Before I get too far into this let me say that I am a general fan of yoga. I have done yoga in the past and I encourage my clients to use it as a tool for gaining extra mobility and body awareness. However, just like any other workout method it does have some disadvantages.
Another thing to keep in mind is that mobility and strength are not the same thing.
The main problem that I have is not with yoga per say but with yoga practitioners who do not understand basic training principles and terms. For example, the term “Power Yoga” is an oxymoron – power refers specifically to quick development of tension in a muscle and is best trained through fast movements like plyometrics or Olympic lifts. Seeing as how all forms of yoga are done in a relatively slow and controlled manner there is no way that it can develop “power” according to the true definition of the word.
Another term that gets used too loosely by yoga folk is “strength”. This term refers to an intense effort, or something that you can only sustain for a very short period of time. Doing a 3 rep max deadlift requires strength, doing 15 reps requires strength endurance. Holding a yoga pose that is impossible for you to maintain for more than 10-15 seconds requires strength, much longer than that and you are working on strength endurance.
Another thing to keep in mind is that mobility and strength are not the same thing. Just because you have increased your mobility does not necessarily mean that you have increased your strength. The yogi that can wrap themselves up into an awkward position is not “stronger” than the person that can do a double bodyweight deadlift.
Another problem is that yoga does a good job of teaching you how to control your own bodyweight but does not teach you how to control and handle an external object. It is called the SAID Principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. If you want to get better at handling an external object, like your mountain bike, you have to practice handling an external object. Bodyweight training will only take you so far.
Why is this important? Because the trick to creating a good training program is to understand the pluses and minuses of a given method so you know how to better apply it. With all of this in mind let’s take a look at what yoga really has to offer us…
– It teaches good body awareness
– It develops mobility in key areas like the hips and upper back
– It develops core strength in those with poor core strength
– It is a low impact exercise for those that have to do something every day but rightfully don’t want to pound on their bodies too much
– It can develop hyper mobility in bad areas like the low back and shoulders
– It will stop offering a true strength challenge after the initial adaptation to it
– It does not teach us how to effectively apply our strength in real life movements or situation like having to bend down to pick up a heavy box or a child
So, as you can see this is not an “either – or” type argument. I use a lot of yoga inspired movements in my mobility programs and think that is has a lot to offer us, just not at the expense of real strength training.
The yoga fanatic that can achieve any position but is so weak that they can not get out of a wet paper bag is no better than the meathead who can squat 600 pounds but can not touch his own toes. Another one of my favorite Chinese proverbs is “beware the man of one way”…extremes on either end of the spectrum are not the best so don’t get too caught up in one way of doing things. If all you do is yoga pick up a dumbbell some time and if all you do is lift try taking a yoga class – balance is what we should strive for.