Is Weight Lifting Incompatible with Yoga?


A number of years ago I journeyed to FEDEX Field to watch the Washington Redskins take on my beloved Miami Dolphins in an NFL regular season game.

During one of the TV timeouts, the players on the field were trying to keep loose and I saw one of my heroes, Zach Thomas who played middle linebacker for the Dolphins, do something that completely surprised me. Zach Thomas went into Pigeon Pose, right there in the middle of field, fully dressed in pads, uniform and helmet on.

Holy crap!

I couldn’t believe it, a man who can bench press God only knows what and regularly takes on 300 pound lineman to then have the privilege of tackling a 240 pound running back was in full Pigeon Pose.

This reason that this was so incredible to me is that it seems as though for men, weightlifting and yoga exist in two completely different and incompatible universes. Personally, I had lifted weights for twenty years but once I started my yoga practice my interest in weightlifting fell by the wayside and I really haven’t been back since.

I notice that within my community, when I practiced yoga in a local gym, the male participation was roughly the same as any other yoga class—twenty percent. So clearly the large majority of men in the weight room did not feel the urge to come to a yoga class as part of their routine, and I had little interest in going back to weight room as part of my routine.

You can Google the term, “pro athletes yoga” and you will come up with a myriad of hits.  One in particular has a list of ten pro athletes that incorporate yoga into their routine.  Clearly professional athletes don’t have a problem integrating a weight lifting program alongside a yoga regimen. This then lead me to wonder: what’s the difference between the state of mind with pro athletes and us, the rest of us in our workout routine?

To start with, I think one of misconceptions that men have about yoga is that it just involves "stretching". While it may be true that yoga heavily involves stretching, a well rounded yoga practice will include many physical and mental facets which benefit all athletes. These facets include balancing though standing postures, upper body strength through arm balances and inversions, and lower body strength through lunges, chair pose and warrior poses.

I feel that my yoga practice is enough of a strength workout. When I am doing an inversion or an arm balance with a body weight of 175 pounds, to me that is quite a workout. There are some yoga classes that I attend where I can feel a certain amount of muscle soreness the next morning. The soreness isn’t as intense as with a good weight lifting session but still sore none-the-less.

I do have to admit though that my practice has been helped by all those years of weight training. Weight training does a great job of targeting specific muscle groups and developing and strengthening them. Having strong shoulders, triceps and pectoral muscles is a real benefit to performing some of the various inversions and arm balances.

Physical aspects of yoga aside, I think the mental aspect of yoga is the most appealing aspect to a professional athlete, whereas an amateur doesn’t think that much about it. The practice of calming the mind and scanning the body helps the athlete to maximize his potential while helping to avoid injury. The calm mind helps give greater focus towards reaching competition goals while at the same time teaching us to slow down and listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us.  This helps define that point when the body has had enough—when effort and struggle cross over to pain and injury.

Maybe the answer is just purely that amateur jocks just don’t have the time to do a mixed weightlifting yoga routine as part of a practice. Women like to talk about their busy schedules but the truth of the matter is that we men are pretty stressed with our schedules as well. Maybe we feel that we only have so many hours in a week to devote to exercise and those who like yoga stick with yoga and those of us who like weights stick with weights.

So is weight lifting incompatible with yoga?

One thing that I have learned from my practice is that whatever you do, balance is required. This is something the professional athletes all know. In order to hit peak performance you need to draw from multiple disciplined routines. Weight lifting develops the individual muscles and yoga teaches how to make those individual muscles work together.

All yogis could benefit from sometime in the weight room and all the people in the weight room could benefit from sometime in the yoga studio. I think all of us benefit from a balanced approach in everything we do.

So to be the best you can be get off the mat and into the weight room and get out of the weight room and onto the mat.


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