By Aimee Hughes
We don’t typically envision iron-pumping bodybuilders also flowing and breathing through yoga postures, yet many are combining these complementary disciplines to realize huge benefits.
Nicolina Sandstedt, a yoga teacher trainer and anatomy expert with the Yandara Yoga Institute, in Baja, Mexico, observes, “The body awareness and alignment focus that the practice of yoga asanas [positions] offers helps bodybuilders find correct posture. Yoga also teaches elegance in transitions that improve competitive posing.”
Peter Nielsen, a bodybuilder, yoga practitioner and world-class fitness guru in Detroit, observes, “Most bodybuilders haven’t fine-tuned their presentation. They often grimace and look uncomfortable, with their veins popping out.” He points out, “Yoga helps teach bodybuilders how to slow down, breathe into each posture and ultimately win posing competitions because of the grace, elegance and body awareness that yoga provides.”
Joseph Grassadonia, bodybuilder, yoga enthusiast and founder of On Fitness magazine, in Kahuku, Hawaii, cites additional benefits: “Incorporating yoga into your workout routine improves your core, giving you overall body strength in specific targeted muscle groups. It also increases flexibility, stability and mobility, allowing greater range of motion. Most importantly, it will keep you from being sidelined with injuries.”
“Stretching a muscle can make it more aesthetically pleasing,” remarks Sandstedt. “In yoga, we often hold postures for a relatively long period of time, in a more isometric endurance workout, than the short, repetitive movements performed in bodybuilding. Bodybuilding develops fast-twitch muscle fibers for power and speed, while yoga develops slow-twitch muscle fibers for endurance. Both are important for tissues to stay healthy while building muscle mass.”
Nielsen notes, “Bodybuilding makes me feel stronger; I look better and have loads of endurance. Yoga makes me feel more centered; it softens me so I can hear and surrender to what my body is telling me rather than me just telling it what to do.” Such listening is essential to preventing injuries that periodically plague bodybuilders. Slowing down into yoga’s present moment awareness teaches bodybuilders how to perform from a place of presence rather than on autopilot, which is when most injuries occur.
“Yoga works all the muscles, even the smaller, intrinsic muscles often neglected in bodybuilding,” Sandstedt says. “In addition to facilitating healthy posture, these small muscles help support balanced joint alignment.” She explains that the explosive, repetitive movements used to build muscle mass in bodybuilding make the muscles less elastic, which also inhibits range of motion. Less elastic muscles may be more prone to injury, as daily activities require both strength and mobility.”
For bodybuilders that want to give yoga a shot, Nielsen advises trying a structured, 30-day yoga challenge. He sees how after the first month with his clients, the positive effects become apparent and most bodybuilders don’t want to go back to life before yoga.
Sandstedt offers, “I advise newcomers to incorporate a light yoga routine into the beginning and end of each bodybuilding training session. Ending training sessions with a few yoga postures will help balance the body, bringing a sense of calm and equanimity to the workout experience.”
“In my fitness career, I’ve found that yoga perfectly complements any strength training program as a form of stretching, flexibility and de-stressing,” says Nielsen. “Yoga focuses me, and helps me to isolate whatever muscle I choose. It helps me reach my fullest potential and simply makes me a better version
Aimee Hughes is a doctor of naturopathy and freelance writer in Kansas City, MO.