I’m writing this article to teach people what they can learn about weight lifting from having a consistent yoga practice. Repeated practice becomes habit, and eventually all that yoga that you’re doing will translate into other forms of physical fitness. Weight lifting is something that I haven’t done consistently in 2 years, but with my knee injury keeping me out, I need to get my workout fix in without putting any pressure on my lower body. Answer – weights. On Tuesday, October 7th, I made my return.
As soon as I started my session, I realized that it felt completely different from before. I was being much more conscious of body placement. I was double checking where my shoulders were. I was making sure that I was applying principles of yoga (shoulders down and back, chest lifted, core engaged) to every lift that I was doing. The result was stunning. I was engaging muscles that I had never engaged before in certain lifts. It’s no wonder that I felt sore for years. What I was doing to myself was making me stronger, but I was also hurting myself in the process with some of the technique that I was using. Glad I found yoga! Here are a few things that I experienced.
#1 – First and foremost, my dips SUCK.
I was rounding my shoulders completely for 6 years of dips. My arms crowded my chest, my chest caved in, and my back was hunched and rounded, shoulders not drawn back and down like they were supposed to be. The result of the poor form that I was using before was severe (yes, severe) pressure on my rotator cuff. I remember doing dips for the first time in 6 months a couple summers ago and being sore for a full week. As a result of that poor form, my muscles were not only sore; they were INJURED. Now, with proper form (shoulders drawn down and back, chest broad), I was feeling the exercise in my back like never before.
2) Muscles left out.
Limited range of motion and a lack of strength in certain muscles leads to inefficiencies in your body. Namely, it leads to your body using larger muscles when it should be recruiting the smaller synergist (helper) muscles. For example, I had been doing shoulder press for years, trying to keep my back straight, but even with that effort I was basically just doing a modified chest press. The load of the weight was in my chest, not at all in my upper back like it should have been. Doing a shoulder press after 2 years of yoga and no weights showed me that a shoulder press feels completely different from a chest press.
3) TIGHT. SHOULDERS.
Building off of my last point, I realized that my tight shoulders made it impossible for me to do certain lifts probably. My expanded range of motion from yoga facilitated the inclusion of muscles that I was simply removing from the lifting equation altogether. It taught me to use muscles that I hadn’t been using before. Tight shoulders not only restrict your range of motion; it also forces you to put way more pressure on your chest muscles, because the synergist muscles of your shoulders don’t even know how to engage!
4) Bench press – bring the weight all the way down!
I used to avoid bringing the bar all the way to my chest in bench press. I had read something somewhere that this was detrimental to your chest health. (Bro science of some sort, no doubt.) After doing yoga, I realized that there was no reason why you shouldn’t be bringing the weight down, using the full range of motion of your muscles. The result is a more effective lift.
5) Done correctly, weightlifting can actually INCREASE to your range of motion.
Lifting weights naturally contracts your muscles, but if you use the weight to open yourself up then you can actually use weights to expand your range of motion. For example, when doing a dumbbell bench press, I slowly guided the weight all the way down to my chest (and a little bit past it) so that I could feel my pectoral (chest muscles) stretching. The weights acted as an assisted stretch tool!
6) Control, power and explosive strength.
There is a difference. Since starting yoga, my focus is no longer on explosive power. Whenever I do body weight calisthenics or yoga, the focus is on slow, controlled movement. Doing weights again helped me realize that there is a significant difference between simply getting the weight up and controlling the weight as you guide its movement against gravity. For overall strength, i.e. the ability to respond to any situation, should include explosive movements as well, but it is good to know that there is a difference between a quick, explosive lift, and a slow, controlled one.
7) Core engagement.
Oh boy. I left my core out of a lot of lifts. I literally completely forgot it altogether. I wasn’t engaging my core in bench press, shoulder press, and many other lifts. Now, focusing on my core as I lift helps me to isolate the muscles that I am really trying to work. Sure, you can replicate that isolation by using the assistance of machines (think of a curl rack), but I like full body movements, and integrating my core into exercises. Core engagement is also a huge factor in keeping your lower back flat and keeping your chest from splaying out, which is crucial to a shoulder press. Moral of the story – be conscious of core engagement at all times.
I’m glad I got to return to this form of physical fitness that I’ve neglected for a long time. I’m looking to see how it will affect my yoga practice. When my knee is better, I’ll return to yoga full time and make some comparisons to figure out what I am missing from an all-yoga training regimen. Hope you learned something from this post. As always, I encourage you to go out and try as many forms of fitness as possible. That’s what real fitness is.