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Yoga Hack: Strength is core to yoga

Puns aside, good muscle strength can supercharge your yoga practice, providing a huge number of benefits such as enabling you to hold those tricky poses with better form and for longer.

Muscle strength also provides numerous benefits off the mat too. A large body of research has shown that muscle mass begins declining at age 40, and by 70, many people who don’t actively maintain it, will have lost up to 35% of their original muscle mass. Regularly working on your strength offsets this, helping maintain muscle mass as you age.

Good muscle strength also helps:

  • Improve bone density;

  • Stabilise joints and spine;

  • Reduce pain including back pain;

  • Increase endurance;

  • Improve metabolism and burn fat;

  • Mental health.

Read on to find our 5 techniques for building strength.

The Science

The science behind building muscles is that by putting the muscle under exertion you cause tiny “tears” in the muscle fibres, called micro-tears. The body then repairs the muscles, building stronger fibres to better handle the stimulus that caused the ‘damage’ in the first place and in doing so, strength is gained! This process is why muscles often ache after an intense workout. Science lesson over, it’s important to bear this process in mind when we talk through these 5 techniques to build strength.

1- Switching up your workout

One important technique is to avoid doing the same workout week in week out. The body is very good at adapting to the loads it is put under, so by repeating the same movements at the same intensity you may notice diminishing returns. The body no longer needs to adapt, so has no need to develop further strength (although strength should be maintain at least).

Look to switch up your exercise routine on a regular basis: a good yoga teacher will take you through a programme that works different parts of your body in different ways each week. If you do additional weights or cardio, hit your muscles in different ways each week and try alternating between HIIT and LISS.

2. Get stronger with yoga itself

You don’t always need to add additional workouts to get stronger, look to tweak your existing yoga workouts to focus on gaining strength. The aim is to really feel the burn in your muscles and stay in that burning sensation for as long as possible.

Two tricks that can help build strength during yoga are:

  • Longer poses: hold that difficult position as long as possible focusing on engaging all required muscles (especially core) for as long as possible;

  • Repetition: flows which move you through particular poses multiple times (such as salutations) effectively turn your practice into sets much like a classical weight training workout. This allows you to hit particular muscles multiple times during a workout.

3. Yoga poses build strength

While we have covered the how to build strength while doing yoga, what to do is important too. Good yoga workouts will naturally include a number of exercises that build strength; add in short additional workouts to your weekly routine, to regularly perform exercises that specifically build strength:

  • Plank: a great all round exercise that works arms, shoulders and core while helping to protect against back pain. Try adding in side planks to hit your obliques;

  • Chair pose: a great exercise for feeling the burn, this targets all parts of the legs and ankles. Try holding while cleaning your teeth each day!

  • Boat pose: also known as Navasana, this stablising exercise works your core and hip flexors;

Head over to this article at the Huffington Post by Kino MacGregor for video tutorials on how to perform some of these exercises and more. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kino-macgregor/yoga-poses_b_3582869.html

4. Workout off the mat

While yoga is a great way to build muscle throughout the body, additional workouts off the mat are important to switch up your routine and build strength throughout the body while also improving cardiovascular fitness.

Consider adding any of the following to your weekly routine:

  • Weights training: free-weights or machines provide a huge number of possibilities for exercises. Unsure which exercises to do? Apps or website such as bodybuilding.com are great ways to find single exercises or structured routines;

  • CrossFit: a huge fitness trend in recent years, CrossFit workouts use functional movements at high-intensity, building muscle while providing a good cardio workout. If you’re not a member of a CrossFit gym, many regular gyms run similar alternatives or search online to find ways to do it yourself;

  • Bodyweight training: you can build strength without an expensive gym membership using body-weight exercises such as push ups, squats and burpees;

  • Resistance bands: a cheap addition to you exercise kit, resistance bands can be used in hundreds of ways to provide fantastic strength training in the gym, studio or at home.

Remember to warm-up the muscles and stretch properly before and after every workout to help muscle movement and recovery. Be sure not to overload the muscles and use the correct range for each exercise to avoid injury.

5. Eat properly

To consolidate your hard work on and off the mat, make sure to eat well to maximise quality muscle building.

  • Protein is key to building muscle, so eat 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight each day;

  • Carbohydrate is the fuel for our workouts (unless in Ketosis) and are the energy source for building muscles. Eat 1 to 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight and try to concentrate eating the carbs around 1 hour before and within 1 hour of finishing your workout for maximum benefit. Eat complex carbs with a low GI rating and of course, avoid sugar;

  • Fats are also an important energy source and should not be avoided as was historically advised. Eat 0.3 to 0.5 grams per pound of body weight and focus on healthy fats found in lean meats, nuts, seed, vegetables and some oils;

  • Finally avoid processed food and eat whole foods as much as possible.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

So get out a pen and notepad and get planning: design a routine that works around you and you’ll be nailing those difficult yoga poses without breaking a sweat in no time!

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