Really happy to present our first guest post on the RWF blog.

Sophie Thomas has put together this piece about the crossover benefits of yoga to weight/resistance training. Enjoy the read, and you can find all her contact details at the bottom. Thanks Soph.

“I remember my first yoga class well. Having been promised to be filled with peace, calm and enlightenment, I scurried into the studio both hurriedly and enthusiastically, bemused yet curious by such an exciting prospect – teen years, after all, are ones where you generally become introspective and angst-ridden, or rather, extremely hormonal and moody.

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I left the class, however, feeling quite the opposite; arms and legs shaking, sweat on my forehead, and an accomplishment akin to that of a decent gym session – the mental benefits and immediate clarity post-yoga were, of course, an amazing benefit of the physical results, and is one of the main reasons I practice today. But, having been fed the same old stereotype that yoga is very much a ‘girly’ exercise, reaping little to no strength or cardiovascular benefits, I was pleasantly surprised to find that with consistent practice, not only was my mental health and emotional well-being improving, but I also saw significant shifts and improvements in my physical fitness, too.

First of all, a caveat: everyone’s physique goals are different, so what works for you may not work for me.

Secondly, don’t be fooled – even though yoga will challenge you, improve bodyweight strength, and offer you a refreshing aspect of training, it is not the same as squatting to failure or incorporating progressive overload into your strength training routine.

Rather, in yoga, you train isometrically – that is, holding a position, without moving, for several seconds or even minutes – it’s no picnic, as your muscles are indeed straining against each other, hence the sweat and muscle soreness. But this does not necessarily equate to muscle growth or even fat loss – the latter of which requires a caloric deficit at any rate, regardless if you are a devoted yogi or competing bodybuilder – certainly, it will help retain muscle that you’ve already managed to build, which is why it is an excellent form of exercise during times of injury, but relying on it as a form of muscle building may not be your best route to physique goals. (Although, as previously mentioned, a person’s idea of ‘muscle building’ is all relative – as a model who tends to flit between lingerie and fashion, the line is incredibly thin between me getting work, and getting told I need to ‘be less bulky’, despite that ‘bulk’ being considered toned and healthy in the real world.)

But without a shadow of a doubt, incorporating exercise such as yoga as a supplement to your regular training schedule will improve your health and wellness – both inside and out of the gym. First off, for those concerned with gym and strength performance – which, let’s face it, is gonna be most of us – injury is the last thing on our list; as is stagnating progress when we want to get stronger. Yoga can prevent both of these dreaded pitfalls quite easily with consistent – and not necessarily long-winded- practice.

First, a brief synopsis of how overt inflexibility may cause injuries or general trouble spots in out bodies: when a person neglects to work on their flexibility, joint alignment can be lost and structures that are do not usually rub against each other can start to collide, thereby leading to an altered joint motion. This is common in many who forgo even the simplest of stretching routines.

Often, we forget about the smaller but equally vital intrinsic muscles that hold the body together in proper alignment. When we neglect these muscles, the body’s way of letting you know about it is through bouts of dull pain or aches in your shoulders, knees or lower back that can generally persist with time and even create injuries or long term problems. Your rotator cuff and core stabilizer muscles essentially behave like building blocks to a house – so make those building blocks strong for your body to do its daily tasks well!

Additionally, having tight muscles makes performing dynamic movements carry a higher risk of injury;  for instance, if a person has tight hips and hamstrings, picking up an object from the floor (read: deadlifting) transmits a greater risk of injury due to inability to maintain a neutral spine. Spine goes into posterior tilt, it thinks uh oh, and exposes ligaments and vertebral disks to increased pressure and stress. Hey presto – this can actually cause the spine to buckle and potentially damage the disk or tissues of the spine. Not muy bueno for those who like to stay healthy, fit and active.

Furthermore, yoga’s emphasis on proper breathing – nowadays, on our hectic modern lives, we tend to take very shallow, short and mindless breaths –  blood flow is encouraged across the whole body thus leaving room for dynamic stretching of tight muscles.

A great deal of the poses involved in yoga are designed for functional movement – so twists, arcs, not just one-dimensional planes such as a bicep curling – which in turn makes everyday sitting, standing, fidgeting, and general lollygagging a lot easier on your joints. Besides, specific inversion and arm poses are absolutely killer – an amazing core workout to slip in after your typical weights session with none of the risk of injury. (Unless, of course, you snap your neck trying to do a head stand. Not fun, not cool – stay safe kids.)

Stretching and functional strength aside, the mental and even spiritual bonuses of yoga (provided you are into the latter) are phenomenal. You begin to learn to quiet the mind, be in the present, and reduce cortisol levels through breath and a relaxed state of being. Having suffered from severe depression, my vices that were once self-harming and overdosing on prescription pills are now an addiction to crow pose and morning vinyasa flows – a much better trade off, if you ask me. Moreover, as you know, the mind and body are heavily interlinked when it comes to success.

You have the potential to be your greatest ally or largest obstacle. With clarity and focus brings action and productivity; with a better relationship with your own self brings healthy actions and better lifestyle choices; and with the knowledge that your body can do the most amazing things, comes new boundaries being continually pushed – and improvements being created, both inside and outside of the gym.

Don’t get me wrong – I love nabbing new deadlift PBs as much as anyone will – but there is something so inspiring knowing that everything I need, everything which I physically own with no other possessions at all, can keep me fit, healthy, and alive.  Plus, since consistent yoga practice, I cannot remember the last time I had a niggle or injury, and my performance in the gym has always remained at a high quality with very few plateaus. So don’t shy away from the yoga mat if you feel as though it may benefit you – if you’re anything like me, it might just be the best damned thing that came into your life!”

Sophie is a model and has worked for many household-name brands, including Men’s Health magazine.

She can be contacted through Twitter, Instagram and her own website, www.amodelexample.com

 

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