how grueling many of the poses were after back day, and how hard it was to keep my arms up during the standing poses after lifting shoulders.

  • Tasha Maylin

    Hi Neghar! I hope you see this post as I’d love your advice!

    I love your kettlebell videos on youtube and have found my own love of them i=over the past few months! I can now clean and press 18kg, and my shoulders/upper body strength have exploded which has really helped my chinups for reps, so thank you!

    I want to find a style of yoga that will help build more strength, but help flexibility too, that I can do on active rest days. What style would you suggest to practice in my home gym, as there’s so many, it’s overwhelming! Thank you!! :) Tasha