Cross-training and yoga

7 Jan

Recently I have received a number of questions about my training routine and thoughts on cross-training so I figured I’d post about it. Now I know some devoted yogis and yoginis will say that you don’t need to do any cross-training and just yoga is sufficient. I say to each their own and it depends on your goals (easy way out, I know).  :)

I do believe that by taking different types of yoga classes you can gain different benefits that are more akin to cross-training. For instance, a fast-paced class (e.g., vinyasa, power  yoga) can get your heart-rate up similar to doing cardio, and many classes incorporate strength-building poses (e.g., arm balances, inversions, navasana). Slower classes like a restorative or yin class can help turn the attention inwards and provide those long deep stretches that loosen the fascia (connective tissue around the muscles).

However, I personally believe that since yoga by definition means union, you can find “yoga” in other forms of exercise than asana (the yoga poses). If you mindfully take a walk that can be yoga. If you take an asana class and spend the whole class spaced out and thinking about your to do list, you’re just doing exercise, not yoga.

All that being said, I personally do cross-train. I find it brings me the best results in terms of how my body looks and feels. It keeps me motivated and interested. Cross-training is meant to challenge your muscles in different ways constantly so that you continue to get the most “bang for your buck” from your workouts. In addition, I find that if I only do yoga I sometimes have injuries related to being too stretchy. Doing some strength-training helps me to manage and prevent those injuries. I also think it can help you progress faster towards some of the strength-based poses in yoga. As for cardio, for someone who grew up doing almost 20 hours a week of it, I rarely do it anymore. :D Walking the dog and going hiking is my main form of cardio these days, but I do take very fast-paced yoga classes that get my heart-rate up. My knees can’t handle jogging anymore :(

For those who don’t do yoga and hear about its benefits for cross-training, I will remind you of some. :) First of all, if you do a lot of cardio and strength-training, your muscles will get tight, which restricts your range of motion. Yoga increases flexibility and consequently your range of motion. Yoga is fantastic for your core due to all of the balancing poses, and it will help with your other athletic pursuits by providing more stability and agility. Yoga is all about the mind-body connection and can help you manage your stress and help with focusing during competition (or work, etc.).  Because you hold poses for a long time, you will build strength but the muscles are challenged in a different way that traditional weight-training. The effect is longer, leaner muscles. Personally I’ve seen a HUGE difference in my body since doing more yoga. I’m much smaller and more defined than I used to be. This the tip of the iceberg in terms of yoga benefits, but I’ll stop for now. Hopefully you get the idea :) If you need more reasons to start, let me know!

For those of you who are interested in cross-training in addition to your yoga practice, there are tons of options. With regards to strength-building, I use a combo of pilates, classes based on the barre method, and weights.

  • Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates. Typically you can take a group class at a gym or yoga studio that is mat-based (the less expensive option). Alternatively, you can take private or very small group classes at a pilates studio and use the equipment there. I have yet to do that as it tends to be pricey. Pilates is great for deep core work and helps you integrate your core in every movement and build strength. It helps create better posture and builds long lean muscles. It has helped me to maintain strength and stability to manage a low back injury. For me, the downside is that there are a limited number of poses, and I get bored if I do it too often. In addition, it primarily works the core and doesn’t give as much attention to the legs and arms traditionally.
  • Classes such as Pure Barre, the Bar Method and Core Fusion are all based on ballet training and the Lotte Berk method. You use teeny tiny weights (5 lbs and under) and do a gazillion reps working the same muscle group (e.g. triceps) in a number of different ways all in a row. You will feel the burn!!! Often you use the ballet barre to help you with the strength work. I like this style because I think you get more of a full-body workout, and it’s not the same every time. Most classes include arm work, leg work, glute work, tons of core work, and stretching. Some places incorporate a more holistic, mind-body approach (such as Core Fusion at Exhale). I find the core work to be killer, and I like to think I already have a strong core. It can get pricey to take the classes. I own two DVDs from Core Fusion, produced by Acacia: Pilates Plus and Body Sculpt. They’re slightly under an hour. You don’t need a ballet barre to do them. You need small hand weights for Body Sculpt and a chair or counter to lean against. I love them when I’m too lazy or cheap to go take a class. They are intense and provide a good workout at home. KILLER CORE WORK! I definitely recommend!
  • For weights, I often just use hand weights at home. I do have a lot of experience with weights and have been trained so I feel pretty comfortable with my alignment on my own. I find that for me, high repetition and low weights gives me the results I like: toned muscles and strength without bulk. I do a combination of arm work, leg work and core work, followed by stretching at the end. Nothing very fancy :)

I hope this helps give you some more information about cross-training and maybe some new ideas and motivation! Happy working out! :)

Tittibasana while hiking at Runyon Canyon

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